Talking with some accountants the other day about their recent sales experiences reminded me of a number of tips for more effective professional selling.
Continuance or progression? – These are important concepts for those who have contacts that they see on a regular basis but find, rather frustratingly, that they are not going anyway in terms of selling. Basically, when you just continue to see people but without progressing the relationship towards an eventual sale then you need to do something different. Maybe it is to pluck up the courage to move the conversation into a different area, or to ask a key question relating to some potential opportunity or perhaps it is to try and meet someone else in the decision making unit.
Decision making unit (DMU)? – This well known concept identifies the different roles that people play in the buying process. Sometimes, people find themselves in a continuance relationship because they are dealing with a gatekeeper who does not have the authority to buy and is restricting access to the real decision maker. Other times you may be in contact with the buyer – as often the case with a Finance Director or purchasing professional – who is unlikely to act without approval from the effective decision maker. Sometimes the person is not directly connected to the buying process but is a powerful influencer on the decision maker or who can act as a sponsor to help you learn more about the organisation and introduce you to the decision makers. Other times the person might be a user of the service but who is removed from those who have the ability to make purchase decisions within their remit.
Grading contacts – If you have a lot of contacts where you are trying to cultivate relationships and identify opportunities, it helps if you periodically review them all and grade them in terms of factors such as the attractiveness of the potential work, the time horizon over which it might convert, the probability of conversion or their importance in terms of referring other work. This will allow you to decide the frequency with which you contact them and/or whether they receive general alerts to keep you on their radar or whether you should invest your precious time in making a more personalised approach. Sometimes you might devise a list of filters (things that increase or decrease their attractiveness to you) and triggers (things that indicate a change in circumstances that might indicate an opportunity is imminent) to help with the grading.
Trial close – Sometimes you wonder whether it is worth pursuing a contact that you have known for a while but where things don’t seem to be progressing. In sales parlance, you could try a gentle “trial close” – along the lines of “bearing in mind what we have discussed, and assuming that such an opportunity arises, how would you feel about trying us out for this sort of transaction?”. Their reaction – especially the non verbal one – should provide you with insight into their sincerity.
A note after meetings – After an informal meeting, it really helps if you drop your contact a short email summarising the main points you have discussed. This provides them of a reminder of your conversation and an easy way to communicate your discussion (and thus raise your profile) with others in their organisation. If the discussion provided an opportunity for them to explore and scope a challenge they are facing, then the note will act as a handy aide-memoire for them and be a subtle reminder of your expertise in the area.
Current opportunity? – Sometimes you are in touch with the right people in the decision making unit but there is no reason for them to change advisers or appoint new ones. Whilst it is good if you are skilled enough to either uncover or create the motivation to buy now, sometimes inexperienced or impatient people may ignore a relationship because there is no immediate opportunity – possibly losing out on opportunities in the medium and longer term.
Free advice? – Sometimes you have contacts with whom there is a good relationship but where they are constantly seeking “free” advice but without showing any indication of actually appointing your firm. Obviously, you need to take a commercial and professional view about whether you continue to provide freebies – but sometimes you can trade such free advice in exchange for other things – such as introductions to others in the decision making unit or for more information about the organisation and its long term aims or even a meeting to discuss another issue.
Keep in touch – While most people will be disciplined enough to have put good contacts on their database or CRM so that they receive regular updates and bulletins, the real skill is in knowing what the contact is really interested in and taking the time and effort to send across snippets and articles that relate directly to something of interest to the contact or the contact’s organisation. Natural empathy and skilled questioning will reveal those areas so that you can then set up alerts or watch developments through social media channels to help you identify things that might be of interest to them.
Add value at every occasion – One of my golden rules is to always aim to provide some value to the contact at each interaction – this could be with some information about their market, some ideas that might help them with an unrelated issue or simply some news about new developments that might impact their organisation. Where you are in a situation where you must sustain regular contact over a long period of time, the fact that you always provide some value means that you are unlikely to be declined when you request a catch up call or meeting.
What are your favourite tips for more effective professional selling?
Related articles on professional selling
Importance of empathy and emotional intelligence in selling.
Pick up the phone – creating better business relationships with the telephone
Enquiry management – Converting sales enquiries on the telephone
Presentation skills – preparing content and great delivery
Planning for effective cold calls
Managing key client meetings through the client lifecycle
My book on Better Business Relationships contains a lot of information on selling skills
For more advanced sales professionals, you should read this book on insight selling (also known as challenger selling).
Large, complex sales are addressed in this book “Let’s get real or let’s not play”
There are also relevant videos (e.g. on emotional intelligence and targeting) on the RedStarKim YouTube channel