What does a successful sales strategy look like?

Ask Norm Clark, senior lecturer at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, and he might sum up a high-performance sales organization in four phrases:

•          Focus more on sales-related training than product training;
•          Focus on the sales process;
•          Work to understand a client’s business and decision-making process; and
•          Provide solutions.

Ask Tom Reilly, founder of Tom Reilly Training in Chesterfield, Mo., and he might sum up value-added selling with little more than, “Crush the price objection.”

Both speakers presented sales sessions during the HARDI Sales Optimization Conference in Atlantic City this fall. Each took a unique approach in guiding attendees towards sales solutions to help their companies achieve further business success.


Discovering Relational Sales

Clark spent his session looking at using a solution-based sales process to develop a high-performance sales organization. He introduced the audience to a solution model that focused on problem solving as the value proposition.

“Everything you present should be a solution to a problem,” he said. “If the buyer doesn’t have a need for your value proposition, they aren’t going to listen during your sales presentation.”

Getting a buyer to listen, according to Clark, can be a challenge. He suggested that those looking to engage a customer should follow ADSC, four steps of the selling process. The letters stand for attention, discovery, solution, and commitment.

“In the attention phase, get the prospect’s mind off of what it is focused on and get it focused on your message,” explained Clark. “In the discovery phase, encourage your prospects to talk about the problems they have or anticipate having to get them emotionally involved in the conversation. If they are emotionally involved, they tend to care more about the solution.”

Later in the presentation, Clark expounded on some of the tactics used during a successful discovery phase. One of them was the employment of open-ended questions. According to him, 70 percent of a salesperson’s questions should be open ended, leaving 30 percent as close-ended.

“Starting a conversation can be as difficult as priming a pump,” said Clark. “However, open-ended questions tend to be information gatherers and with skilled questioning, a salesperson can take a customer from their standard fine response that needs nothing to needing something and wanting to hear a solution.”

Another tactic employed during a successful discovery phase is to engage in the appropriate listening level. Clark discussed three listening levels; active, evaluative, and marginal. Marginal is what he calls pretend listening. Active is what he said salespeople should aspire to. Clark defined it as listening with empathy and hearing what the customer is saying, not just what is said.

“Evaluative listening is the trap that most people fall into,” he warned. “This type of listener will ask a question and when the customer starts to answer they say, ‘Oh I know where you are going with that,’ and stop listening. They then go on to offer or evaluate the situation based on their assumption.”

Having found a customer problem during discovery, the next step is to provide the solution. Clark noted that talking in terms of customer benefit as opposed to discussing product features while offering a solution could be a more profitable route to take.

The final stage, commitment, is one that requires the salesperson to confirm that the buyer cares.

“This can be accomplished by ending all statements with a question in order to maintain control of the conversation and get feedback from the customer,” said Clark. “Good communicators get the feedback.”

After going over some of these techniques and expanding on their application, Clark had the group of attendees work on their own list of discovery questions as they participated in a mock sales call. He ended his presentation telling the group that practice is necessary to make these skills conversational and second nature.


Understanding Price Objections and Value

“Value is the latest euphemism for cheap.”

It was one of several strategic challenges Reilly started his session with. Among other items on the list were Eurozone anxiety, convergence of services, technology, and the Internet. It was the change in the term value, however, that caused him to stop and explain that, “Price describes what you pay for something and value is what you get. Even free is expensive if I don’t get the value.”

These opening thoughts ushered Reilly and his audience into a presentation that examined the importance of value-added selling and the skill of crushing price objections. In discussing value, Reilly pointed out six tactical challenges for salespeople: price-sensitive customers; inertia (see no need for change); communicating value; buyers that commoditize; differentiating, and getting credit for the value add.

According to his presentation, 82 percent of companies fail to differentiate themselves in the market.

“What is it that makes us so vastly different?” he asked. “It’s not a price objection that we have a problem with, but a lack of differentiation.”

Reilly continued examining price objection as he offered statistical information to support his concern that salespeople are often hindered by price objection.

“Price objections are self-inflicted wounds,” he said. “In a study of 3,500 salespeople, 90 percent offered a cheaper price unprompted; 72 percent caved in to price objections, and only 18 percent closed the sale without discounting.”

In looking why sellers fail to sell their actual value, Reilly made a list of 10 key reasons. The first two were fear and guilt. Another three were the failure to differentiate as stated previously, being out-negotiated by the buyer, or being out-sold by the competition. The other half of the list was all about what a salesperson lacked — skills, conviction, knowledge, courage, and preparation. This list, especially when looking at what a salesperson may lack, is something that can be fixed by companies and their staffs. It also is a key factor in customer experience, something that Reilly said was more important than price. He quoted a Consumer Reports study that showed 68 percent of buyers chose cost over price. The study also showed that 70 percent of those studied would buy from a store knowing a better deal exists elsewhere if they had a positive prior experience.

Reilly said he understood that people can be price resistant and that this can stem from emotions. Fear, greed, and knee-jerk reactions made the list of emotions salespeople often encounter. Another on the list is ego.

“Ego is the win,” he explained. “When you encounter this, ask yourself, ‘How can I help this person win without caving on my price.’ ”

This is where the psychology of decision making came into the session. Reilly showed how a vast majority of decisions are made at a subconscious level and that instant gratification and certainty had a tendency to guide decisions. According to him, much of the decision-making factors noted are bound in human emotions and experiences, all of which seem to alter a customer’s perception of a salesperson looking to value-added sell and crush price objections.

“Value-added salespeople don’t make sales calls, they go on job interviews,” said Reilly. “If we treat sales as a profession, others are going to treat us like a professional.”

 For more information, contact Norm Clark at clark@entc.tamu.edu and Tom Reilly at www.tomreillytraining.com.