When I first started consulting, the firm I was working with were master salespeople. Or so I thought at the time. They had a strict sales process that the whole team had to follow verbatim, and we were trained endlessly to repeat the script. That included workshops, rehearsals and even tests, that involved ‘selling’ to each other, following the process word-for-word and not stopping until the client said yes. One of the key elements of their approach was to withhold pretty much all advice from the client so they would only get it if they signed up. I shudder when I think of that approach now, and have reinvented my own sales process from the ground up. With much better results.
The thousands of calls with potential new clients that I have taken in the 20 years since have taught me a lot about building confidence with clients. Our clients make decisions on projects worth thousands of dollars, from a single phone call, usually without ever meeting us. In the absence of face-to-face contact, the way we interact with clients for those first few minutes is make-or-break. Creating a sense of trust and value needs to be established quickly.
Here is our approach:
- Set up structures, processes and tools. The process should be flexible, as every enquirer is different, but having a system to follow means you don’t forget anything: our job in sales is to give them the information to make the right decision. Build your systems around questions. The first part of our sales calls is a series of questions that helps us understand the enquirer, so we can offer the most appropriate solutions. Listening is the most important part of the whole process.
- Guide the enquirer. Clients call because they think they need something in particular but usually are looking for a solution and actually want to be guided to what that solution is. Often it’s not what they originally thought. Take the role of the expert. With my first employer, their approach was to be super stingy with advice unless it’s been paid for. In reality I find the reverse to be true. Clients usually gain confidence from tidbits of advice, then you quickly assume the role of expert. Rather than run away with your advice and not engage your services, they get overwhelmed, don’t know how to implement it and want to hear more. Enquirers need to feel that you really know what you are talking about.
- Be vulnerable. Telling clients you had a business fail, lost money or made dumb decisions makes you human and then they feel happier letting their guard down. It also means you recovered from it and learnt along the way. Having some mileage in your experience is a plus.
- Find some common ground. In your conversation, commonalities such as work history, being from the same place or other interests builds feelings of connection.
- Quietly build your credentials. No one likes to be bombarded with your glorious achievements but dropping qualifications or experiences into the conversation steadily builds you up.
- Give some case studies of clients you have worked with that are similar to them.
- Be yourself. We all like dealing with real people. Open honest conversations work best.
- Give them space to decide. Follow up with information about the process, check that they received it and then give the enquirer time to think and talk. Pushy salespeople push people away.
- Let some go.. selling to those who are not real clients can come back to bite you later.
- Be compelling. Actually be the best value offer. Even if they don’t buy straight away make your service their preferred. We see this a lot in clients who come back 1, 2 or even 12 months after the first contact.
- Make sure your house is in order. Potential clients check LinkedIn, your website, social media and anything else they can find about you. Make it work for you with clever content and solid presentation that adds to your profile
Our approach to sales now bears little resemblance to that hard selling of my early days and is now based on open honest communication and a genuine desire to find clients that are a good fit for both sides. Honestly, we don’t want clients that don’t value what we do, and we are not chasing every last dollar we can squeeze out of our clients. In doing less ‘sales’ we actually gain more clients - for the long and short term.
By: Dr. Warren Harmer