Practical Sales Process Advice #1: Framework, Opening, Gathering Requirements

I’ve seen a couple of really great early stage companies here in Berlin founded by super smart people, but with early teams lacking much/any dedicated sales firepower. That’s fine, if it means you can build an amazing product faster with the same resources, but at some point most teams need to find people to buy that product, and that can be a stumbling block for some – especially when it comes to building a repeatable process that can be handed off to new team members and scaled.

In this series of three blog posts, I want to dig into one way a sales process can be structured in a practical, implementable way. The first post will cover a general overview of the process, and go into detail on building rapport, getting the information you need to find the right solutions for your client, and how to phrase that initial information for the client. The second section will cover product demonstrations, and the third section will go through feedbacking, objection handling, and closing.

 

The skeleton of the process:

Regardless of what you’re selling, there are some core steps that help to ground your process and help you focus during selling. I structure them as below, but there are probably as many right ways to do this are there are good salespeople – this is only an example and you should feel free to adapt it for your use case.

  1. Meet & Greet / Build Rapport
  2. Understand Requirements
  3. Summarise & Get Them Saying Yes
  4. Wow (Product Demo or Solution Presentation)
  5. Feedback and Objection Handling
  6. Ask For The Sale!

 

  1. Meet & Greet / Build Rapport

People buy relationships (1). Despite what HBR says (although it’s worth a read), there are not too many more effective predictors of sales success than a good salesperson building a relationship, and crucially, being able to see (and of course communicate to the prospect) the value their tool will create in the prospect’s organization (2). To do this effectively, you need to break down at least some of the barriers in an initial contact (phone, video call, in person, or whatever). Some people do this really naturally, some don’t. If you’re in the latter camp, you can use some of these points/questions to guide you:

  • Where are they based?
  • What experience did you have there/ have in common about that place? (after linkedin scouting)
  • I saw we have X person in common – how do you know them? Funny story about interaction with that person, if you have one/appropriate. If appropriate and authentic, a question around a recent news item about the prospect’s company.
  • How did they come across your service?

The key to success in this stage of the process is being authentic. There is not much more annoying than a salesperson who is overly familiar and chummy, so make sure you spend time preparing for this phase of a sale, and have a couple of good openings ready (Inc has some good advice for this).

 

2. Understand Requirements / Qualification

In this stage of the process there are a couple of objectives: you want to get 6 or 8 pieces of relevant information from the prospect, so you can provide the right solution, you want to show the client that you have an understanding of their space and can ask relevant questions, and you want the client to understand that you’re gathering information to provide a helpful recommendation, not just selling them something. You should aim for at least 70/30 here – that is, you should be talking less than 30% of the time. There are a lot of questions you can ask here, so I won’t try to list them all, but your goal is to understand the following:

  • What problem are they trying to solve / opportunity are they trying to exploit?
  • Who in the organization has this problem /opportunity?
  • How big is this problem/ opportunity?
  • How urgent is this problem/opportunity for them?
  • What factors play into their decision to make a purchase?
  • Have they used your type of service before?
  • Are they looking at competitors?

What’s key for me here is to listen very carefully, and pull out the 3 biggest motivators for the prospect to do the deal. I call these the “Circle, Square, Triangle” for a client. An example of these might be “we need to simplify reporting” (why), “my boss asked me to look into this (why + who) and “this quarter”(when).  I make sure to link back to these points throughout the rest of the discussion, and always use the prospect’s phrasing!  This is important (i don’t have stats for this, but it makes sense to me and works..) because the client feels that you listened and understood their requirements, and that makes the subsequent stages of the process much easier.

In the next post I’ll go through how to take the Circle, Square, Triangle of your prospect and translate that into a summary of their requirements, and then we’ll look at how to use that to make a strong case for your solution or product. To summarise for now, in the first two stages of the process:

  1. Prepare well, and have questions/icebreakers ready
  2. Be Authentic
  3. 70/30 Listening/talking (more asking questions than anything else)
  4. Listen hard and get a good handle of the client’s Circle, Square, Triangle

 

Links

1) The impact of customer relationship strength on sales effectiveness and relationship profitability in services selling.

2) B2B relationship calculus: quantifying resource effects in service-dominant logic

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