How to Talk Your Way Into a Sale

For many sales representatives, frequent rejection is a daily affair. Potential customers often turn down a pitch before they’ve fully heard it, wary of yet another raid on their wallets. Even loyal customers provide no guarantee that a sales rep will have a stable future salary. The average client doesn’t understand or care much about the differences between competing companies, and he likely won’t turn to his previous sales representative for advice. In many cases, a consumer simply wants to choose the cheapest version of a product that efficiently meets her needs. 

Rejection in sales may be unavoidable, but it doesn’t have to be constant. If a salesperson is willing to center the client’s needs, rather than the company’s products, she’ll be more likely to snag the attention of prospective customers. By following techniques outlined by the experts, experienced and novice sales representatives can create exciting pitches that end in closed deals rather than closed doors. 

Selling Starts with Telling

When a sales representative pitches a potential client, he might be tempted to give a talk about his company or his expertise at the start of the presentation. If he gives into this urge, however, he’ll risk losing the customer’s attention. Clients usually invite sales representatives when they are looking for a product or service that solves an ongoing problem. They might be interested in a company’s backstory, but that’s not the information that’s likely to grab their attention. If a sales representative wants to earn a client’s business, she should make her customer the hero of her marketing campaign. 

Companies and entrepreneurs should build their business by focusing on the client’s favorite subject: himself. 

Clients who can see how the marketing pitch applies to their lives and professional challenges are more likely to be interested in whatever product or service is being offered. An accountant who wants to attract more business, for example, could make her client the hero of the story by sharing testimonials showing how much money she has saved for other clients. Companies and entrepreneurs should build their business by focusing on the client’s favorite subject: himself. 

In Building a StoryBrand (2017), author Donald Miller argues that sales pitches are like stories. Each story requires a cast of characters: the hero, the guide, and the villain are all popular staples. When reviewing sales-pitch language and company materials, representatives should make sure that the customer, not the business, occupies the central role in every narrative. This leaves the sales representative free to assume the role of guide and mentor. Once a sales representative sees himself as the guide, rather than the hero, he can demonstrate his expertise in whatever field the client is attempting to navigate. Framing a sales pitch like a story increases the chance that the client will pay attention throughout the entire presentation. 

Stories are more engaging than speeches or disjointed slideshows, and they follow a predictable format that anyone who has read a book or watched a movie will be familiar with. People crave stories, so using fiction formats to tee up a pitch can not only lead to a better presentation—it can lead to higher sales.

The Challenger Sale

In fiction, mentors routinely prepare the hero for unseen obstacles. They teach the protagonist how to anticipate challenges or view problems from alternative perspectives, allowing her to eventually triumph over her ultimate foe. Great sales representatives provide the same services; they open a client’s mind to new possibilities and point out potential stumbling blocks. To provide that level of guidance, sales representatives have to commit to knowing more about the client’s business than the client knows herself.

The point of the sales pitch is not to make leaders nod in agreement, but to make them ponder a new perspective. 

In The Challenger Sale (2011), authors Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson explain how sales representatives can gain that level of expertise, and why guiding customers toward solutions can be more effective than traditional sales techniques. A sales representative who markets a system for managing payroll and benefits, for example, can differentiate himself from his competitors by explaining why his system will make the process of delivering employee compensation simpler, faster, and cheaper. By learning more about the client and his competitors, a company can create effective marketing that directly addresses the concerns of potential customers.

Before entering the board room, a sales representative should already know the likely challenges a company is facing. Representatives can find this information by doing market research, by talking to past or present employees, or by comparing the company to similar clients the representative may have already helped. Some sales representatives send prospective clients a form and ask the customer to answer a few questions about his or her needs. By gathering that information beforehand, a sales representative can enter the room confidently, knowing that her presentation is tailored to the company’s story. 

During the presentation, sales reps should present the company with a revelation. This insight can be a tip about how much money the company spends on an unnecessary product, or it can be about how much money the company could make if it adopted a new practice. In The Challenger Sale, Dixon and Adamson explain how Grainger, an industrial supply company, won more business by recognizing that companies often make unplanned purchases. A business’s air conditioner, for example, might break, requiring someone to go hunt for a spare part that could fix it. The company created a system for examining its customers’ unplanned purchases; its sales representatives then showed clients how these small purchases added up over time. Grainger helped its clients create plans for tackling unplanned spending, which allowed the companies to save money in the long run. By devising a solution to a problem experienced by many of its customers, Grainger was able to increase its appeal to potential clients and offer new value to existing ones.

Just as Grainger taught its clients about the costs of unplanned purchases, representatives should attempt to let company executives in on a secret that they didn’t already know. The point of the sales pitch is not to make leaders nod in agreement, but to make them ponder a new perspective.

When executives learn something they had not considered before, the meeting becomes valuable to their lives; it also becomes memorable. An effective sales representative always insists on providing value to clients during a pitch. If the meeting is worthy of their time, customers will be more likely to give you their business.

Titles mentioned in this post include: Building a StoryBrand, by Donald Miller and The Challenger Sale by Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixon.

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