Collaborative Sales Strategy
Traditional perceptions about sales place prejudices upon salespeople. Whenever we think of a salesman, we think of a slick, suited man at the door, with the gift of gab, vying for the attention and the money of the innocent buyer.
Today, sales and marketing are completely different. Entrepreneurs are more invested in the needs of the customer and are willing to tailor products to meet those needs. Additionally, the conversations surrounding sales have changed their focus to finding solutions that work for both, the customer, and the seller.
Conversations That Sell (2013) by Nancy Bleeke discusses this shift of focus in sales and shows the right sales gab that will guide a strong sales career.
It’s About You!
Today’s market is an extremely competitive one, with almost identical products and similar prices. This makes the traditional one-to-one sales approach redundant. Customers have easy access to information and are looking for more than just knowing what a product’s features are.
The stakes in today’s marketplace are definitely higher and clients want to know how your product can make the necessary changes and give ‘forever’ solutions to their problems. The sales world today needs differentiators, rather than salespeople.
There are three vital features of good differentiators.
Differentiators focus on preparation. They are able to understand the needs of their clients clearly, not only before the process begins but also throughout the sales process. Differentiators seldom consider their job as only pitching to their clients. They guide the sales process, by constantly making efforts to learn more about their customers, understand their obstacles, and provide opportunities to their clients.
Differentiators believe solely in solving their client’s problems. In order to do that, they have to be transparent, open, and honest with their clients. They have a high level of self-confidence that enables them to strengthen their relationship with their client, by showing them that they are the priority, rather than simply crunching sales numbers.
The author, during her early days as a salesperson, found that when she was open and honest with her clients, putting her true personality and intentions on display won her client’s trust rather than focusing on using sales jargon, as her mentor has recommended.
Collaboration With Clients
Traditionally, a sales strategy involved a client describing their problem and the salesperson providing solutions that could either be accepted or rejected. Today, sales are all about collaborating with clients to develop a tailor-made solution for their problems.
Collaborative selling at the outset involves understanding all the aspects of the client’s problems. For example, a client is unable to process the huge number of customer service requests it is getting. To provide a solution to this problem, the salesperson could offer a systemized solution of expanding the customer service base.
However, the salesperson should also think about why does the client receives so many customer service requests in the first place. Maybe the solution lies in providing better customer service training to the employees of the company, as the customer service department of the client might not be good at solving issues in the first place.
Collaborative sales also include changing the language that salespeople use. Rather than think of the clients ‘problems’ that need a solution, the focus could be providing them with ‘opportunities’ that help meet the demand of their wants and needs. In this context, asking ‘What’s in it for them?’ could give the answer to what opportunities will suit their needs and wants, thus providing a profitable solution for the salesperson, his client, and his company too.
Therefore, in the above example, if the salesperson identifies that the client has a problem of inadequate customer service training, they could pitch a new training system within their product to address the issue. This will show the customer that the salesperson is truly invested in creating opportunities for them and is focused on providing long-term solutions. This will not only help the client, but also help in enhancing the customer’s relationship with the salesperson, and his company.
Developing The Collaborative Sales Strategy
Let us look at the basic principles of a good collaborative strategy.
- Research And Preparation
The first aspect of devising a successful collaborative sales strategy is preparation. And to be well prepared, one has to incorporate a lot of research.
The research includes knowing every single detail about the client, right from knowing the surface details such as the client’s industry, the size of the company, their business prospects, their underlining philosophy, etc., to knowing what issues they have faced in the past, their quarterly results, management changes, and even the general work culture.
The salesperson should also know who they are going to be dealing with and understand that person’s personality, their style of working, and lastly, know clearly what issues they face and what solutions they seek. All this information should be put in a fact file that can be referred to as and when needed.
- Appearances And Impression
Once the fact file is made, the salesperson should focus on presenting himself and his conducted research. This includes taking care of appearances like dressing up well for a meeting, ensuring a neat and tidy look, and even using a mild deodorant.
In terms of the research conducted, the salesperson should check every small detail such as having a tight presentation, putting papers in order, having a clean laptop, etc.
Just as you prepare for appearances, it is also important to be sure that you are mentally prepared for the presentation. This includes knowing the presentation well, rechecking the features of the product, and being ready for any kind of questions that the client will ask.
It takes very little to create a bad impression. Therefore ensuring a good impression with a solid presentation and appearance is essential.
After once creates a good first impression with appearances, the focus moves on to a conversation with the client. The way a salesperson begins a conversation could shape the relationship with the client in the future. The three most important elements of a good conversation are – introduction, the reason for contact and the subject to be is discussed.
Many sales pitches start on the wrong foot because salespeople dive into their pitch once they are done introducing themselves. The conversation post-introduction should have a smooth flow. Thus, the next thing that sales should focus on is letting the client know about any previous contacts made, let them know who has referred them if any, and then enumerate any of the general issues that are known.
Keep in mind ‘What’s in it for them?’ The salesperson should then begin to introduce their product or service by telling the client how it can help resolve any of the previously mentioned issues. For example, mentioning how their product has helped another company in the same industry by reducing production costs, etc.
- Connection Questions
Post introduction, connection questions will help tie in the conversation and guide it towards a natural flow. Connection questions should be personally engaging and refer to a relevant issue that puts the focus on them. For example, ‘you have worked with many vendors in the recent past. What were the best approaches in dealing with the issue in your opinion?’ Connection questions open the doors for asking more questions about the issues the client faces.
