Last weekend, my husband and I tackled replacing a fence post that finally gave way after 18 winters of snow sitting at its base for months on end.
We started with the worst part, digging out the rotted stump and the 36” deep concrete which surrounded it. It’s dirty, tedious, and hard work. Midway through, he said, “Maybe we should’ve watched some videos to see if there was an easier way.”
Fortunately, I did my homework and contemplated our best approach, the timing, the tools we would need, and finally whether or not it was worth us fixing it ourselves or hiring out. I was able to confidently say, “I know it’s messy and time consuming, but this is our best approach to getting this done.” Whew, a few hours later, we were admiring our handiwork.
I’ve watched sales people, owners, and sales leaders get in the same predicament with their sales cycle. Some team members jump into sales opportunities with good intentions and then when it isn’t going as planned or seems tough, wonder if there is an easier way.
The best way to engage in a sales opportunity can seem too easy so we complicate it. Deep down we all know that having a systematic approach to anything yields better results, efficiency, a more enjoyable journey, and less stress.
Yet when it comes to sales, we don’t apply the same production process mentality to our sales engagements. Then we wonder why our sales cycle is longer that we think it should be.
It’s Not That Hard
Shortening the sales cycle is a goal of every sales leader, business owner, and president these days… and it’s key to profitability, growth, and beating the competition.
The good news is that it’s not hard…what it takes is forethought and discipline.
The first action is ensuring the sales reps know the sales process for your company the specific steps to the sale starting from when a prospect is identified and continuing all the way to the buying decision and pass-off to implementation or fulfillment. This is what they should be doing.
The second action is to train them how to complete the process–a consistent focus on development to strengthen the skills for systematic sales conversations that move the buyer through their decision making process.
Apply a Systematic Approach to Each Sales Conversation
We dissected thousands of winning sales conversations over the last 18 years and found there is flow and specific milestones that lead to a desired outcome of specific identifiable next steps, actions, or a final decision.
Breaking the conversation into specific components within a framework of the sales conversation allows sales reps to adopt the best practices and then adapt them to their own style, expertise, and experience.
We help sales teams make the framework and system their own.
Here’s the framework you can adopt and adapt into your sales. We call it WIIFT, based on the philosophy of What’s in it for Them, the buyer.
The Framework for Productive Sales Conversations
Productive sales conversations begin with preparation. But not preparation focused on what you want to show and tell. Effective preparation first focuses on identifying the who, what, why, and when for this prospect. Waiting before contact to identify the details and outline the conversation from beginning to end is critical and can be done in just 5 minutes in most cases.
It doesn’t end there; a final pause and mental prep immediately before making contact stops multi-tasking and focuses us on the specific meeting.
The actual conversation begins with a purposeful Initiation. This allows us to quickly answer the three questions most people have in their head when they are approached, whether the meeting is scheduled or not:
- Who are you?
- Why should I talk with you?
- Who is this about—you or me?
It’s a quick statement, agenda setting, and transition from what they were doing to your conversation, followed by a connection question referencing time or them personally, which earns the right to move forward.
Rather than jumping into a product pitch, an Investigation into their problems, opportunities, wants, and needs follows. An effective investigation uses the information from research and doesn’t waste their time with data easily collected somewhere else. Instead, it focuses on open-ended questions that allow them to articulate their story, experiences, desires, and urgency.
After their story is learned, the conversation continues with a confirmation that they are willing to listen to what you can do for them which segues directly into Facilitating the information exchange of how your product or service addresses their problem, opportunity, want, or need.
Yet product pitches still aren’t welcome. The conversation between two people continues as the sales rep connects the data and details into what matters to them, using what was learned in the Investigation.
The effort at this point in the conversation separates top performers from the rest. It takes real expertise to “right size” the information into the level of detail the buyer cares about and what provides the most value for them.
Objections may surface at any time during a sales conversation. Listening, clarifying, and collaborating through the concern or objection continues to move the conversation, and the sale, along.
Another key element that makes the conversation productive or not is the grand finale—Consolidating the sales conversation with a specific recap, commitment to decision or action, and clear next steps!
Each part of this sales conversation framework is critical to the desired outcome—securing the decision or action commitment.
Without this commitment secured, the conversation ends on assumptions and delays, stalls, and more follow-up than anyone wants to take.
Don’t Overcomplicate It
It doesn’t have to be complicated. Just these two easy-to-tackle items will shorten your sales cycle: the what and the how of your sales cycle.
First, identify and outline the sales process that aligns with your customer’s buying process and second, train your sales team to follow a systematic approach to each sales conversation during that process.
If your sales people are like many sales reps I know, especially manufacturing reps, they like systems, figuring out how to get things done, and take very well to training that gives them practical and actionable focus. It’s why our clients see a 15-35% reduction in their sales cycles within 90 days. That’s how effective your team can be when you take away second-guessing and jumping too soon and equip your sellers with process and skill to make the most of each sales opportunity.