Tag Archives: Closing

You Can’t Always Get What You Want…But In Sales, You’d Better Ask!

Sometimes, the key to success in selling is to get back to basics. I’ve talked a lot in the last few years about how the balance of power has shifted firmly towards empowered buyers. With more information at their fingertips than ever before, customers can research products, compare prices, and make informed decisions without relying heavily on salespeople. This has led some salespeople to become hesitant about taking an active role in guiding buyers through their Buyer’s Journey.

In fact, I’ll be frank. I worry that I’ve dissuaded some salespeople from remembering an essential truth of selling.  If you don’t ask for what you want, you won’t get it.  To not ask your empowered buyers to buy – or help them advance through their journey – is to abdicate your responsibility as a salesperson.

Don’t make this mistake. Even as buyers have become more empowered, your job is still crucial – to your company and to your buyers. Buyers may have more information, but that information can also be overwhelming – and in many cases, inaccurate or a bad fit for their situation. A skilled salesperson (and you are one of those, right?) who takes charge can cut through the clutter, ask the right questions, and help the buyer arrive at the best solution for their needs.

The key is that you have to be assertive without being pushy. Buyers don’t mind assertive salespeople – but pushy salespeople get eliminated from the Buyer’s Journey. You have to recognize that the buyer is in the driver’s seat, but you must also understand that the buyer often welcomes guidance. By actively participating in the buyer’s journey, the salesperson can help the customer navigate the process more efficiently and come to a decision with confidence. Your buyers will find themselves thinking (or saying) “so, where do we go from here?” quite a bit.  Be prepared to guide them.

Here are some ways salespeople can reassert themselves in the sales process:

  • Ask thoughtful questions. Dig deep to really understand the customer’s needs, challenges, and goals. Don’t just go through a surface-level qualification checklist. Uncover the underlying issues the buyer is trying to solve. I’ve said for many years that 80% of your chance to win the sale is through your questioning, and that hasn’t changed.
  • Provide valuable insights. Use your industry expertise to share perspectives the buyer may not have considered. Offer creative solutions they hadn’t thought of. Position yourself as a knowledgeable partner, not just a vendor. And don’t be afraid to provide expertise, even when it’s not directly tied to a sale.  Salespeople today must earn their spot in front of the buyer, and you do that by making the buyer a little better and more knowledgeable during every sales interaction.  Salespeople are the world’s best collectors of industry best practices – and some of the worst at sharing them.  Break that pattern.
  • Journeys need a guide. Don’t be afraid to take charge of the sales cycle. Suggest next steps, schedule follow-up meetings, and keep the buyer on track. This shows you’re invested in their success, not just making a quick sale.
  • Address objections head-on. When the buyer raises concerns, don’t dodge them. Acknowledge their doubts, then provide reassurance and evidence to overcome them. Demonstrate you’re listening and want to alleviate their fears.
  • Close confidently and directly. Don’t be afraid to ask for the business. If you’ve done the work to truly understand the buyer’s needs, you should be able to make a compelling case for why your solution is the right fit. End the sale decisively, not tentatively.

The most successful salespeople today don’t just react to the buyer’s lead – they proactively shape the sales conversation and Buyer’s Journey. They recognize that even the most informed, empowered buyer still values the salesperson’s expertise and guidance. By reasserting themselves as sources of expertise, these salespeople are able to navigate the buyer’s journey and close deals with confidence.

Of course, this assertiveness must be balanced with genuine curiosity and a customer-centric approach. The goal isn’t to strong-arm the buyer, but to collaborate with them in a way that meets their needs. If you can strike this balance, you will thrive in the new era of buyer empowerment.

Are You Asking Enough Sales Questions?

Sales Questioning Poll ResultsAre you asking enough questions?  A couple of weeks ago, I ran a poll on a very popular LinkedIn group.  The poll question was simple:  “On the average, how many discovery questions do you ask a new customer on an initial appointment?”  If you’ve read any of my work at all, you know that I believe that the root of good things in selling is asking a lot of good questions; in fact, questioning is the longest unit in my training programs.  Well, I’m starting to feel like I’m on an island with a pretty small population.

The results were shocking to me.  Spoiler alert:  37% of respondents said that they asked 1-5 questions on a first appointment; 41% asked 6-10.  In my opinion, the sweet spot for a quality discovery is 11-15 questions; only 11% of respondents were in that bracket. 12% were discovery overachievers who asked more than 15 questions.   After I pushed my lower jaw back up (it had dropped to hit the desk), I realized that within weakness in the market, there is opportunity.  And it’s YOUR opportunity.  If 77% of salespeople ask 10 or less questions, they’re not getting to know customers very well.  That’s your competition.  Want to beat them?  Ask more questions.  But what should you be asking about?  I’ll tell you.

