This important sales approach that your reps must know might sound counterintuitive.

It’s not about having the best opening line, detailed product knowledge, or effective sales patter.

The one thing that reps should know is that the person on the other side of the line – or desk – has a perspective of their own needs that is unique.

This is something the sales rep needs to discover before they can make the sale.

Prospects are people–and people buy solutions, not pitches.

This client-centric consultative sales approach is probably the most important aspect of making a sale, especially if the sale requires a substantial commitment in time and/or money. It is somewhat of a cliché, but the most important thing to discover is: ‘what keeps the client up at night’. So, what the rep says is nowhere as important as what the rep hears.

The best sales approach depends on a multitude of factors, and there are as many sales approaches as there are sales managers. There are, however, some basic principles that apply to all.

The Rep Must Be Present

Sales reps shouldn’t be overly concerned about getting their whole prepared sales pitch in. The idea is to get the prospective client to say something that is relevant to them (i.e. the client). The sales rep then needs to have the conversation around the context in which the client sees the situation.

Everyone has a unique perspective, and if the sales rep can tap into that perspective, they have essentially ‘hooked’ the client. Everyone wants to be recognized, and that’s perhaps why the sweetest word in the English language is one’s own name.

Being present means understanding that there is a person on the other side who might very well have a need for what is being sold, but won’t see the benefits from the same perspective as the salesperson. Reps need to understand that a sale is a period of exploration and investigation, and not one of explanation.

Learning Optimism Is Crucial for Success

Martin Seligman, the author of Learned Optimism, states that it’s not that important what a client says to a salesperson that affects their mindset, but what that salesperson says to him- or herself. This is what makes the difference between a great performer and someone who is just mediocre.

How people explain things to themselves is referred to as their ‘attribution style’, and the interesting thing is that it’s not logical thinking that keeps the salesperson optimistic (and functioning optimally), but how they ‘attribute’ events.

The reason Seligman’s research is so important is twofold. Firstly, he demonstrated in a study with applicants for Metlife who scored badly on the conventional test, that those who scored well on the ASQ (attributional style questionnaire) outsold the regular group of salespeople in their second year by 57%. Secondly, reps can take the test online for free at Authentic Happiness (disregard the trivial-sounding name – this test can have a marked effect on a salesperson’s performance).

Essentially, reps who score high on the ASQ explain things differently to themselves in terms of three factors:

1. Permanence – they see good events as being permanent, and negative ones as transient.
2. Pervasive – if they excel at one thing, then they see themselves as generally excelling at everything else in their lives.
3. Personal – they ascribe success to their own actions, and failure to others’.

3M: Metrics Must Motivate

Although the representative is evaluated at the end of the day on sales in terms of revenue or units sold, people are also motivated when all the work they have done is reflected in the data. That means the metrics of total sales calls is important, whether that call resulted in a sale or not. When they put the phone down after an unsuccessful call, the action that they had taken should still matter.

So compensation should be based on effort and behavior – not just sales. Here we could also include qualitative factors, such as client satisfaction surveys as well as account retention. Furthermore, compensation that works for one rep might not be applicable to all. For example, a salesperson at Boeing might spend years with an airline before it places an order, so his/her compensation would be skewed towards a basic with some commission, whereas a door-to-door salesman where sales happen frequently and results correlate more closely with effort, would receive predominantly a commission based compensation.

This 360 degree approach to metrics allows the sales manager to not only gauge efficacy (percentage of calls that result in a sale), but also productivity.

In the case of the former, it needs to be determined if the salesperson is doing the right things, and in the case of productivity – whether he/she is doing things right. These are very different aspects of the job and if they are ideally balanced, the outcome is both effective and efficient.

People buy from people they like

In the past, getting prospects to like the sales rep meant spending time with each other. Although there are some industries where the product sold is highly technical and personal relationships are key, for many sales reps this is not the case. Getting liked can take many forms:

  1. Getting a referral and mentioning the name of the person who provided the referral;
  2. Having a strong brand in the marketplace (people respect known brands);
  3. Mentioning those clients that already like doing business with the sales rep, and

If the rep sounds or acts as if he/she is a likeable person, this serves as a cue for the client to like them.

Weapons of Influence Make The Difference

The sales collateral is the salesperson’s weapon of influence. This might be in the form of the telephonic sales pitch or a physical sales presenter that’s used when dealing face-to-face. Too often, this collateral is seldom revisited and it’s the same script or glossy brochure that gets used for years.

Times have changed – clients have less time available to absorb information and now the often-heard ’email me the details’ cuts the salesperson short.

This is not to discount the important role that digital media plays, but how often is the email just a digital version of what’s on paper? We live in a new era of communication, and the sales collateral needs to be designed for the environment in which it is consumed. Yesterday’s brochure just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Reps Need to Keep Their Energy Up

When a prospective client is approached, the client should believe that they are not just on a list that the rep is working through.

Although sales reps might understand this intuitively, they might be unaware of the hidden signals that come from ‘just going through the motions’. There are certain things that can’t be masked, and burnout is one of them. This does not necessarily mean giving time off, but giving timeout which relates to better selling:

1. Celebrate victories and make sure that everyone on the sales team experiences everyone else’s victories;

2. Understand that synergy between salespeople matters (people can sense when a rep is part of a team), and that team-building plays an important role;

3. Experiment often, and implement the change when an experiment succeeds, and

4. Initiate frequent change, but make sure that the salespeople understand why the change is being made – secure their buy-in.

What do reps believe is most important?

Research shows that the top drivers for winning deals are high-quality content, and getting the value proposition across. The interesting aspect of this report relegates prospect relationships as the least important factor:

Top Drivers of Winning Deals % Respondents
Prospect relationships 20
Sales rep performance 34
Product differentiation 42
High-quality content 57
Ability to convey value message 70

This further supports the hypothesis that times have changed and that salespeople no longer have the luxury of selling themselves as opposed to getting the message across.

However, improving sales performance is just one aspect of a bigger picture, and that everything the brand does has a part to play in the final sale.

New Sales Paradigm

There’s no doubt that the sales professional practices in a rapidly evolving market, where norms have changed dramatically in the past ten years. It is more client-centric today where the best sales approach requires that the sales rep listens more intently as opposed to pitching the sale.

Selling often involves a substantial amount of resistance from potential buyers, many of whom do not become customers even after a long process akin to a courtship. In that case, the sales rep needs to remain in a positive frame of mind – they need to remain optimistic. The sales rep also needs to be recognized for all their efforts, and the organization should celebrate success often and openly.

People buy from people they like, especially in today’s climate of product parity. The old ‘golf buddies’ paradigm has disappeared in many industries, so having a strong brand name has become of greater importance. The age of digital media requires that organizations don’t just dump their existing sales collateral into an email, but that the new media is embraced and catered for.

Selling can be an energy-sapping process and sometimes the best sales approach method is not how the sales rep deals with the customer, but how management motivates the sales force and demonstrates that they are valuable and performing a key function in the organization.

Of all the challenges the modern salesperson confronts, it is the ability to convey the value message they find most difficult. The challenge of the best sales approach is not so much of ‘getting in the door’, but more a case of getting a ‘share of mind’. Therein lies the answer.