As a field sales rep, you’re well experienced in the art of conversation. Sales is the act of bringing someone over to your side, and conversation is the best way to do that. A solid conversation creates action - it means a monthly quota met, a year-end bonus, and a happy customer.
In a sense, every conversation is selling something; an opinion, suggestion, story, or idea. Salespeople require the skills to make this happen more than anyone. But outside of being charming and putting customers at ease, there are ways you can subtly sell more than you ever thought possible through the right conversational strategies. Having the right talking points can lead to referrals, important connections, and a strong bond with your brand.
Conversation, like anything else, is a skill you can improve with time. The best way to start having better conversations as a sales rep is to understand its fundamental rules:
Rules of Conversation
For a conversation to take place, conditions have to be met. At least two people have to be willing to speak and actively engaged. If not, you end up with a one-sided conversation or nothing at all. Those conditions are ensured by the rules of conversation. If any of these rules are not met, the conversation won't be worth participating in for either person. According to Time Magazine, these are the 5 fundamental rules of conversation:
- Put yourself at ease
- Put others at ease
- Weave in all parties
- Establish shared interests
- Actively pursue your own
The conversation between customer and salesman creates a unique dynamic. Both of you are trying to get something from the conversation. You want a sale and your customer wants a solution, and both of you want the best deal possible. With that in mind, let's look at the rules of conversation from a sales perspective:
- Put yourself at ease - Be calm, cool, and collected. If you seem nervous you'll make your customer nervous. Speak slowly and with intent to show confidence in the situation and your solution. The success of the conversation (and ultimately, the sale) is completely based on trust. By appearing at ease in the conversation you're making your customer feel equally confident.
- Put others at ease - Make your buyer feel comfortable. Don't control the conversation. Listen and make sure they understand they're being heard. Their time is as valuable as yours, respecting their side of the conversation ensures they'll respect yours.
- Weave in all parties - Don't leave anyone out of the conversation. You can never be completely sure about who has influence in a group. Leaving a key decision maker out of the conversation, or ignoring their concerns, is a surefire way to lose the sale.
- Establish shared interests - Connect the conversation to the life of your buyer. They are looking for a solution to their specific problem. You can make your offering much more relevant by connecting it to their life. This also shows that you're listening and that you care about more than just the sale.
- Actively pursue your own - Don't be afraid to actually sell. You aren't doing anyone any favors by ignoring the purpose of the conversation. Balancing the sale with genuine interest in your customer will help you stand out as an excellent salesperson.
A mutually beneficial conversation can only happen if these rules are followed. However, you won't get the sale by just having a conversation. A sales conversation requires strategy to develop in a beneficial way for you and your customer.
Sales Conversation Strategies
Use Pace to Build the Rapport
Being likable helps you sell. That's the cold hard truth, and it makes sense when you think about it. Customers have plenty of options, why would they buy from someone they don't like? You're in the business of relationship building, AKA getting to know people. Find out as much as you can about your customer and what they do. Small talk should lead to more serious discussion. If you're ever in doubt, The Art of Conversation highlights four stages of familiarity that you can apply to the everyday conversation between customer and salesperson:
- Courtesies (“Hello, how are you?”)
- Trade information (“What line of work are you in?”)
- Trade opinion (“That's a great industry.”)
- Trade feeling (“Yeah, I love it.”)
Recognizing where you and your customer are is a good indicator of where the conversation should be. If the two of you are trading opinions, and finding common ground, the business discussion will go well.
Create Leverage with Targeted Questions
Ask questions that uncover your customer's pain points and aspirations. Finding out why they need your solution, and what they hope to gain from it, becomes powerful leverage during negotiation. A simple question like, "what are you looking for in a solution? Why?" will provide treasure troves of information on how much they really value what you're selling.
They might downplay their need, but they won't lie about their situation. Following general questions up with specific ones on the steps they've taken to solve the problem will paint a more detailed picture of how badly they need this problem solved. Asking the right questions gets you the information you need to close the deal.
Use Active Listening to Solidify a Value
As you learn about your customer, you should help them understand their situation. Active listening involves hearing what your customers mean, not just what they say. When a customer describes their problem they're also telling you the values they're searching for in a solution. Repeat those values back to them, get acceptance, and connect your solution.
If they say they're looking for a solution for high employee turnover, what they mean is that they're judging your solution by how well it improves employee retention. An amateur ignores the problem and rambles about cost, while a professional talks about how great it makes employees at their job. Connecting your solution to their problem is the difference between a sale and an awkward goodbye.
Salespeople regularly ignore the values a customer is looking for. It isn't always their fault, they're so excited about what they sell that they ignore why their customer is buying it.
