Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Win-Win Sales Approach

To many, sales can be a stressful (or at least uncomfortable) process – whether you are in business for yourself or someone else, or are the one being sold to. But the sales process is necessary in every profession. Your version of selling may involve internal customers (such as, seeking buy-in from your team for your ideas) and/or external customers (enticing others to purchase your widgets, services, or expertise). And in some cases, you are using a version of sales in your personal life when you are attempting to persuade and influence people toward or away from a particular position (or even a restaurant choice!).

For years, I have been using a simple sales approach that has been very effective. It incorporates authenticity, integrity, self-confidence, workability, and even appreciation. It is also focuses on peace and ease where both parties walk away feeling like it’s a win-win, and each feels honored and respected in the process.

I was recently participating in a DailyOM self-study course called Heal Your Money Karma (by Spencer Sherman and Brent Kessel). In one of their lessons, they outlined a sales process called “Earning More with Less Effort.” As I was reading it, I was nodding my head repeatedly saying to myself, “Yes, yes! I already do that! This is exactly like my own sales process!” Because there are so many parallels, I have incorporated some of their points into the following process:

The 6-Part Win-Win Sales Approach
Step 1: Get Clear
Before you can pitch anything, you need to know what you are talking about – so that you are clear and confident when you speak. Take the time to think through 1) what is most important for you to communicate to others (i.e., your intentions, your features or approach, the fee structure, etc.) and 2) who your market is (i.e., who you will (and want to) be talking to, and what’s important to them). The clearer you can be for yourself, the easier it will be for you to be present and authentic with people.

A note for entrepreneurs: I highly recommend a book called Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port, for getting clear about the who, what, how, where, and why.

Step 2: Determine Level of Interest and Fit
When talking with a prospect, it is important to be unattached to the outcome and to put your attention on them. Rather than focusing on “getting them” to be a client or a customer (or a convert to your idea or point of view), focus on identifying mutual interest and fit. Does it make sense for you to work together? Emphasize that your intention is for it to be a win-win for you both. Ask probing questions and above all else, do more listening than talking. Your objective is to identify whether partnership and collaboration are possible, and whether there is alignment in each party’s wants, needs, and values. It’s about both what’s in it for them AND what’s in it for you.

Do you feel like there is interest and fit on both sides? Perhaps you need to ask the question. If you are clear it is there, you can move onto step 3 to deepen the discussion around what is possible in the partnership. If interest and fit aren’t there (on either side), refer them elsewhere, and ask if they will refer you (if appropriate). There is no need for worry or disappointment; there are plenty of others out there that will be a better fit for you both. You want to honor both party’s time and energy by assessing fit relatively quickly.

Step 3: Be Transparent and Authentic
If you both decide there is interest and fit, it’s time to dig a little deeper and talk about the particulars of working together. Understand where your client is coming from. Again, ask questions and do a lot of listening. What they say will inform how you choose to present your product/service/idea, with the intention of giving them the information they need to make an informed decision. It is important to be transparent and authentic, because anything that even remotely stinks of coercion or deception will be in the space. We’ve all been in those conversations where we know there is more going on behind the scenes – and that leaves us wanting to run for the hills.

State anything up-front that you believe may cause concern, get in the way, or become a deal breaker. If you voice it, you are more likely to remove the emotional charge or fears that could be in the space if you were to keep silent and wait for it to become an issue. These may be issues around personal style or approach, concerns about company size or competitor differences, or even worries that gender may get in the way. Sherman and Kessel use this example:

A Sikh colleague of mine starts his sales conversations by telling the prospect "I’m concerned that my turban might get in the way of our doing business together." This statement is instantly disarming, and it takes his ethnic and cultural difference out of the equation.

