Unlevelling the sales playing field

Miles Valentine explains the six key steps in an effective sales model. It’s a blueprint for winning more business. 

New Zealanders have always placed great value in personal relationships for business and this is particularly so in sales. ‘People buy from people’ as the saying goes. However, achieving that personal touch is more difficult as businesses decentralise and globalisation shifts decision makers offshore.

At the same time, thanks to the Internet and the ‘Knowledge Economy’, customers are better informed and enjoy a greater choice of international suppliers. Closing business is getting tougher everywhere!

Firms react to competition in a variety of ways, from discounting to offering additional products and services, to looking for new markets or channels. One of the easier answers is to sell more efficiently by improving sales processes.

Many Kiwi businesses use a sales model to convert opportunities. In my experience, one thing they have in common is that, over time, each model will be customised, selectively followed or just downright ignored, limiting their effectiveness.

Many sales people have tended to write their own rules, either being given autonomy as long as they make their numbers, or just choosing to operate outside company practices. I think that’s no longer good enough, that individuals and teams need to hunt in a pack and follow some proven rules and processes designed to lift overall effectiveness.

Change can be confronting but marketing teams have been through this. Marketers embraced the challenges of social media and digital by introducing automation and learning to market through multiple online channels. Now it’s time for sales teams to look closely at how they sell. And why they aren’t winning more business.

Finding that effective sales model
There are six key steps in an effective sales model, whether it be for ‘hunters’ or ‘farmers’. Skipping any step, intentionally or by accident, will almost certainly lead to a loss.

1. PROSPECTING. For hunters, calculate the number of calls or contacts required to gain a qualified appointment. How are you gaining these introductions and is it efficient? Or, if you’re a farmer, is an account review process in place that ensures the door is not left open to a competitor through an unrealised need? What is your team’s key prospecting question, the opening line that grabs a prospective customer’s attention and leads them to enquire “How do you do that?”

2. QUALIFICATION. This is arguably the most important step, when you move your lead to become a qualified prospect by asking questions, listening, and building empathy as you start to understand their pain points.

There is way too much “telling” and not enough qualifying in sales. In just about every purchase I make, this drives me mad! Too often the sales person simply starts firing product features at me without asking any of the questions necessary to understand my needs. Do you have any other residential property investments? What type of vehicle are you looking for? Have you yet moved any of your data processing into the cloud; if so, who with, who did it, how did the transition go?

In my experience, when buying a consumer item, the sales person asks an insightful question about one time in ten. It gets a little better when buying for business but there are still so many opportunities left on the table through failure to qualify.

The rule for sales is “two ears, one mouth” – use them in that proportion! A structured qualification process discovers the pain points that identify a prospect. Finding that common ground between what they need and what you provide is the key.

3. DEMONSTRATIONS. Evaluate your demonstrations. Are they based around answering pain points or done by rote? A customer presentation is compelling if it leads naturally to the conclusion that “yes, that does what I’m looking for?” Your people need to demonstrate products and services in a way that answers the prospect’s pain points, not run through a pre-programmed, soup-to-nuts presentation of your whole offering.

4. PROPOSAL. This must be an easily replicated, yet personalised template. Your proposal will do the rounds of several influencers and decision makers (some of whom you will not meet in person) so it must cover all the elements of the sale. This includes your profile, the identified and agreed-to needs, the solution described in a ‘what’s in it for me’ format, the configuration and price in understandable terms, and the return on investment (ROI). Without each of these elements, your offering will be under-rated and misunderstood. And chances are, you will not be in front of the decision maker to correct their perception.

5. OBJECTIONS. How good is your team at handling objections? You probably have just five or six really common ones. Prepare and practice answers to each objection and brainstorm the less obvious ones. Effective teams understand that objections are a good thing and that a sale won’t happen without them. Others avoid what they perceive as these ‘difficult’ conversations.

6. ASK. It seems obvious but check whether your people actually ask for the order. Few customers will agree to buy without being asked. Imagine what your success ratio could be if the binary decision of a sale is asked for, and at the right time. “Why don’t we go ahead?” Just five words but they appear to be a mountain to climb for many salespeople who become scared stiff of this stage.

Communication and discipline
A sales model is about retaining experience, avoiding wastage, focusing the team’s energy on engaging with a customer rather than recreating proposal documents. Building a great model doesn’t require a capital outlay or learning new technology, just good communication within your team and the discipline to adhere to a shared process.

If your sales team isn’t following all of these steps to continually improve their success ratios, the chance of losing a sale jumps hugely. If you execute on each of them, those odds for a win increase. Which side of the ledger do you want to be on?  

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