Close with Smooth Conversation
A smooth conversation between customer and salesperson leads to a sale naturally. It ends with both parties agreeing on the value of the solution and the price being paid. If you've taken the time to understand your customer's problem, communicating the value of your solution is easy. Smooth sales conversation naturally leads your customer to buy, all you're doing is helping them realize how much it will improve their life.
The power of good conversation is that it makes customers close themselves. You naturally appear interesting and trustworthy as a result of listening to their problems and understanding how you fit in their life.
The end of a conversation isn't the end of the relationship. Good conversation creates a connection that pays off over time. If the sale doesn't happen immediately you're still laying the groundwork for a future purchase. Being a good conversationalist gives you a positive reputation as a salesperson and makes you memorable in your industry. Approaching conversation as a skill that you can improve is the best ROI for your personal and professional life.
Conversation for Referrals
When you’re making a sale, you should be thinking about more than the person in front of you. Skillful conversation can lead to new sales long after you’ve said your “goodbyes.” As a sales rep, you have the power to capture a potential client’s trust and retain it over time. When a customer likes you, they are more likely to trust your product. And when they trust your product, they are more likely to recommend it to someone else. Once you’ve established your customer’s trust and attended to their needs, the slightest nudge towards a referral can help you expand your client list.
Referrals hold a special place in the heart of sales. In 2013, Nielson found that 84% of consumers in any industry will trust a product more if recommended by friends or family. Likewise, if a family member or friend describes the person who sold them a product as understanding, smart, and attentive to their needs, their recommendation is more trustworthy. When it comes to referrals, you are a part of your product.
When you offer an incentive for a referral, it makes sense to bring it up in the sales pitch. For example, Badger Maps offers $50 to each referral a customer makes. That means 10 people will get you $500 in referrals - that’s a big deal. With an incentive like this, you can mention the reward for referring when you discuss the cost of your product. Let your customer know that the product costs X, but can get down to Y or even Z when you refer it to other people. Offering an incentive for referrals shows that you have trust in your own product, so make sure to bring it up at the right time in conversation.
Know When to Ask
Gaining a referral through conversation is no easy feat, so it’s important to do it carefully. When you offer an incentive for a referral, it makes sense to bring that up during your sales pitch. Without an incentive, however, you don’t want to start asking a customer to refer your product before you’ve done anything for them.
Timing is everything to get something you want out of a conversation. If you were going to ask your boss for a raise, you wouldn’t do it right after you made a mistake in your work. Do the same for your customer. Did you just double their customer base? Help them save time with your product? The second you get positive feedback from your customer, you should consider following up with asking them to refer your product.
Know How to Ask
So you’ve spotted the right moment to ask for a referral - now what? How you phrase your request make or break your next referral. Asking a customer to recommend your product to someone who’d be interested can seem loud and pushy. However, if you’ve just solved a problem for your customer, let them know that you can offer the same solution to others with similar problems. Mention the kind of businesses or individuals you help or problems you solve to leave your customer thinking of others that fit that description. In other words, be subtle yet specific in nudging your customer to refer your product. Your conversation could lead to another conversation over the dinner table that just might bring you your next customer.
Leads generated through referrals are more valuable than normal leads for several reasons. For one, your customer knows your potential leads more intimately than you. When they approach your lead, they don’t have to establish the trust that you usually have to foster. Your customer’s recommendation comes naturally, as a simple suggestion in response to your prospect’s issues. This leads to another advantage: your current customer is already using your services and evaluating your value. Knowing what you can do and how well you do it, your current customer can evaluate whether your potential customer needs or could benefit from your services. This saves you time and focus.
Using Conversation to Network
In the world of sales, not all prospects are customers. Making connections with other business leaders in your field is an invaluable resource as a sales rep. The conversation it takes to make a meaningful business relationship, however, is completely different from one that takes place during a sales pitch. To prepare for having great conversations at a networking event, you first have to get yourself into the right mindset.
Create a Connection
When you’re having a conversation with a prospective business connection, start by losing the idea that you have to pitch something to them. After all, who wants to be ‘pitched to’ during a casual conversation? Instead, do your homework on your prospect ahead of time. Find out what is important to them. Learn about their industry and big news happening around it. Start a conversation with something engaging that you think will interest your prospect. You’d be surprised how often a fascinating conversation can lead to a sale down the road.
Listen, Listen, Listen!
One of the biggest mistakes we make when networking is jumping straight into an explanation of who you are and what you know. Try to avoid this by preparing interesting questions to ask your prospect ahead of time, and then just listen. Check yourself in the conversation and make sure you are talking to the other person, not at them. People love to talk about themselves, so focus on guiding the conversation with questions, not explanations. It only takes one memorable conversation between a customer and salesperson to leave an impression.
Like any skill, practice is important. The more you practice having meaningful conversations, the better your sales opportunities will become further down the road. How do you prepare for a good conversation? What are some memorable conversations you’ve had with customers? Tell us below in the comments.