  • Your contact’s professional history. “How did you come to be in this position?” is a great question.  People love to tell their stories, and this question gives you a great window into their viewpoints as well as being a good rapport-building question.  For instance, a plant manager who started out turning wrenches might respond to different value propositions than one who came to the plant fresh from getting an MBA.
  • The company’s past, present, and future. Yes, many companies put this info on their website.  Have you ever seen a website that was out of date?  Me too. And if you are working from obsolete or incorrect information, you might end up presenting the wrong solutions.  Ask – or, better, refer to what you read and ask for your contact’s viewpoint on it.  That way you show that you’ve done your homework AND that you’re curious.
  • Company priorities. Just because your “stuff” is the most important thing in the world to you, it doesn’t mean that it’s the most important thing to your customer.  Where does your stuff fall on the list of priorities for your company or your contact?  This will have a lot to do with the importance and urgency of your proposal.
  • Needs regarding your stuff. Notice that we are just now starting to ask about what you sell, and what their needs are regarding it.  That’s because your end of the world is a small part of the big picture in their world – and you need to know the lay of the land before you start probing what’s wrong in your part of the world.  By the way, don’t neglect asking about what’s right in your part of the world – if you don’t get the sale, this is going to be a big part of the reason why.
  • How they define success. Ultimately, all sales questions boil down to understanding how your customer defines a successful purchase, and how you can help them achieve it.  Still, at this point, you should probably ask a direct question about how they will define success.
  • Process questions. You should also understand the customer’s buying process, and how it will impact this purchase.
  • More questions. There’s more to ask – but you get the idea. Are you asking enough questions?  Here’s what you should know:  If you ask six questions, you are now better than 37% of your competitors.  If you ask 11 questions, you are now better than 78% of your competitors.  And so on.  And you should, of course, drill down on many of those questions.

Is my survey scientific?  Nope.  It was a LinkedIn survey.  This probably skews the numbers, but does so in a positive way.  Salespeople on LinkedIn groups who respond to surveys like this one are probably higher on the scale of the profession, because they’re more engaged.  So, if anything, that means that the real numbers are worse than what’s reported on my survey. In the comments, some “salespeople” expressed disdain for the very idea that comprehensive questioning is important; one even said, “If a salesperson is a dynamic opener, he doesn’t need to ask many questions and can close the sale in one call.”  I suppose there are areas of selling where that might be true, but it’s not in a highly professional sales universe.

The bottom line – when you are considering your questioning and discovery, here are some things to remember:

  • More is typically better.
  • Asking questions shows you care.
  • The worst question is the one you don’t ask.
  • From time to time, you should re-ask questions of current customers; things change.
  • Great salespeople are always working to improve their questioning skills.

That’s all for now.  If you’ll excuse me, I have to get the look of amazement off my face.

The Four Decisions Every Buyer Makes

Sometimes I think we make selling entirely too complicated – and by “we,” I mean my profession of sales authors and trainers.  Sure, selling can be difficult.  That’s why they pay us the big bucks.  We’re dealing with people and trying to persuade them, and that’s always a challenge.  Still, why make the sale more complicated and cumbersome than it has to be?

The truth is that, boiled down to its elements, every sale consists of a prospective or current customer making four decisions.  The trick is that there’s no gray area – every decision must be in your favor, or you won’t win the sale.  Here they are:

Decision One:  The decision to engage with you.  Yep, the first decision that your customer makes is the decision to talk to you – or to engage with you, if you prefer that terminology (and I do; “engagement” implies a two-way street).  If you can’t get an audience with your customer, you can’t sell them.  Yes, you can receive an order from someone who doesn’t talk to you (technology these days is wonderful), but you won’t have an opportunity to persuade or affect the outcome of that decision.  This means that your approach to them MUST communicate the value of a conversation with you.  In fact, in most cases, that’s all you should be shooting for; by trying to sell more than the simple value of the conversation, you can get neither.

Decision Two:  The decision that you can solve their need(s).  Every customer has needs.  Your ability to discover their needs, and then solve them, is the key to getting a “yes” at this stage of the sales process.  That means that, first and foremost, you must ask copious amounts of questions.  Even if you THINK you know what the buyer needs, you don’t KNOW until you ask them.  Ultimately, you must know how the BUYER will define a successful purchase.  Not how you define it, not how most of your other customers define it, not how your boss says it’s defined, but how the buyer defines it.  Without knowing how the buyer will define a successful work, everything else is just guesswork – and guesswork rarely wins sales.

