By February 20, 2014 3 Comments

Effective Sales Techniques: Build Insight-Led Sales Conversations

Effective sales reps build insight-led sales conversations by developing a best-in-class teaching conversation.  In The Challenger Sale, it states that the best teaching conversations typically follow six discrete steps that build upon each other and lead to a desired outcome.

Teaching sales pitches, or insight-led conversations, have two parts: 1) a rational component, and 2) an emotional component.  Core or average sales reps tend to focus on the rational side of a sales pitch. They assume that their product is faster, better and cheaper so the choice will be obvious to a customer when presented correctly.  However, high performing reps tend to follow a different philosophy when presenting – i.e. a philosophy based on telling a compelling, relevant and meaningful story.

Steve Jobs was a master speaker and presenter.  In the book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, about half of the book applies to everything from developing a sales presentation to structuring a teaching conversation. Note the following chapters:

  • Answer the One Question That Matters the Most
  • Develop a Messianic Sense of Purpose
  • Draw a Road Map
  • Introduce the Antagonist
  • Reveal the Conquering Hero
  • Channel Their Inner Zen
  • Reveal the “Holy Shit” Moment

The goal of this insight-led conversation is for reps to have experience with a full spectrum of prospects’ emotions. These emotions range from having no hope at all to the belief that the rep’s solution will take him or her to “the promised land.”

A Managed, Repeatable Process or Choreography

The Challenger Sale introduces a six-step, world class teaching pitch.  It’s important to have a consistent approach when asking a prospect to not only think differently but act differently and embrace disruptive change.  To be effective the High Performing Sales Rep must lead an effective sales conversation that not only goes beyond a compelling business case, but is supported with data, charts, graphs, quotes and logos.

The goal of this conversation is to engage both sides of a prospect’s brain: the rational and the emotional side.  Otherwise, what typically happens is no decision results after a lengthy sales cycle (close dates continue to slide out). This is because a “no decision” usually trumps a good decision since logic is good but not enough to overcome the status quo.

Effective Sales Techniques - Build-Insight Led Sales ConversationsEffective Sales Techniques: Step 1

Teaching sales pitches should start out by assessing the prospect’s key business challenges.  Note that this is not something that the sales rep should create at the last minute – i.e. the days leading up to the sale presentation.  The assessment should generate from the collective knowledge of the organization and be directly correlated to the business problem, business value and differentiation for which the solution was built.

The old solution sales approach of equipped sales reps to ask questions such as:

  • What keeps you awake at night?
  • What are your goals for the year?
  • What are the key projects for the year?
  • What are the critical success factors for your team?

However, this approach does not cut it with organizations any more. Organizations do not have time to educate vendors on their business because they are moving too fast.  Prospective customers are interested in having meaningful conversations with people possessing insights into their business, competitors and markets.  Stating the business challenges and opportunities that one sees and hears at similar companies is usually met with enthusiasm.  The goal is to introduce industry benchmark data, survey analyses and anecdotes from other companies that capture those business challenges. These are most likely to resonate with the prospect’s own experience.  Misery loves company and when a customer hears other companies are in the same boat it is somewhat soothing and reinforces the fact that solving this issue could provide a competitive advantage.  Also, it’s always important to ask for their reaction.

The critical goal of this first step is to build credibility.  Ideally, the sales rep will be thought of as an insider who understands the prospect’s challenges.   The Challenger Sale refers to this type of approach as “Hypothesis-Based Selling” – meaning rather than leading with open-ended questions, the sales rep leads with a hypothesis of the prospective customers’ needs, determined by his or her experience and one’s own organization’s research.  This approach is efficient and should establish the sales rep as a subject-matter expert and someone worth talking to.

Effective Sales Techniques: Step 2

Step 2 is referred to as the central moment of the Commercial Teaching Pitch.  The focus is to build off the challenges that the prospect has just acknowledged in Step 1.  The Challenger Sales Rep then introduces a new perspective that connects those challenges to either a bigger problem or a larger opportunity than was ever conceived.

The Challenger Sales Rep is not expected to be quick on their feet and to come up with innovative insights on the spot.  The organization is required to collectively create this data, knowledge and insight, train the sales team and package this information in an  easily digestible format for sales reps and prospective customers.  At this point in time, the goal of the reframe is to communicate the insight itself in the form of a headline.  More often than not, this new perspective will catch the prospect off guard, invoke a level of curiosity and drive to a deeper level conversation.

It’s easy to gauge the effectiveness of a reframe from the prospective customer’s point of view.  If the reaction is that of agreement, the reframe was ineffective as what was communicated was not unique, innovative or insightful—it was confirmation of an existing thought.  An existing thought is a flag that the rep is responding to a prospect’s needs versus defining those needs—meaning one is late to the party.  The goal is to open their eyes and make a light-bulb go off in their head.

Effective Sales Techniques: Step 3

Step 3 of the process is referred to as “Rational Drowning”.  In Rational Drowning, the Challenger Sales rep lays out the business case for why the reframe is worth the prospect’s time and attention.

