Enormous competition, easy access to information, shopping online. All these factors mean that in the traditional sales model, the client dictates the conditions and controls the sales conversation. A salesperson who is aware that they are just one of many soliciting the client’s business often submits to this. When the client says, “Please come tomorrow morning”, the salesperson drops everything and races to meet the client, hoping for a deal. When the client says, “Please show me what you’ve got”, the salesperson presents the offer. When the client says, “I was expecting a better offer”, the salesperson offers a discount.
To build a valuable relationship that satisfies both parties, you need mutual respect, and the behaviours described above don’t help build a relationship of two equal partners. To be your client’s partner, you should take control of the sales conversation and show them that you expect to be treated as an equal. See what you can do at a critical moment to regain control of the sales process.
Start of the meeting
Imagine the following situation: you arrive at a meeting with a promising client, a smiling assistant greets you at the door, invites you into the room and offers coffee. You’re already sitting comfortably, counting on a productive conversation about needs and challenges when the client barges in and - without greeting you - demands “All right, tell me what you’ve got”. In such a situation, many salespeople would begin to discuss their advantages, their company history and other things that aren’t very important from the client’s perspective. However, this isn’t the best strategy. When you don’t know anything about the client, it will be difficult to convince them of your offer.
The beginning of the conversation is the time to establish the rules of your relationship. The client may expect a one-sided meeting during which you present your solutions and then they decide what to do next. From your perspective, this isn’t a very comfortable situation. You have no control over it.
To change this, suggest to the client that you establish guidelines for the conversation. Establish how much time it will take, present your expectations, ask about their expectations, and decide how the meeting should end (e.g. by making a decision, or with another meeting with a decision-maker). Get the client’s consent to what you’ve proposed.
“Peter, our meeting should take about 40 minutes. At the beginning I’d like to talk to you about your current situation, about your challenges and expectations. I’d like to ask a few questions to assess whether my solution would really suit your needs. Then I’ll tell you more about what might interest you. I’d also like you to ask me questions whenever you need to. At the end of the conversation, I’d like us to establish the next steps in the process. Does that plan work for you?”
Conversation with the right decision-makers
The decision-making process is the part of the sales conversation that the client completely controls. They decide who participates in the process and who is responsible for contact with salespeople. It often happens that the person who attends such meetings has no real influence on the decision, and that their task is only to collect various offers from suppliers. For you as a salesman, this isn’t a very comfortable situation. You don’t have full knowledge of the individual decision-makers’ needs and you have limited influence on their expectations. The whole process often comes down to a competition over who can offer the lowest price.
To control the sales process, you need to talk to the right people on the client’s side. You should openly communicate your expectations regarding decision-makers’ participation in the process. Refer to your experience in cooperating with other similar clients and tell them who else you think should attend the meeting. If the client tells you that that’s not possible think about whether they’re really taking you into account when choosing a supplier.
“Ms. Brown, I think my company can help solve this problem. However, before I can prepare an offer, I’ll need to talk to the financial director. I’d like to know his priorities in order to prepare a good recommendation. Can you help me organize a meeting? “