As the sales industry evolves, inbound and outbound sales professionals seek to reinvent themselves. Although new trends impact how people sell, many timeless sales strategies persist. With these critical skills, salespeople develop a foundation for prospecting, nurturing leads and closing sales.
Last week, we asked sales experts to weigh in on their predictions for the future of sales in 2016. This week, we explore evergreen sales strategies professionals need to learn to succeed this year and beyond.
1. Build your brand through public speaking
“Speaking in front of audiences that want to learn something will always be a great way to position yourself as an expert,” believes Tom Ricciuti of myCoachOnDemand.com. “Enlightened people will always go to public speaking events to learn and be around others with the same interests and desires. Whether it’s a keynote, a workshop, a seminar, a conference, a corporate retreat…being a speaker gives you the opportunity you need to personally connect with a bunch of prospects all at once.”
To craft a speech that grabs the audience’s attention, generates leads and drives sales, Brian Tracy suggests:
- Make an opening statement that instantly connects with listeners
- Reinforce your audience’s self-interests
- Use storytelling to entertain and increase the likelihood they will recall your story
- Appeal to their values (e.g. “patriotism, loyalty or personal gain”)
- Circle back to the beginning so your talk reiterates the main points of your speech
It is important to note that a public speech is different than a sales presentation. Salespeople should be mindful that audience members in a conference or event are there to learn something from you rather than be ‘sold’ on your product or service. Sellers who fail to distinguish between the two risk being booed off stage.
2. Communicate trust & value
Brett Evans of SalesForce Search insists, “The first and most important reason to develop sales trust with your customers is that over 90% of companies report that they will only buy from companies that they trust. If you want sales, you have to build sales trust.” In sales, trust is currency. Yet, communicating that requires sellers to carefully choose their words.
Those that are successful in instilling confidence in buyers create job security too. Sales author and speaker Bob Burg quotes colleague Anthony Iannarino as saying, “There will always be a market for high trust, high caring and deep insight.” Burg maintains this is especially true in enterprise sales. “When problem-solving holds high value to a potential customer, partnership plays a VERY key role. I personally believe it all comes down to the basic premise that all things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like, and trust,” explains Burg. Even as technology threatens to automate us out of our jobs, what will persist is the need for what Burg calls “uniquely human skills.” He adds, “To paraphrase Geoff Colvin, from his fantastic book Humans Are Underrated, ‘As technology advances, uniquely human skills (empathy, collaboration, leadership, innovation, creativity) will become even more valuable.’ In a basic sense, when you need real help, you want an actual human being helping you.”
3. Consultative selling
Another timeless sales strategy professionals need to know is consultative selling. According to Mike Schultz, president of RAIN Group, “Consultative selling isn’t going anywhere. Based on our What Sales Winners Do Differently research, we know that understanding needs, crafting compelling solutions, and persuading buyers they will achieve results are critical for sales success.”
Schultz continues, “We (and most others do, too) label these topics as ‘core consultative selling.’ We also know that sellers who win collaborate with buyers, and educate them with new ideas and perspectives, just like a true management consultant and advisor does. We label these topics ‘advanced consultative selling.’ None of this is new, and much to the chagrin of the Armageddon Sales Formula people who are just trying to sell their thing as ‘new,’ these are as evergreen as the forests in Canada. They’ve been around, and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.”
4. Employ curiosity
An early step in every sales process is needs discovery. Unraveling a prospect’s explicit and latent needs allows sellers to better orient their pitch to address the buyer’s biggest problems.
One piece of advice sales training expert Tim Wackel shares is, “Pitch less, probe more.” Frontload conversations with reactive inquiry. Avoid running down a list of pre-prepared questions. Instead, ask prospects to elaborate on things they say so you develop an authentic understanding of their needs. Wackel notes, “Most of the questions sales people ask today are selfish, mind-numbing and create ZERO new thinking. Not convinced? Write down the top 5 questions you are asking that no one else in your industry is asking — enough said!”
In an article for Inc., Geoffrey James writes that curiosity empowers professionals to accomplish two things:
- Negotiate and win contracts. “Your ability to understand the positions of the other party are directly dependent upon your ability to feel true curiosity about them. If you’re not curious, you’ll end up arguing about issues that aren’t important.”
