Many of my customers are putting a lot of time and money – particularly in the digital space – into driving prospects to their business.
However, like any process, success is only as great as the weakest link in the chain. While many have made attempts to evaluate and strengthen their sales process, their efforts are often ad hoc.
The sales process, in the context of this article, relates directly to the methodology used to:
- Acquire relationships
- Develop and maintain the relationship
- Convert to a sale
Acquiring a relationship is about identifying and then finding a way to get those within our target market(s) into our communication program.
How do you currently acquire new relationships?
Depending on the type of business you operate the ‘developing the relationship’ part of the sales process can mean a range of things. However, in all cases, it is a form of communication that keeps your name high in the mind of existing customers and prospects so that when the buy decision is made you are in the game.
Most businesses run some version of CRM software to help manage the communication process, which for many is augmented with a personal contact program.
The final part of the sales process – and the primary focus of this article – entails making the actual sale. The sales conversion rate is an important measure in this process as it provides assistance in determining if:
- We are attracting the best enquiry (correct targets)
- Our sales process is effective
For many, the sales conversion process has emerged from trial and error over a long period of time. But is it as effective as it could be?
If you increase your conversion rate by only a small percentage would it make a material difference?
For most of my customers, the sales process is time intensive as it often entails more than one meeting on top of quote development. If priced at an hourly rate, the sales process invariably shows up as an expensive exercise. And this does not include the cost of getting the enquiry in the first place. Clearly we need to make every post a winner where possible.
So what makes up a good sales conversion process?
In sales one truth rises above all others: People buy sooner from people they trust. So, how do you build trust quickly?
Short answer: Less explanation and more questions.
It’s only natural in a conversation that the person who asks the questions does much less talking than the person answering.
People love being listened to. But it happens so rarely. Next time you get together with a group of friends, observe how little listening they actually do. Everyone is so keen to contribute to the conversation.
They wait until there’s a brief pause and then jump in with their ten cents’ worth.
Thorough, probing questions build trust. We are left with a sense that the other person understands what we want to achieve, and we will therefore have more trust in the appropriateness of the solution they propose.
However, the type of questions and the order in which we ask them is critical.
There are four types of questions every sales and relationship manager needs to understand:
These questions should also be asked in the in the order listed.
Situation questions simply extract information from your prospective customer. You need to remember that whatever you are asking the customer already knows. There is nothing new to them in this process.
As a result, prospects can quickly become bored or impatient if asked too many situation questions and the research shows that inexperienced salespeople ask more situation questions than those with greater selling experience.
What situation questions can you find out prior to your meeting and which will you need to ask directly during your sales meeting?
We need to challenge our customers’ views of the world. We need to gently help them become aware that things are not okay.
We do this by asking ‘problem questions’. Having gathered factual information, you are now in a position to identify problems and weaknesses in your customer’s current position.
Say you are a financial advisor. A situation question might be: ‘How are your superannuation funds currently invested?’ This question simply seeks facts – are your funds in cash, in managed funds, direct shares or property?
By contrast, a problem question is: ‘What thought have you given to how you’ve invested your funds?’ This question uncovers potential issues. Often your customer has given very little thought to this question, or even none at all.
Good problem questions will enable your customers to view their decisions and circumstances in a fresh way. It’s not about what you want to sell them; it’s about what they need.
You develop their awareness of their needs by asking well-crafted problem questions.
What type of ‘problem’ questions could you ask a prospect?
Implication questions are designed to help your customer explore the consequences of their problems.
Motivating a customer to take action often entails more than just helping them to identify problems and opportunities.
It needs your customer to feel a powerful, emotional desire sufficient to overcome the natural tendency to procrastinate and live with a sub-par solution.
Implication questions move the mind from thinking, ‘I have a problem but I can live with it’, to ‘Dammit. I need to move on this’.
To continue with the financial advisor example where we asked the problem question: ‘What thought have you given to how you’ve invested your funds?’ If your customer answers ‘very little’ your implication questions could be:
‘How do you know if your funds are invested in the right assets?’ or ‘What impact would a poor return on your investment have on your retirement plans?’ This type of questioning needs plenty of forethought and practice.
Ultimately, implication questions move the prospect’s thinking from problem to solution or, to put it more broadly, where they are now to where they could and should be.
What questions can you ask to get your prospect more engaged in the where?
Need-payoff questions get the buyer to tell you about their explicit needs and the benefits your solutions offer, rather than forcing you to explain the benefits to the buyer.
Needs-payoff questions ask about the value, importance or usefulness of a solution.
For example: ‘What opportunities would reducing your retirement age by several years open up for you?’
These questions focus on solutions and because of this (and the research confirms it) prospects rate calls that are high in need-payoff questions as positive, constructive and useful.
Need-payoff questions are a mirror image of implication questions. For example, an implication question might be: ‘What impact would a poor return on your investment have on your retirement plans?’
Getting prospects to talk about the benefits you offer is more impactful, seems a lot less pushy and has a tendency to reduce sales objections.
What questions will help the prospect see greater value in your solution?
To finalise the sale it is a good idea to start by summarising the need(s), isolate the most important, and gain agreement that this is the best way forward.
Ultimately you want the customer to show an explicit desire to move forward. For example, you want them asking something like ‘Where to from here?’
If the need is implicit – ‘I’ll think it over and get back to you’ – ask more implication questions as the benefit of moving forward is still not obvious.
A good sales and relationship manager is able to put themselves in the prospect’s shoes and see things from their perspective.
They understand the concerns, risks and uncertainty that pervade a prospect’s thinking when they are operating outside of their ‘knowledge zone’.
Building trust is the key and this is best achieved by asking the right questions at the right time.
Give it a go and measure to what extent your conversion rate increases.
I think you’ll be happily surprised.
- Ask situation and problem questions
- Collect info/clues regarding possible needs
- Move discussion from the ‘now’ towards the ‘where’
- Summarise needs list and isolate the most important
- Where needs are explicit, the sale can occur
- If need is implied ask more implication questions to create a more explicit need