Your prospects simply don’t have the patience or the inclination to sit through a traditional “tell me about your business in 20 questions” solution selling conversation in which you do all the asking, they do all the telling and they feel that you’re the only person that has learned anything of value at the end of the dialogue.
Your prospects resent teaching you and getting nothing back in return
Your prospects may hate being sold to but they love to learn something new and valuable, and they also resent telling you about their business and getting nothing useful back in return. That’s why every conversation that your sales people have with their potential customers must bring something of value to the prospect, and make that prospect want to learn more.
The Challenger Sale book (if you haven’t read it yet, where have you been?) takes the perspective that organisations owe it to both their sales organisation and their prospects to equip every sales person to have meaningful, directional conversations that are interesting, educational and thought provoking to both their prospects and themselves.
Ensure every sales conversation has a clear direction
By “directional”, I mean that every discussion, every question, every response and every insight shared takes the customer conversation in an intentionally useful direction, and helps to both qualify the prospect’s fit against your qualifying criteria, and to encourage well-qualified prospects to want to take the next step in their buying decision process with your organisation.
The authors of the Challenger Sale offer a simple but effective framework for equipping sales people to have impactful, insight-filled customer conversations:
Lead towards your unique strengths
Challenge the customer’s current assumptions
Catalyse action - make the customer want to learn more
Your top-performing sales people may be doing this already, but there’s tremendous benefit to be gained from equipping all your sales people to have more productive customer conversations.
Curate your collection of anecdotes and quotes
There are a number of excellent examples of conversation planning templates and tools in the book, and I’m not going to duplicate their great work here (you can find them in the chapter on “Tailoring for Resonance”). Instead, I want to concentrate on the value of anecdotes and quotes.
Simply sharing your perspective is unlikely to be sufficiently persuasive for your prospect. They will expect external validation - and that’s where anecdotes and quotes are so powerful. They strengthen your messages by sharing third party insights and perspectives that support your position.
Top performers sell through storytelling
Having observed top-performing sales people in action, one common characteristic seems to be their ability to “sell through storytelling”. They have a rich fund of stories, drawn from the experiences of your existing customers, that they use to validate their core messages. Learning about the experience of people in similar roles in similar organisations is very powerful - particularly if they follow a story arc of pain, the search for a solution, and successful resolution.
CEOs and founders are often particularly effective at this sort of selling through storytelling. They typically have a fund of relevant, impactful stories, They may not even realise they are doing it - but you need to get your top story tellers together, collect their best stories, and share them in an easily deliverable form with your whole sales organisation.
Look for external validation
Don’t ignore the impact of authoritative facts and quotes, either. Whether they get them from you or from other sources, your prospects will be searching for independent perspectives on the issues they are wrestling with, whether they are important, and how to go about addressing them.
Each market will have a cluster of trusted advisers who are regarded as the credible go-to people and organisations. You need to find out who they are, and carefully collect facts and quotes that support your position and the points you are seeking to put to your prospects.
Are you equipping your sales people to control the customer conversation?
Are you equipping every one of your sales people to take control of the customer conversation? Are you truly confident that every sales conversation is delivering real value not just to you but also to the prospect? And if not, what’s stopping you from doing something about it?
One more thing: if you haven't already done so, why not invest 5 minutes in completing our recently revised B2B Sales and Marketing Best Practices Self-Assessment? You'll find a number of immediately actionable ideas for accelerating your revenue growth.