- Correct sales errors. “When a customer buys from somebody else (or doesn’t buy from anyone at all), if you’re not curious about what that happened, you won’t bother to find out why, and therefore can’t learn from your failures.”
5. Harness the power of relationships
Jim Cathcart of the eponymous Cathcart Institute asserts, “Relationships must be regarded as assets (or seen as liabilities) and we must learn to track the evolution of relationships through the many stages from first contact to ‘loyal supporter’.” In sales, your connections may be future customers or they may refer you to a colleague or friend who would value your product or service. To build lasting relationships in business, Neil Fogarty recommends eight tips:
- Extend value first before asking for reciprocity
- Stay professional
- Be mindful of other people’s time
- Maintain high moral standards
- Distinguish between job position and workplace influence
- Exercise emotional intelligence
- Be an active listener
- Keep your promises
6. Persistent prospecting
“I don’t care how good someone is at closing sales, if they aren’t prospecting they’ll have nobody to close,” cautions sales trainer Butch Bellah. Bellah warns, “It’s great to have all the automation, the gadgets and technology, but if you aren’t constantly filling your pipeline with good, qualified prospects you’re on borrowed time.”
To make prospecting easier, sales management leader Ken Thoreson counsels salespeople to:
- Attend one networking event a month
- Partner with industry influencers who have access to a large list of qualified prospects
- Participate in thought leadership events
- Leverage existing customers for referrals
- Collaborate with likeminded salespeople who sell non-competitive but related products or services
- Audit their calendars to see if they have failed to follow up with any promising prospects
7. Turn calls into connections
Though effective, face-to-face meetings don’t scale well. With 25 years of sales experience, Tom Ricciuti appreciates the timeless value of the phone call. “The phone call, when used properly, is still the most cost-effective and time-efficient way to grow a customer base. When you have a great solution that is proven to solve the problems of your target audience, your call will be welcomed. Who doesn’t want a phone call from a professional that understands their problem on their level and has an easy way to purchase the solution they need? Those who learn to master the phone will be employed long after those that don’t see the benefit of learning phone sales. The one thing a robot will never be able to do is make an emotional connection with another person, and that can be done all day long using a phone.”
Unfortunately, recent changes in our technology consumption habits have deterred salespeople from picking up the phone. In an interview with Jill Konrath, Joanne Black, author of Pick Up the Damn Phone, blames our technology addiction. “Everyone is too busy conversing online to have real, meaningful conversations with the people right in front of them. Technology can be a great tool; salespeople can begin their relationships and connections on social media. The not so good news is that too many salespeople think technology can do their jobs for them, and that they don’t have to talk to anyone.” On a call, buyers and sellers can have a more fluid and honest conversation. Often, email makes it difficult for salespeople to probe prospects and fully understand their needs. Similarly, potential customers tend to be better at expressing themselves over the phone versus text. On calls, salespeople can pick up on subtle cues — grunts, inflection and tone — that indicate agreement, interest or reservation.
8. Understand a buyer’s current state
Context plays a major role in sales. Buyers facing revenue problems are not currently seeking cost-cutting solutions. Clients struggling to stay profitable on razor-thin margins may not want to grow sales. Proper alignment between a customer’s needs and a seller’s offering enables effective selling. Once that is solved, salespeople should be explicit about how soon buyers can experience benefits. Michael Nick, president and author at ROI4Sales, Inc. calls this the “tipping point.”
“In every sales situation it is critical to understand a prospect’s current state,” says Nick. “Identify the problem, and help them calculate the cost of the problem they are facing. Next, I believe once you have defined current state you extrapolate the cost over time to determine their tipping point. This is why deals end up in decision delay…tipping point was never discussed. Finally, paint the picture for future state by demonstrating value. These three steps are timeless and will establish the foundation for selling any product.”
Marketing strategist Gregory Ciotti knows customers are responsive when the “before” and “after” scenarios are clear. If purchasing your product improves their current situation, you guarantee a sale. Often, the contrast between their current and future states can be enough to motivate and persuade buyers to adopt your offering.