Specifically, the Challenger Sales Rep will leverage materials that the organization has packaged in a customer facing appropriate format. These materials may include data, graphs, tables, charts, etc. that can be effectively used to quantify the cost of the problem or the market size of the opportunity.  Rational Drowning is the objective, quantification, and numbers-driven rationale for why the prospective customer should think differently about their business.

The twist is that not only does a prospect need to think differently, they need to act differently.  The best Challenger Sales reps know how to present information in a manner that makes a prospect uncomfortable so that they squirm a bit in their seat.  Traditionally, this concept was referred to as FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt.  The net result should be that their eyes are wide open to the fact that they are losing huge sums of money or that they are missing a huge revenue opportunity.

It’s at this stage that an ROI analysis proves valuable, assuming that the ROI analysis is performed on the value of solving the business challenge and not an ROI for buying the solution.  Remember, convince the prospect that the challenge is worth solving, then demonstrate how the solution economically solves the key challenge.  If the ROI analysis is calculated explicitly around the product or solution, then the focus is on the wrong thing.

Effective Sales Techniques: Step 4

As most decisions are the combination of rational and emotional impact, insight led conversations must address the emotional aspect to be successful.  Emotional Impact is all about ensuring that the prospective customer can internalize the story being told – i.e. “it fits”.

In almost every conversation that takes place, the prospect believes their company is different and there is no way an outsider can understand how to operate inside of their walls.  It’s a common defense and used by almost every company.  As one consultant once stated after working with over 20 companies, more often than not, it is the same circus, just different clowns.  But seriously, how do the Challenger Sales Reps overcome the “we are different defense”?

An ineffective way to deal with this is to do more of the same.  For example, if the prospective customer did not like:

  • The PowerPoint slides, make new slides
  • The white paper, send them another white paper
  • The email, send them another email

We all know that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.  Repeating the same behavior does not overcome the “we are different defense” because the sales rep is focusing on the wrong problem—not making an emotional connection.  For whatever reason, the prospective customer did not see the story presented as their story.

Challenger Sales reps know how to make the story personal by going beyond the numbers and focusing on the narrative.  Challenger Sales reps do an incredible job of describing how other companies just like the customers’ were faced with the same situation.  However, it is important to the prospective customer to acknowledge that they are different.  The Challenger Sales rep continues the narrative to explain, in detail, how other companies went down a similar path and the less than desirable result that occurred.   It’s crucial that some detailed customer insight is known and shared at this point to be credible.  It’s when the prospective customer recognizes, “that’s us” when the important emotional connection has been made.

The way a Challenger Sales rep defeats the “we are different” defense is to establish an emotional connection between the problems other similar companies faced to the one that they are facing.  If after the story the prospective customer still believes that they are different, either the wrong story was told or this prospect is outside of one’s sweet-spot.  But, if the rep is successful, then he or she has a prospect  who has bought into the reframe.

Effective Sales Techniques: Step 5

Now that the prospect is aware of the problem and believes that it is a problem worth solving, he or she needs to believe that there is a solution to the problem.  This is not the time or place for a sales rep to present their company’s solution!  What Challenger Sales Reps does is to provide a point-by-point review of the specific capabilities that would need to be present in an effective solution.  The focus is on the solution not the supplier of the solution!

Traditional sales reps will have to resist the temptation to start talking about how their solution solves all the problems that are of concern.  Before this can happen, the hook has to be properly set in the mouth of the prospective customer, and that requires a skilled rep, a Challenger Sales Rep, to focus on how much better a prospective customer’s life will be if they not only think differently but act differently.  The prospect must be sold on the solution first before they can be sold on a company’s solution.

Effective Sales Techniques: Step 6

The goal of the sixth and final step is to demonstrate how an organization’s solution is uniquely positioned to solve the prospective customer’s business problem better than any other solution.  This is a step that every sales rep knows; however, the placement of this step and the steps required to set this step up are what is different.

All of the organization’s work to understand the business problem, the business value and the differentiation pay off when the Challenger Sales rep has carefully led the prospect down a path that sets the organization’s solution up as the obvious choice.  If the competition is still in play at this point in time, then there was failure to identify truly unique capabilities or failure to lead to the unique differentiation.

In the Commercial Teaching world everything is reverse-engineered from the premise that the primary value as a vendor is the ability to teach a prospective customer something, not to sell something.  The best sales conversations offer prospects a compelling, meaningful and relevant story about their business, motivate them to act differently, and then describe the differentiators.  The best teaching conversations follow the six steps process outlined above.  Each step builds upon the previous step in a sustained and holistic manner leading to the desired outcome—your company’s solution.

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VP Marketing on Demand

About the Author:

Peter is a strategic and visionary marketing executive and brand champion who has leveraged his unique combination of classical training and entrepreneurial experience at start-ups and F500 companies to transform technology innovations into multimillion-dollar revenue streams. His experience spans all areas of marketing, including go-to-market strategy and execution; brand identity and brand positioning; product development; sales and marketing leadership; customer acquisition and retention; and influencer and analyst relations. Peter consults with c-level executives, teaches at USF’s EMBA program and serves as an advisor to start-ups.

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