Resources  >> 3 Sales Conversation Changes You Must Make to Win Deals in 2011

About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: Vickie Sullivan  |  January 01, 2011

3 Sales Conversation Changes You Must Make to Win Deals in 2011

Originally published for RainToday.com

The word on the street is that clients are finally loosening the budgets and may be more apt to invest in professional services. That means it’s time to stop working on those marketing tools and start talking to prospective clients. My prediction: 2011 will be the year of sales conversations.

Don’t start the party yet, though. While buyers are more confident about demand for their products and services, they are cautious enough to want a strong business case before investing. Here are three changes we all need to make to adjust to the new mindset buyers have.

These changes can make the difference between have a strong business case the buyers welcome and prospects saying, “This sounds great, but it’s not a priority right now,” or “I’m not risking any political capital here.”

1. Clever to Clear

This change is one of the biggest, and it’s about how buyers form first impressions. The way you introduce yourself sets up the conversation you will have. When you are in direct conversations, you have to be crystal clear from the very beginning. Now is not the time to be too clever.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a place for that clever word play that describes your work; it’s in your marketing tools. And that cute little elevator speech is great for networking events where you want to stand out in a crowd.

However, what works on your website and book jackets doesn’t work in sales conversations. Anything gimmicky will get a chuckle and the “they are in sales mode” reaction. This is how the shields go up, and it’s why you get that polite response but no return calls.

What works now is describing your environment or who you work with. You want the buyer to think, “This person knows the terrain I am in or want to be in.” That opens the door for folks to hear your perspective. My favorite formula: I do what for whom in this area. For example, “I specialize in personal brands for experts in high-fee markets.” It’s specific, it’s clear, and it’s compelling. (Who doesn’t want to be in high-fee markets?) And it sounds familiar without sounding trite.

2. Descriptions to Discoveries

Being clear about your work sets up the second change you have to make in your sales conversations: going from descriptions to discoveries. It is no longer enough to describe your work and your value. You have to help buyers “discover” how your talents can be used in a specific initiative or challenge.

Remember, decision makers are still pretty jaded right now. Everyone has an “I’ve worked with experts before and nothing good happened” story. They feel burned. Between those stories and flavor-of-the-month projects that have gone south, we’re put in a position of weakness before we open our mouths. There’s nothing we can say that will change their minds. We have to show them by applying our expertise to their situation.

Although the economy is getting better, buyers invest only in what they needright now. It’s not about how competent you are — talent is everywhere. Buyers need to discover what they can do with your expertise. They are asking, “I have to do XXX. How can this expertise help me do that?”

You can’t leave that up to the buyers’ imagination. You have to spell it out blow by blow. Why? Because the same words can have different meanings.

Elite executive coach Kay Cannon saw this up close and personal when she was negotiating her speaking fee. When Kay included a debrief afterwards, the client still wouldn’t budget when asking for a reduced fee.

What did Kay do? She helped the buyer “discover” what they could do with that debrief. She didn’t just describe what she would cover in the debrief. She painted a mental picture of how they could use that information to meet a top-priority challenge. The client discovered the value, and Kay got her fee.

That’s what works now — mental pictures that set up the discoveries buyers have when you talk to them. The better the discoveries, the more compelling you are. These word pictures create that “I have to work with you” reaction by showing how buyers will gain, then selling the format or process.

3. Scripts to Talking Shop

Creating discoveries segues into the third change buyers need from you: to talk shop instead of using scripts. Yes, there’s a place for scripts. You have to hone your introduction. There will be common objections that could use some compelling comebacks. And there’s a big difference between a rote list of market dynamics — such as increased competition and complex environment — and a real-time discussion about specifics. So, leave those bullet points on your marketing tools and sales materials.

What works now is having a candid conversation with the prospect about their situation. You’re not solving their problems now; it’s really comparing notes between your expertise and the buyer’s situation. The more you explore their situation the more the buyer thinks, “Wow, there’s more where that came from.” And you can compare notes only when you get off the script.

My favorite strategy is a one-two punch: diagnose the prospect’s situation to explain “why” something is happening and then help them predict their future.

Example: I had breakfast with a prominent prospect whose revenue was off by 50%. He couldn’t figure out why buyers weren’t calling. I looked at his website before our appointment and offered an explanation. Within two minutes, this guy had a light-bulb moment. I uncovered something he hadn’t thought of. He discovered that I could help him.

The conversation got better when I asked him, “You’re telling me about all these opportunities on the horizon. If buyers changed their perception of you as we just discussed, what would that do for these opportunities?” Bingo! I just created urgency for him to act.

Again, I’m not saying go in unprepared. As experts, you see stuff coming a mile away, so there’s no reason to be surprised. But when you get into sales mode, you — like most service professionals — tend to believe that every word has to be perfect. And it’s that perfection that gets you in trouble.


About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.