Not too long ago, I was having a conversation with one of my clients about the classes his daughter should take in college. She had just graduated from high school, and the client had just come from her graduation ceremony earlier in the week.
As we were talking about her electives, the client remarked that if he had the chance to go through college all over again, he would have taken Spanish and classes on cultures and religions. That remark really piqued my interest, so I asked him why he said that. He replied that over the years he's discovered how important it is to understand others. Find out where they are coming from. This is especially important as a business owner, and someone who directly communicates with leads and clients on a daily basis. Put another way: it's vital to make a connection, and really understand people.
Thinking back on his remarks, I couldn't help but frame his insight in the context of sales. If it's important for business owners in general to understand their customers, how much more critical is it for salespeople who may interact with scores of prospects every day?
Help Your Lead Experience Value
The fact is, successful sales is all about helping the lead experience value from your product or service. But they can’t experience value if you don't understand where they're coming from. What problems are they trying to solve? And (perhaps most importantly) why do they want to choose your solution? The reality is, they want to improve. They need to see how your solution helps them do that.
Sales requires a high level of empathy and understanding. When combined with adequate research, it can often result in a win, meaning that the salesperson is right for the lead and right for your business.
With that in mind, I thought of four key questions that you could ask yourself when evaluating how well you're able to understand your clients:
1. "Do I intentionally take the time to go deeper?"
Understanding doesn't happen by chance. There has to be a certain level of intentionality in place for someone to achieve a deep comprehension of what drives another person.
You'd probably agree with this quote: "No one listens anymore; they just wait their turn to speak." I know I've seen the truth of that statement from my years of experience in the consulting sector. It's a trend that's become more and more pronounced over the years. But it's one you have to combat if you want to gain valuable insight into a client's thoughts and feelings.
I like this question because it's a good starting point for some self-reflection. If we don't go into an intake meeting or even a coaching session with the resolve to truly listen and learn, then our relationships could easily stagnate.
2. "Do I ask more questions than I make statements?"
Question #1 is largely about our mindset. This question provides us with a barometer with which to measure our success at proactively working to understand others: namely, our speech.
It's often been said that the reason we have two ears and one mouth is because we should do twice as much listening as speaking. How are you measuring up in that regard? Granted, talking about ourselves, our company, and our solutions is often our "comfort zone" when meeting with clients. The problem is that such an approach isn't really focused on the customer's needs -- it's focused on what we think the customer needs.
In contrast, asking a lot of meaningful questions is the key to understanding what the client wants, needs, and expects from the relationship.
3. "Am I inviting?"
This is a big one. Having the right mindset and asking the right questions are both helpful tools in terms of understanding your clients... but what about literally inviting them to share their perspectives? When you sincerely invite someone to explain where they're coming from, your desire to understand them is no longer implied but is apparent to everyone.
In the sales context, here are some examples of invitations that you can (and that I highly recommend you do) extend to your clients:
The point is, you want to really be curious (without being meddlesome) about what makes the client tick. It doesn't matter whether you are on a phone call, a Zoom call, at a conference, a networking event, a trade show booth, or in a face-to-face meeting. Stay in the present. Be mindful of what is actually being said, rather than mentally moving on to the next point you want to make. When you invite the client to share their perspective, be sincere about it.
As a salesperson, it's true that you typically have your own agenda, and you have "boxes" on your list that must be checked off. However, you'll get a lot further with your clients if you set aside the agenda, put down the to-do list, and immerse yourself in their viewpoint for a while.
4. "Do I practice being present with the people I interact with?"
Finally, it's good to periodically take stock of your mindset and performance during interactions with clients (and with everyone else, for that matter). Are you listening to respond, or listening to understand? Do you focus on furthering your own argument, or on discerning why the other person is reasoning as they are? Are your interactions just items on your checklist, or are they opportunities for discovery and even joy?
In summary, it's true that sales is often a "bottom-line business." The attitude is: either you hit your quota or you don't. But what a lot of salespeople seem to miss is the value of understanding in achieving those tangible goals. When you come into a meeting with an open mind, ask more questions than you make statements, literally invite the other person to share their perspective, and stay within the moment, then you're much more likely to win over the business and the hearts of your leads and clients.
If you'd like more insights on how you can improve your sales leadership, contact us. Or sign up for our newsletter for more valuable resources.
Your Sales Foundations define the core elements of your business. As their name suggests, they're the fundamental structure on which your sales and marketing efforts are built. Without strong foundational messaging in place, it will be extremely difficult to maintain a coherent narrative with your prospects, leads, and clients - and that inconsistency could cost you their business.
Of course, even if your Sales Foundations are already well-established, it's important to make sure that your team members understand and are in agreement with them.
If you're a sales manager, you play a crucial role in promoting this type of alignment. One practical step that you can take in that direction is to host a 30-minute workshop during your next sales meeting. The ultimate objective of the workshop is to make sure everyone is aligned with your company's foundational messaging, and has at least a high-level grasp of how to use it when interacting with leads and clients.
How To Lead the Workshop
In simple terms, establishing your foundational messaging is all about asking and answering the right questions. With that in mind, have your sales team come into the meeting with their individual answers to these key questions:
As the sales manager, your job is to facilitate discussion, and promote alignment and agreement with your entire team. Get out the whiteboard. Go down the list of questions. Point out commonalities and differences with each answer that's given. By the end of the discussion, your team should have a consensus on these vital questions (e.g., whether your company creates value through its competitive pricing or its high quality of service, and so forth).
