If I could share and reinforce one and only skill with a sales team this year, it would be this one: make the conversation about the buyer.
As opposed to about us.
Making buyer-focused conversations happen consistently takes practice. Why? Well, unfortunately, we often fall into the trap of making the conversation about us, our stuff, and our company’s track record. The fact is, we’re hard-wired to do that, for the simple reason that we’re human beings. During times of stress or uncertainty (like a discussion with a prospect), humans are highly likely to fall back on that which they’re most familiar with… and the conversational topic we are most intimately familiar is ourselves! For a lot of us, the topic that runs a close second is the list of features and benefits that connect to whatever we happen to sell. We’ve been trained by our organizations to be fluent in discussing that subject, of course, and for most salespeople, it’s a topic that is constantly reinforced and updated.
What if we were trained just as rigorously – and reinforced just as consistently – in the art of leading a buyer-focused conversation? What if we made that kind of discussion second nature? Here are three powerful best practices that you can practice and start hard-wiring right now.
Tip 1: Know, and be prepared to raise, the most common question your ideal buyer typically has.
Early on in the buyer journey, for example, it’s likely that the decision-makers and stakeholders are researching major launch-related issues. For instance: “What are the advantages of a customized solution as opposed to an off-the-shelf solution? What are the potential disadvantages? How long does it take to set up the customized application? How much of my time is it going to take for us to set it up?”
Right now, in an attempt to answer questions like that, your buyers are likely getting a one-size-fits-all diagnosis from Dr. Google. They haven’t been down this road before. You have. Instead of reciting features and benefits, engage with buyers about the questions you’ve got good reason to suspect are on their mind. Identify the most common pressing question. Bring up the subject yourself. Then give them concise answers they can use. You will establish yourself as a resource and an important potential ally. Google is great – but it’s not the same as having a real connection to an expert who’s actually helped organizations do this before. That expert is you.
You can build and expand the relationship, and position yourself for deeper conversations… by sharing just enough of your expertise to prove you’re someone who should be on the buyer’s radar screen.
Tip 2: Share an emotionally driven narrative about how you helped someone progress through the buyer journey.
People communicate through stories. You have plenty of stories to share about how your organization has helped someone in a similar situation to the buyer's to make the right decision… and get rid of a business headache. Pick one and share it.
Note: This story is not an excuse to go into “hard sell” mode! It is, however, a chance to use the power of narrative to share an exciting story about a customer’s typical journey… a story that isn’t about features and benefits, but is about how you helped someone deal constructively with a situation that carried a negative emotion: fear, uncertainty, doubt, worry, anger, concern, or anxiety. By the end of that story, share how the person you helped was experiencing the opposite of that negative emotion.
For instance: They were worried that the rollout would consume months of time and attention they didn’t have… but by working with you, they freed up their schedule, rolled out the customized solution seamlessly, and didn’t have to stress themselves out – and they were pretty happy about that. Notice that this story is all about emotion (in this case worry, followed by happiness).
Remember: People make decisions emotionally and then justify those decisions logically. The aim of your story is to appeal to the buyer’s current negative emotional state, and show the way forward to a positive resolution. By the way, your story is going to be most effective when you conclude it by sharing your own doubt and uncertainty about whether you can deliver the same result for the buyer. You don’t have enough information yet to be certain about that!
Tip 3: Ask a hook question.
A hook question is one that grabs the listener’s attention and at the same time spotlights your expertise and/or your ability to listen. Good hook questions give the buyer something to think about, while simultaneously giving them a chance to provide feedback.
Hook questions are not the same as hijacking the conversation! Your question should give the buyer the opportunity to change the direction of the conversation to whatever they feel is most relevant. And, of course, these questions give you the chance to demonstrate your ability to listen, think, and adjust to the buyer’s needs. Remember, your job is not to convince the buyer to sign the deal today, but rather to start an interesting conversation. You don’t need to get married on the first date. You just need to be intriguing enough to get a second date.
Here are a few examples of questions that might get your buyer's attention and trigger a relevant conversation:
- “Some of our clients aren’t interested in small incremental results. What do you think it would take for you to see a three to ten times ROI on a project like this?”
- “I know that your competitor recently revamped their process for this. Were they far behind and trying to play catch-up, or were they pulling ahead to be cutting-edge in your space?”
- “I know you’re a leader in your industry and probably already figured this out, but if I had a magic wand and could grant you one wish regarding your current processes, what would it be?”
Strong hook questions like these acknowledge the intelligence and hard work both parties have put into addressing the problem so far, and they help you to probe for deeper discussion topics. You can use the responses your hook question generates to get a sense of the bigger picture and identify root causes… or you can ask for more details that will help you diagnose problems and define the solutions.
Sales is a discovery and qualification process that requires some back and forth between both parties. Unless you ask the right questions, you won't uncover your buyers’ needs or figure out how to position your solution. Not understanding their needs will cost you the relationship; not having the information you need to make good decisions will cost you the deal.
If you don’t know where to start, a good open-ended hook question might sound like this: “Could you tell me a little bit more about your situation?”
These three simple best practices will take you off of features and benefits… and focus you on the buyer. Use them!
For a deeper dive on this, check out the online course we developed in partnership with HubSpot, Starting Buyer-Focused Conversations.