The size and complexity of sales in business vary, but the routes to success won’t: businesses with a sophisticated, defined approach – and the ability to apply this consistently – will outperform their competitors.
Huthwaite International has been conducting research into successful sales performance for over 40 years, and it’s this research which underpins our SPIN sales training programme. Through our decades of research, we’ve identified the verbal behaviours that successful salespeople display time and again to steer interactions with clients in a positive direction and generate results.
Here are four of the key behaviours that form a smarter, highly effective approach to sales.
1. Ask the right questions
While asking clients questions is definitely better than simply talking ‘at’ them about the features of the product or service you’re selling, our research shows successful salespeople ask more of certain types of questions.
Situation questions are used to uncover the facts and background of the customer’s existing situation, for example, how many people they employ, or what locations they are based in. Our research shows these are used more in unsuccessful sales calls. The best performing sellers ask fewer of these, but focus them better.
Problem questions are about customer’s problems, difficulties and dissatisfactions. They identify whether or not something is a problem and should also be used to clarify the problem, for example, how satisfied are they with their present equipment? Or where does the problem happen? These are used more frequently in successful calls and inexperienced sellers don’t ask enough of these.
By asking questions that open up discussion around the business challenges the customer is facing, the salesperson can position themself as a helpful adviser and problem solver.
2. Listen to the customer
In research we conducted with YouGov, we found 85 per cent of business decision makers believe a good buying experience involves a salesperson listening carefully in order to understand their requirements. However only 39 per cent experienced this during their last significant purchase.
This clearly shows a desire on the customer’s behalf to be heard by the salesperson. And if salespeople aren’t listening, it means they’re talking, usually about the product or service they are looking to sell. This is a real danger as it’s a missed opportunity to discover how they could help the customer. Sellers must be careful not to be caught up in the excitement of talking about the bells and whistles of their offer. If they’re irrelevant, they’ll be ignored at best, but in a worst-case scenario it could irritate a potential buyer and lose them a sale.
3. Agree a meaningful next step
In a major sale, clients are seldom likely to order something or decide no sale immediately; next steps are likely to be what we call advances or continuations. An advance is when a customer commits to take action that moves the sale forward by providing access to a new, meaningful resource. A continuation, on the other hand, is when the customer doesn’t commit to doing anything, but the seller may have to do a lot.
We consider advances to be successful, but continuations not to be. Successful sellers look for the highest realistic commitment they can get from each interaction to continue in the sales cycle.
4. Don’t immediately make a counterproposal
Negotiating terms is standard in a major sale but can be a potential minefield. A finding from our negotiations research that many may find surprising is that skilled negotiators are less likely to make a counterproposal than average negotiators. Responding with an immediate alternative to the one proposed by the client is like saying to them that you aren’t listening but simply have targets you will stick to regardless of their viewpoint.
Successful negotiators concentrate on exploring the underlying causes for the client making their proposal so they can discover their true objections. Demonstrating that they are listening and engaging in such a way means that it’s more likely that an arrangement satisfactory to both sides will be reached.
The aim of each interaction is for both sides to come away from a sale and negotiation feeling they’ve achieved a good deal. By doing this, rather than trying to record a ‘win’ over clients, a salesperson is significantly more likely to build and maintain long, trusted and profitable relationships.
By Tony Hughes, CEO, Huthwaite International