Three Conversations That Sales Reps Need to Master

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As marketers, you’re probably no stranger to the often complicated relationship that exists between you and your sales team. But on the first Friday in March, set aside those tensions and use National Salesperson Day as an opportunity to lend a hand to improving sales performance.

What better way to celebrate the occasion than by discussing some ideas that can put your reps on a pathway to continued success? After all, one of the most challenging (and undeniably fun) aspects of being a salesperson—or a marketer, for that matter—is that you can never be good enough.

On that note, I’d like to frame this discussion with a question that sales leaders have been asking for years: What separates high performers from low performers out in the field?

What is it? Do high performers get more leads? Do they own the best territory? Are they selling the best products? Do they follow a better sales process? Do they have access to better automation technology?

The answer to all those questions is almost always “no.”

The reality is that companies have a vested interest in standardizing these factors to put their whole team in a position to hit their revenue targets. So, if all these things are equal, why are some salespeople performing better than others?

Defining Value

Some 71% of leaders identify customer conversations as their biggest challenge to hitting their revenue targets, according to SiriusDecisions, an analyst firm. In other words, the quality of the conversations your reps have with prospects and customers dictates sales performance success (or lack thereof).

More precisely, sales success hinges on your reps’ ability to link your solutions to your prospects’ business problems and then to articulate value within that conversational framework. I say this with the understanding that “value” is a concept that needs some definition; it needs to be more concrete and addressable if salespeople have any hope of articulating it.

In our forthcoming book (due out Summer 2015), we identify three value conversations that your reps must master to control each stage of the buying cycle, from the first engagement to the close of more profitable deals.

1. Create value (differentiation)

The differentiation conversation remains a major hurdle for salespeople—and it often begins to pose a problem in the first sales conversation they have. At this stage, many reps assume that a prospect or customer is ready to make a change. But more often than not, this isn’t the case. In all likelihood, your rep still has to convince prospects to leave their status quo and embrace a change management project led by him or her.

This is where your reps need to be able to lead a compelling and provocative “why change” conversation designed to defeat the status quo and create the buying vision.

By telling a powerful “why change” story first, your reps change the entire trajectory of the customer conversation and give themselves a leg up in the “why you” conversation to follow, where they’ll be able to differentiate with the right story, at the right time.

2. Elevate value (justification)

This second value conversation is the one that takes your reps up to key executive decision makers. The importance of securing executive-level buy-in cannot be overstated; analyst firm IDC found that 80% of business-to-business decisions are being signed by decision makers with vice-president or higher titles.

To secure this critical buy-in, your reps need to build a business impact model that makes the business case for your solution and frees up the budget for an opportunity. To truly excel in this phase, they also need to demonstrate not only financial acumen and executive conversation skills but also an ability to confidently deliver value propositions that justify customer investment.

3. Capture value (maximization)

The two-pronged objective in this conversation is to protect your company’s profit margins and maintain the size of your deals. Doing this effectively often requires a wholesale revision of the way sales reps think about negotiation.

A common misconception is that negotiations happen only at the end of the buying cycle, when the deal reaches purchasing. The problem with that approach is that it positions your salespeople to negotiate only on price, forcing them to scramble to protect your pricing at the end of a deal.

In reality, your salespeople have been negotiating throughout the sales cycle, whether they realize it or not. Every time a rep gives something away (e.g., early price concessions, demos, a trial run, etc.) to move the deal along, they’re effectively leaking value from your deal.

To plug these “value leaks,” salespeople need to embrace the tension-filled strategy of exchanging value rather than giving it away with every customer request. By avoiding this unnecessary discounting, your reps will ensure that your company builds value throughout your sales conversations—a better approach than having your pricing rest on last-ditch negotiation maneuvers.

* * *

These three value conversations have specific objectives and outcomes, and they rely on distinct concepts and techniques. But they’re also complementary to the extent that salespeople must have mastery of all three conversations, so that he or she can move seamlessly between them according to the unique demands of your customer buying cycle.

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