Once you know their needs and how they define success, two burdens are placed upon you.  The first burden is this – if your offerings do not and cannot solve the buyer’s needs, and meet their definition of success, you must bow out.  This is the only way to retain your (and your company’s) professional credibility.  Yes, I know, there’s nothing more painful than walking away from potential dollars – but would you rather collect the dollars by hammering someone into a bad purchase, and then live with the failure?  Walking away early means that you live to sell another day when your solution fits; making a bad sale means that you are forever disqualified.   Even pushing a solution when your buyer knows it’s not a solution can forever disqualify you.

The second burden is that, if your solution does meet the buyer’s needs and definition of success, your presentation must be specifically and intimately tailored to those exact needs and definition.  This is harder than it sounds, as sometimes (many times) you have to develop a presentation on the spot.  Salespeople can get into the “sell sheet” or “slide deck” mentality that says, “I have all this great information, and I have to get it all out,” even when the customer doesn’t care about all the information.  If I go to the doctor for a sore shoulder and he gives me a pill that will fix it (I know that’s not a real thing, but work with me here), I don’t care that it will also solve a sore throat because I don’t HAVE a sore throat.  When presenting, present specifically to the customer’s needs.  Hit the points hard and often that are meaningful and leave out information that is meaningless.  If you execute these steps correctly, your buyer will make the second critical decision – that you can solve needs – and move you to the next step of the process.

Decision Three:  The decision that your solution represents good value.  If your buyer is interested, he/she is probably going to say, “Okay, how much?”  At this point (or as soon after as you can), you offer a proposal with price and terms.  Your buyer is then going to evaluate your offering and basically ask themselves whether it’s a good spend of money, time, and resources, or not, and make their third decision.  If you’ve asked enough questions about priorities, needs, and the impact of solving those needs, you should already be 80% toward the answer to this question. Still, we sell to human beings, and those human beings can be somewhat unpredictable.

Decision Four:  The decision to buy from you.  “But wait, Troy, isn’t the decision that you represent good value also a decision to buy?” Nope.  Not in the slightest.  This is where variables outside of your control come into play.  Sometimes your solution is a good spend for the department you’re selling to – but corporate priorities dictate that resources go in a different direction.  Or, the timing just isn’t right (maybe they have other projects going on that require the attention and resources that would otherwise be devoted to yours).  In any case, you can have the greatest solution to a big problem, priced right, and still not win the sale because some externality is blocking you.  Your best strategy here is, back when you’re doing the questioning, to ask questions about overall company priorities, ongoing projects, etc.  Sometimes you can sell against those priorities if you know about them – but final decision time is too late to ask or sell against it.

Here’s what you need to know.  All of these decisions MUST go in your favor, and each one qualifies you to move to the next step.  Fail any one and you will not win the sale, even if your buyer “allows” you to keep selling (by offering a price that won’t result in a sale, for instance).

A Negotiation Tip From a Fast Man

I was recently reading an article on the business challenges facing Formula One race drivers.  Most drivers in F1, since about the Seventies, have used managers for their business affairs.  These managers negotiate contracts, sponsor deals, appearances, and the like – and of course, they take commissions.  With top F1 drivers earning upwards of $40 million per year these days, that’s quite a sum of money.

One driver who was notorious for never using a manager was Austria’s Gerhard Berger, who drove in the ’80s and the ’90s.  Berger was very fast, very rich, and notoriously tight with a buck.  In this article, he was asked why he didn’t have a manager – to which he responded that he didn’t want to pay someone else to do his business for him.

“My negotiation was very simple,” he said.  “I went in with two figures.  What I wanted and what I’d take.  I walked away when the amount on offer was below what I’d take.”  Berger seldom walked away – not only because he was talented, but because he made the negotiation process as simple and painless for his teams as possible.

That’s the way negotiation should be, in my opinion.  No matter what anyone says, few people actually enjoy negotiation.  Negotiation means that the customer has to invent reasons not to do business with you – which is an unfortunate situation.  Berger never forced his teams into that position.

As a result, Berger drove for the top teams, he was well liked not only by the team members but by management, and he was extremely financially successful.  That’s not a bad result, is it?

Want to negotiate the right way?  Here are three simple tips:

1. Have a “Walk away” number – and walk away.  If you’re always going to sit at the desk, you have no power in negotiation.  If the terms are unacceptable, the negotiation ends.  And you’d be surprised at how often ending the negotiation restarts the negotiation on the other side of the table

2. Keep it friendly.  Never get into the trap of a hostile or adversarial negotiation process.  If I don’t win, I don’t play – and by “winning,” I mean a resolution that works for everyone at the table.

3.  Justify your discounts. If you have to lower your price, be prepared to remove some of the features and/or benefits from the offering.  Berger, for instance, would lower the number of personal appearances he’d make for lower salaries.

Negotiation doesn’t have to be unpleasant or difficult.  Follow this path and you can get past the negotiation to the sale – and that’s the fun part!