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A Recipe to improve your Sales Skills
it's not in the DNA
Most people think of sales as a character trait. This is completely false. This article will try to give you a recipe that everyone can use to become better at selling. Indeed selling is not magic, it’s a process and it follows very specific rules. Needless to say, selling is a very important skill to master.
To begin, I would like to say that you should compare the act of selling to that of a doctor. When you go to a doctor, it’s because you have explicit pain and you need a cure. I’ve never had a doctor start the consultation by giving me a rundown of all possible medications. The first step is always to perform a diagnostic and then recommend a specific drug to address the pain. The same is true for selling.
Like doctors, good salespeople are customer-centric and not product-centric. Being product-centric is often counterproductive because you can demonstrate the product without context, you will only show features without being able to turn them into a benefit for the customer; in a word, you are in the dark hoping the prospect will find a path for you. Being customer-centric means you understand the pain, you listen more than you talk, know when to walk away, and are always in control.
Unlike a consultation, selling involves multiple people. I’ll offer another analogy, this time you are a movie director. You come in and watch a script unfold. You have to study the actors and sets and come up with a new, better script. The big difference is that you can’t pay the actors, they don’t work for you. However, you can motivate them to behave by resolving individual pains. The following recipe is what you need to do to get these actors motivated enough to act.
Let’s dive into what constitutes the essence of a sales deal. There are 6 core elements to a deal:
1- There is a compelling reason for the prospect to take action and buy
2- We have identified all the actors that participate in the decision-making process
3- For each of them, we know their pains
4- We have medicine for their pains
5- The decision-maker has recognized the value of our solution
6- The decision-maker has committed to a clear timeline.
By understanding these elements and how they relate you will control the deal, the timing, and the outcome.
Selling is finding answers to the essence of a deal. Think of it as “empty boxes” that you will want to fill with information. So selling is asking questions to fill boxes and then making sense out of it. Good salespeople listen and know how to ask the right questions.
Lets’ detail the 6 elements
The compelling reason, our first box, describes what happens to an organization if they do not act to solve a current problem. It describes the reason for acting within a defined timeframe. It relates to a challenge an organization is trying to overcome. For example, if I do not fix my warehouse mismanagement, the organization will keep losing 20% of stock value every year.
A strong compelling reason is not essential, however the less compelling it is, the riskier the deal.
The actors’ box is about identifying the people involved in the decision-making process. We can generally find 5 types of individuals. The decision-maker, where the bucks stop, the users, the champion who will move your solution internally, the influencers who are not directly involved but can kill a deal, and finally outside partners who see an opportunity to make you win or lose the deal.
As a general rule, you are in the realm of “pain” when it applies to a human being. A problem is not human pain, it’s only business-related. Trying to analyze the consequence of a problem is often a good way to find people’s pain.
If you need to characterize pain, here are a few examples: Wanting more autonomy, loss of recognition, ego deflation, interest in a promotion, need for more leisure, power-hungry, need for more flexibility, would like to be an instrument of change, need to feel more secure, look to be seen as a leader, need for more money, need for more time with family,…
DO NOT think that the “pain” approach is an intellectual approach and that you can sell based on solving technical or business problems. That is not true. People make decisions because they are motivated to do so. Motivation comes from within, and solving a pain is usually very motivating. People are very individualistic and they care about themselves first and the company second. In this context a problem is never urgent, a personal discomfort always is. Pain is what drives people to behave. Selling is simply to make people behave so that you get what you want.
So keep in mind that there is no connection between an organization's problem and people’s pain. An organization can have a really significant problem and it may not trigger any pain at the individual level and vice versa.
The medicine is the benefit of a given feature that addresses a specific pain. As of now, we have tried to fill in the first 3 boxes. So we understand the compelling reason to buy, the actors involved, and how painful it is for each of them. It’s time to see if we have a medicine for that. We can now try to assemble what our offering/product could leverage to alleviate the pain. It is where you are transforming a feature into a benefit.
The value to the organization is proportional to the compelling reason. With a strong compelling reason, we can end up with a strong value. Value for an organization can be measured in 3 different ways:
Productivity or ROI (return on investment).
The price of the impossible, meaning your solution enable new use cases
Insurance, as a way to reinforce a situation
The value for individuals is proportional to the pain level. Ideally, it needs to be high for the decision-maker.
Every Deal needs to be contained within a certain timeframe. A deal has a timeline with a number of actions to undertake on both sides before receiving closing a deal.
We can identify 4 main timelines
Problem recognition- The decision-maker must accept the problem and explicitly admit that he/she wants to resolve it. Not all problems are worth solving. Only the most critical and painful ones will be addressed.
Information Gathering- the actors will gather information to qualify your solution.
Construction of alternative solutions- Once the decision-maker is convinced by what you have to offer, he/she will attempt to find out if other solutions should be considered, like:
Changing things internally
Comparing your solution to the competition
Choice- Decision-maker will make a choice in the context of a critical problem that needs resolution quickly.
So Selling is not a skill embedded in your DNA, it’s a discipline, it’s about asking the right questions. At each meeting, you should fill in some boxes until you have enough information to put together a sales strategy to win the deal. Given you are handling multiple deals in parallel, try to find overlapping data to build a comprehensive sales playbook, to one day share with a sales team.