Through the conversation, a salesperson should focus on the tone of the client’s voice and their body language to gauge their emotional state. For example, if the client seems distracted and keeps looking at the watch, it is a signal to shorten and end the conversation.
- Gathering Information With Right Questions
All through the conversation, the aim of a salesperson should be to gather more information. This is achieved by asking the right questions, and there are certain do and don’ts that surround it.
- Never ask a client something that should be already known or that you know already.
- Use open-ended questions rather than close-ended ones that are related to their perceptions of the problem, emotions, and motivations.
- Questions should be about the current situation of the client, the risks associated, the opportunities present and the future.
- Questions should be prepared beforehand.
- Asking The Questions In The right Way
Once the list of questions is prepared, the salesperson should know how to ask them. To ensure a smooth flow of conversation, the questions should engage the client. This is achieved by follow-up questions. Another way to successfully guide a conversation is to paraphrase what the client says, to show them that they have been clearly understood and that both the parties are on the same page.
Throughout the conversation, the salesperson should be mindful of body language, maintain eye contact, and even use affirmation sounds.
At the end of the conversation, the salesperson should address all the details of the conversation, discuss the working of the decision-making process, clarify the people who will be involved, the budget, and the timeframe needed.
It is essential to get these questions right; therefore one can practice these questions with a colleague and see if they work.
- Focus On The Buyers While Presenting
Sometimes, in the midst of a presentation, one finds that a client has completely lost track of the presentation and isn’t really listening to what is being presented anymore. While this is every presenter’s nightmare, it is fortunately preventable.
Clients aren’t truly interested in what features a product has, but in what solutions the product offers and whether it is able to solve the client’s problem. To avoid lack of interest and to keep the client engaged, sales presenters need to change their language down to how they construct their sentences. Every line said should catch the attention of the client, and in order to do this, the focus should be on the client.
Another way of keeping a client connection is to tell them stories. Stories of how the product has successfully helped other companies will give them a hands-on understanding of what the product does. Keeping examples and prototypes for them to ‘see for themselves’ work well too.
- Dealing With Objections And Disagreements
Clients are bound to object or disagree with something or the other that is presented. In such cases, salespeople have to be prepared and answer them as soon as possible.
While challenging a client’s objection, you have to be careful to show the client that their concerns are taken seriously and that there is a way to solve them together, demonstrating to the client that you have a problem resolving capability. This will moreover, prove to the client that you are interested in more than just selling and have the ability to flexibly offer long-term solutions for any issue that arises in due process.
- Closing The Conversation
Towards the end of the meeting or presentation, it is important to reiterate everything that’s been discussed. All points discussed, all the processes that have been laid out, etc. should be clearly mentioned, along with a mention of the successful future of how things will be when the work is complete.
During the close of the conversation, it is imperative to ask a client if you have missed any detail. Clarification always helps in clearing out possibilities of any future misunderstandings and shows clients that you are thorough with your work.
Finally, aim for a commitment to something or try to get a decision from the client. For example, one can ask, ‘what should be the next steps, how many meetings can be expected net, when is the next meeting scheduled, what will be the aim of the next meeting and what can be expected in the next meeting?’
Such questions show eagerness and hint at transparency, a virtue that clients appreciate. Remember to end the meeting as partners. Using subservient language or gushing grateful gestures will only show desperation and mark you down on impressions. It is best to simply reiterate commitment.
Now that we know how to develop a collaborative strategy, especially while meeting with clients, there are a few necessary points to keep in mind to ensure the success of a collaborative sales strategy.
Have The Will With The Skill
There is one important factor that differentiates a good salesperson from a great one. It is will.
Every person’s will is the inner driving factor that pushes them towards successfully meeting their goals. Without having the skills, one can never be a good seller, and credibility will take a hit. However, without the will to perform, one can never meet any goals set.
Firstly, to have the will to succeed, one needs to have confidence – in oneself as well as in the product or service they sell. Secondly, one should be transparent about their goals – to themselves as well as to anyone else connected, such as clients and one’s team. Thirdly, one needs to have strong emotional intelligence. Sales is a tough job, and one needs to be able to control their emotions during the ups and downs that one encounters during the process.
Finally, all of these require practice. Focussing on the sense of will itself will give you a push to take on any challenge thrown at you.
With skill and will in your armor, you could be well on the path of success at sales. Yet without ensuring that your goals are measurable, flexible, and revisable, you still will have a long, long way to go.
Ask yourself, ‘Can you clearly define a timeframe to achieve a set goal?’ or ‘Do I need to redefine the goals?’ or ‘ What can be done to revise them?’ staying realistic while defining and redefining goals is important.
Writing down goals is a great way to keep them in perspective. Additionally, never hesitate to ask friends and colleagues for help. For example, ask a colleague to go through your presentation or check if your goals are aligned with the project at hand. If you need practice in presentation skills or speaking, join a class or a workshop!
Keeping a list of what hurdles or problems you could encounter also keeps you prepared if they do come in your way. And finally, keep a track of the progress you make towards those goals.
Today, salesmanship has changed by leaps and bounds. The focus no longer lies on the product that one offers but lies on solving the problems that clients face. Sales, today, emphasizes aligning or tailoring solutions to what clients want and need in order to solve their problems.
Understanding the value of collaborative sales and how one can steer their sales conversation to incorporating its principles is vital. Right from managing and mastering appearances, focusing on the right conversations, right questions, etc. to knowing how to close conversations and focussing on willpower and goal-setting, collaborative sales strategy is the best tool to succeed in the world of selling!