How to make your sales calls more successful
Insights from reviewing 200 sales calls
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One of the silver linings of the shift to remote work has been the widespread adoption of recording sales calls.
It’s given salespeople a way to assess their own work, sales managers a way to identify coaching opportunities and adjacent departments like product and marketing a direct channel into customers’ needs.
It’s also highlighted some best practices that, when implemented, lead to more successful sales calls and higher win rates.
In the past 24 months, I’ve listened to 204 sales calls, conducted by 107 salespeople at 24 companies. Here’s what the top performers are doing differently:
1. Have an agenda
This is kind of meetings 101 but it’s surprising how many salespeople just dive straight into the conversation.
The key benefit of an agenda is that it provides the opportunity to ask, “is there anything else you’d like to add?”, which can tell you straight away what is top of mind and important to your buyer. Easy.
2. Use a recap slide to guide the conversation
A recap slide simply lists what you have learned so far in the sales process. I like to organize the information into 4 boxes — Situation, Pain, Impact and Critical Event, which map to the information you as a salesperson need to gather to help the buyer and their colleagues choose you over your competition.
No matter where you are in the deal process, there will always be some information you have collected over email or via your own research. And as the deal progresses, the recap slide simply becomes more complete.
The benefit of doing this is that it creates a customer-centric conversation starter: “Did I get that correct?”, “What other pain points should we capture?”, “How do you think about the impact of solving those pain points?”, “What else should we be capturing here?”.
3. Discuss insights before showing features
Insights are powerful because they help frame the conversation in terms of the business outcome (or impact) your buyer is looking to achieve and how to measure success.
Insights also prompt the buyer to consider how much progress they have made to date, and what they can do to accelerate it. A 3rd party insight from a trusted source is often an effective way to convey this and 1-2 slides are usually sufficient.
Framing the problem through insights builds on the customer-centric conversation: “How do you see this in your business?”, “What initiatives do you have in play to address this problem?”.
This leads into discussing your 1st party insights, which should show how your customers are achieving the same business outcome your buyer is looking to achieve, by using your product. 1-2 slides are usually enough here too.
I cannot overstate the benefit of using insights in this way, especially with more senior buyers (director+). They do not care as much about features either because they don’t understand them or because they won’t have to use the product themselves.
4. Listen for cues to ask follow up questions
As you use your recap slide and insights to create a customer-centric conversation, listen for cues to probe with follow up questions. For example:
When a prospect mentions a pain point, try to understand the intensity of the pain point: “Curious, how are you solving that today?”, “What challenges are you running into with your current vendor?”, “How would things change if you could automate that?”, “What else could you focus on instead?”, “What will happen if things don’t change?”.
When a prospect mentions a related initiative, try to establish a connection to create a Critical Event: “How does that initiative tie into the business outcome?”, “What’s the current schedule?”, “
When a prospect mentions their boss, their management team or other users, try to understand their role in the decision making process: “You mentioned your boss, what does s/he oversee?”, “What’s important to them?”, “What are they looking to get out of making this change?”.
If you are recording your calls, an easy way to assess your skill in asking follow up questions is to look at how long you talk for after your buyer asks a question. Ideally you should see your buyer ask a question, you answer it quickly and then ask a follow up question that gets your buyer to elaborate.
5. Tie the demo to impact
The golden rule of demos, pilots and evaluations is to tie them to impact. When done right, this makes the most effective demos fairly short in length.
While its counter-intuitive to have a short demo, the reality is it is VERY hard for a buyer to absorb what is on the screen while also absorbing what the salesperson is saying. This is why you have to keep them tied to impact.
If the buyer is looking for just one thing, tie the demo to that one thing, stop and ask, “is there anything else you’d like to see?” If it’s a new pain point that you haven’t discussed, go back to asking questions to understand the intensity of the pain.
So many salespeople demo every corner of the product because they feel comfortable and confident doing so. However, with every minute that goes by, your buyer will slowly disengage because you are dominating the conversation.
6. Help buyers ask the right questions
One of the biggest mistakes salespeople make is assuming that buyers know all the right questions to ask. While this may be true for buyers in vendor-facing roles (e.g. media buyers, retail buyers), it’s seldom the case when selling software or professional services into a line of business.
One of the key jobs of a salesperson is to make sure the buyer asks the right questions in order to make an informed decision. Using insights to frame the problem to your advantage (as described earlier) is a very effective way: “The best solutions deliver X, Y and Z”—it prompts the buyer to make sure they ask about X, Y and Z. Otherwise they will just default to the lowest common denominator and ask how much it costs.
7. Schedule the next call
There’s no question that time is the enemy of all deals. You need to maintain momentum to get people to spend money.
Yet a huge number of salespeople end a call with some version of, “I’ll send over the info and email you next week to schedule more time”. This is an instant momentum killer.
The easiest way to overcome this is to budget time at the end of the meeting to schedule the next call. In a remote work environment, everyone is front of their calendar. I’ve yet to see a single person object to this when asked!
Good luck adding these best practices to your sales calls, let me know how you get on and let me know what else is working for you!
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