Step 4: Discuss Money Sooner Rather Than Later
If you feel weird about discussing money, so will your prospect. This is something worth working through, as you will get in your own way, and will likely bring unconscious stuff into the space. When it comes to costs and fees, it’s better that you bring it up before your prospect does. Because money is such an emotional conversation/issue for people, you are more likely to take the charge out of it if you have an open dialogue about it. I recognize that issues of worth may come into play here, but the more you practice speaking with confidence (and without apology!), the easier it will become to talk about it. And the sooner you state your fees/price, the less likely you will feel later to discount. Sherman and Kessel have this to say:

Say it outright: "My fee is in the X-thousand dollar range; is that a barrier to us working together?" Or, in the case of a non-monetary transaction: "I have a 30-minute presentation; I’d like the audience’s full attention. Will that be a problem for you?" For the most part, buyers will say it is not a problem or there is no barrier because they’re intrigued to hear what you have to offer.

Step 5: Have an Open Dialogue
You are probably getting that sales is about asking the right questions, giving the prospect (and the sales process) space to breathe, and allowing the conversation to go where it needs to without being attached to the outcome. Of course, you will benefit from creating the intention of making a sale – but it must be a win-win for both parties. At this point, you have explained who you are, what you offer, your fees/prices, and any concerns you wanted to address.

Now is the time to ask the prospect about any concerns or need for additional information or clarification. Let them talk, and be sure to really listen on all levels. Share how you will answer their issues, and ask if your response addresses their concerns. Don’t say anything; just wait for the “yes” or “no.” If it’s a “yes,” you can move on to the next step. If it’s a “no,” perhaps you didn’t really understand their issue or need more information. If you don’t have a solution, be sure to say so. Better to be up-front about limitations, than to over-sell and not produce on the other end.

Step 6: Determine Next Steps
In the spirit of being bold and confident, particularly after having this robust discussion, you will want to ask the question: “What do we do next?” Ask this only if you are clear that YOU want to work with them; otherwise, you will want to tell them that you don’t believe you are a match. Through this whole process, you want the prospect to feel free to make whatever choice they need/want to make without fear of your reaction. Don’t help them or offer suggestions, nor should you pressure them in any way. As you probably already know, people have a hard time saying “no,” so you want to empower them to make the best choice for them.

In some cases, the prospect will say: I’m ready to sign/buy now. You’ve got your deal, and based on your particular offering, you’ll know what steps are necessary to seal the deal (draw up a contract, set up delivery, etc.). In others, they may say “no” (for whatever reasons they have). If this is the case, ask for a referral to others who may have an interest in your service/product/idea.

In other cases, they may say they need more information, or time to think about it. In this last situation, it’s up to you what you want to do. If they need more information, help them get it. If they are still researching (comparing competition, etc.) or need more time, you can either 1) choose not to wait, say it’s not a fit, and ask for a referral, or 2) set up a follow-up date. In my business, it is not unusual for a prospect to say they would like some time to think (or check their budget, etc.) to which I respond: “Not a problem at all, but I do request that we check-in X days from now so we can close the loop.” People appreciate that and feel they are being respected. And you are respecting yourself too.
At the end of the day, remember that this is about providing impeccable service (even if you are selling a product or idea), such that the prospect feels heard, understood, and honored. Many referrals come from people who had a great experience with you, even if they didn’t actually make the purchase (at least, not yet!). I’ve certainly had many people refer me who were never my client because they enjoyed our interactions and my no-pressure, unattached approach. And I’ve had people call me two years after meeting me saying they were now ready to work with me.

Remember that the key to successful sales is focusing on the win-win. Know your stuff, be authentic and transparent (integrity and trust-building), keep the process low-key (no high-pressure!), ask good questions (listen more than you talk) and address concerns directly, and be unattached to the outcome (there are plenty of prospects out there). Whatever the result, both walk away feeling like they won because coming to an agreement to work (or not) together was a collaborative process.

Following the six steps may not end in a sale for you every time, but it might result in a future business (a “no” now may be a “yes” later). And you never know who might refer you, simply because of how awesome you were to interact with.

1 comment:

Joe Gabriel said...

Judah, Absolutely great information that I will be using imediately.
Thank you, Joe