In addition, invite marketing to the meeting as observers. This helps them understand where sales is coming from. In turn, they can take that knowledge back to their department. When marketing and sales are aligned towards the same basic messaging, it makes the entire customer's journey much more seamless, especially during transitions from one stage of the sales/marketing funnel to the next.
What if there isn't alignment at the start of the workshop? Well, this is a golden opportunity to jump-start the alignment process. In fact, you may even uncover valuable insights about your company as team members share differing viewpoints.
The Goal: Focused and Clear Messaging
In the final analysis, focused and clear messaging ultimately serves the customer by taking friction out of the sales funnel. How? It keeps your team on the same page and presents a consistent narrative to your consumer base. Ultimately, it all starts with the establishment of your foundational messaging. Take 30 minutes out of your day to make sure everyone is in agreement with that messaging. It’s worth it!
If you'd like more insights on how you can improve your sales leadership, contact us. Or sign up for our newsletter for more valuable resources.
When building a house, it's absolutely vital that your foundation is rock-solid — but in order to lay a rock-solid foundation, you have to dig deep. It's similar with your sales team. Your Sales Foundations define the core elements of your business. But if you want everyone on your team to have a clear idea of who you are, and what you stand for, you'll have to lead your team in some "digging exercises."
When laying your sales foundations, there are five key questions you need to answer. Or rather, five questions that you and your team need to answer together. Let's talk about them one by one, and see how you can get everyone on the same page.
1. What Problems Do You Solve?
This usually isn't a difficult question to answer. But you need to make sure that there's alignment on this point before moving on to the next sales foundation question. Every company is in existence to solve a problem or fill a need. Which customer needs does your company fill? You could start the discussion by asking questions like:
Ask your team members to provide as many answers as they can. Then, compile those answers into a bulleted list. After that, organize the answers under different "umbrella" categories. For example, if you run an SaaS company, you may be able to segment the problems you solve into three areas:
2. What is Your Value Proposition?
Every time you solve a problem, or fill a need, you also create value. Your value proposition is a clear statement of the value you can bring to the table when customers do business with you. In fact, as far as your customers are concerned, your value proposition represents the most important part of your company.
Ask each member of your Improvement Team what they feel the company's value proposition is. Then, have them define any ambiguous terms that come up along the way. If there's any misalignment on the value proposition, keep digging until a consensus has been reached.
Finally, suggest two brief summaries of your value proposition: one that's 25 words long, and another that's 100 words. The 25-word version should encapsulate your value proposition in a way that any salesperson can internalize and repeat to customers. The 100-word version should serve as the basis for just about all of your marketing messages moving forward.
3. What are Your Key Differentiators?
It's true that there may be a hundred companies in your industry that basically provide the same product or service that you do. But none of them do it exactly like your company does. So the question is: What makes you unique? And then the million-dollar follow-up question should be: Why would someone buy from you instead of one of your competitors?
You may need to start the discussion with your Improvement Team by asking: Why have customers bought from us in the past? Whatever answers you get, make sure that you're especially careful with your terminology here. For instance, one salesperson may consider a product "great" because it's extremely reliable. Whereas another sales rep looks at the same product and calls it "okay" because it's not cutting-edge.
4. What are Your Offerings?
Now we're getting into the weeds a bit (but just a bit!) Your offerings are the specific products and services that your company provides to customers. They're the how of your value proposition. By asking this question, you don't want your team members to just list off the different offerings your company has. Instead, you want to connect those offerings to the needs, wants, and interests of your customers.
As an example, think of a seafood restaurant. Imagine that the restaurant only offers flounder to its patrons. But most of them want shrimp. Even if it's the finest flounder in town, the restaurant's offerings don't match the preferences of its customers.
In the same way, it's important to periodically revisit your offerings to make sure they really align with the needs and wants of your customers. You can use this three-step process to get some clarity and alignment on your offerings:
5. What Experience Can You Promise and Deliver to Customers?
As the final "building block" for your Sales Foundations, you need to move beyond the "X's and O's" of concrete problem-solving and enter the realm of human interaction. Your customer experience promise defines the kind of experiences you want to create for your customers. In other words, how you want them to feel before, during, and after an interaction with your brand.
Have your team members generate a list of keywords and phrases that they feel would best represent that "ideal experience" for the customer. Once you've compiled that list, whittle it down until you arrive at the top three or four concepts that everyone agrees most closely match your company, and are most integral to the value you deliver.
Your Sales Foundations and Foundational Messaging
Once you and your Improvement Team answer these five key questions, you'll be able to use them to shape your company's foundational messagin. In other words, the narrative that each sales rep should walk a customer through (in whole or in part) as they consider whether to buy from your brand.
A coherent foundational message will sift out prospects from your pipeline who aren't really a good fit. They help your team to win over those leads that will yield the highest value.
The bottom line? When your team knows who they are as a company, they'll be able to stay on message, deliver a consistent experience, and ultimately improve their performance. That's the power of rock-solid Sales Foundations.
If you'd like more insights on how you can improve your sales leadership, contact us or sign up for our newsletter for more valuable resources.