27 Apr The New Paradigm for Sales Success: Connection and Relevance – Part II
Part II: Relevant Discussions and Presentations
Clients are bombarded with “noise”: an overload of information, offers of help and advice, products, services, advertising, appeals for attention. Someone or something is continuously attempting to attract their attention. The dilemma for the client is that he or she needs relevant information, advice, services and products. But they have to sift through the unwanted information to find what they actually need – the products and services that will actually make a difference, and the people whom they can actually rely upon for solid advice.
The role of the collaborative sales professional is to engage clients in relevant discussions, and provide clients with relevant solutions that connect to their needs. Your job is to help eliminate unwanted, unrelated chatter when you’re with your clients. It’s easily said. And with practice of these few simple skills, you’ll find it’s also easily done.
1Stay current in your field: Read what your clients read. Pay attention to what’s trending among your clients’ collective concerns. Being relevant is about staying out in front of what clients are worried about and excited about. It’s more than just offering a good product or service; it’s about understanding the client’s problems (and opportunities), perhaps even more deeply than they do themselves. The very act of helping a client think through a perplexing issue, and helping them grasp a new or expanded understanding of their own situation, is a service that is highly valued by clients even before they agree to do business with you.
Tip: Don’t confuse a discussion about what the problems and opportunities are with a discussion about what the solutions would be. The first type of discussion is about them; the other is about you and your firm. Keeping the initial conversation focused on the client will help solidify the message that you have their best interests at heart. Offering a solution too soon – before the issue is properly and thoroughly framed – can lead a client to suspect you of being more interested in selling them something, rather than truly making a difference for them.
2Ask about opportunities as well as problems: Most sales professionals and consultants know to ask clients the question: “What keeps you up at night?” While a bit hackneyed, this question can quickly get at the core of a client’s motivation for decision-making; pain is a powerful engine for action. A counter-balance to this question is: “What gets you up in the morning?” This second question allows for client’s forward momentum to be revealed, the motivation that’s more about growing into what’s possible, not just unhooking what’s getting in the way. And for fast-growing organizations, creating growth is just as important as fixing problems.
Tip: These questions can be provocative. They are thought-provoking and will require your clients to… well… think! For that reason, as you ask each question, don’t be intimidated or reactive if your questions are met with silence. That’s to be expected. Count to seven (really, to seven) before prompting your client further. This gives them the time and space to truly assess their response to you.
3Start your presentation with a recap of the client’s story: This is counter-intuitive. And it’s absolutely pivotal. This step isn’t just nice to do; you, your team and the client will all earn big dividends from this small but significant step. When your presentation is built on your newly-defined understanding of a client’s needs, wants and requirements, it stands to reason that that foundation had better be accurate and thorough. By pausing to verify your understanding, you employ the client in checking the very foundation or premise of your proposed solution. You also come across as more engaging and collaborative in your sales process. You send clear messages of “Let’s be sure we’re getting this right for you.” You also allow further details to be revealed; clients naturally fill in the blanks when they hear you reflect back to them a story about themselves. And if you’re presenting to a committee, this step ensures that everyone is on the same page among the decision-makers, avoiding problems and dissensions down the road (when it’s more costly and risky to you and your firm).
Tip: If you are presenting using slides or a paper-based proposal, make the first slide of your presentation, or the first page of your proposal about the client. Call it: Your Business Case, or Our Understanding of Your Needs. This is often the page clients will spend the most time on, as they’ll naturally want an accurate depiction of their situation. It also becomes the document they share when selling internally, starting with this compelling portrayal of the need for action.
Having something valuable to say to a client is important, and contributes to your being relevant. However, often more compelling and differentiating to your sales process is your ability to capture and reflect the client’s story back to your client. Both are powerful and important; the second is what can set you apart.