Guest Blog by Nancy Bleeke, Sales Pro Insider.
Author of Conversations That Sell and contributor to 30 Minute Sales Meetings templates.
Stephen Covey said, “Begin with the end in mind.” A great tip when preparing for great sales conversations. Yet, it can also set us up for failing early in the sales conversation.
We can become so focused on the end or outcome that we forget to build the beginning or start of our sales conversations.
The first moments set the stage for the rest of the conversation after all.
If you don’t engage them and earn the right to move further into a conversation, the end will come fast and furious.
So, how do you purposely start your conversations? With these two simple and effective actions to hone the art of your conversation start.
1. Prepare a 3-Step Start for your Sales Conversations:
The first seconds of a conversation are convoluted as your buyer transitions from whatever they were doing before your contact. Help them easily transition to focusing on your time together with a proper greeting that includes your personal name and company name. Don’t skip the Hello, Good morning, Good afternoon.
Tip: They probably won’t ‘get’ your name the first time if you haven’t met them before because they are not yet focused. Include your name again later to make sure they know it.
Explain why you are connecting.
Whether your conversation is scheduled or not, set expectations and clarify the reason for the conversation. The key here is to make sure the “why” is focused on What’s in it for Them? Not just you.
Tip: If you can’t figure out a reason they should meet with you, then don’t waste their time!
Ask relevant questions to engage and get them talking.
What do you ask at the start? Time and connection questions!
Time questions: I firmly believe we need to be mindful of time and we do that from the beginning of the conversation by commenting, confirming, or asking about time. Skipping this does nothing but cause irritation on their end and a boot out the door (or off the call) on your end.
Connection questions. This is the tricky part! It depends on many factors such as your relationship with the prospect or buyer, their Tribal Type, and the overall situation. Though talking about weather might seem trite, it can be very effective in breaking the ice, connecting with the person, and gauging their mood or style.
Asking them something relevant to them or their role at work is safe. I asked a Type A man “How is your day going?” his response “Fine, and yours?” Hmmm. That didn’t get me anywhere and was such a rookie error. I realized what happened and said, “Last time we talked you mentioned a huge marketing project, what’s the focus on that project for this week?” Then he had a lot to tell me, filling the time as we waited for the other party to join us instead of sitting with an awkward pause or me talking about something I think is interesting.
Another connection topic is to ask about someone or something you know you have in common. “It was helpful that Mike connected us, how do you know Mike?” or “I noticed your LinkedIn profile mentioned you like to play competitive sports. What’s your sport of choice?”
Tip: If your buyer is not engaged or seems rushed for time, its okay to say something such as, “It seems as if now may not be the best time for us to review _______. If this topic (insert something very specific such as (or i.e.)saving money, reducing time on something, etc.) is important to you, would you like to dig right into the agenda?” Or, “Would you like to find a time that is better?”
Practice may not always make us perfect, but it will definitely help you be more comfortable and confident in the moment. Practice allows you to hear how what you prepared actually sounds as you try different time and connection questions so you can insert the most relevant one into the situation.
Practice reduces the potential of your mouth getting in the way of your mind as the conversation begins.
Starting sales conversations is as important as driving to the desired outcome of the sales conversation. The framework of the 3-Step Start brings a bit of “science” you can match to the art of preparation and practice (while being flexible in the moment of the start) to increase your probability of successfully engaging the buyer and earning the right to move forward.
Managers Tip: Managers, a GREAT way to use 20-30 minutes of your sales meetings is to focus your team on starting conversations most effectively. Review the mechanic of the 3-Step Start, ask the sellers to write 3-Step Starts for various situations; and then role play and practice, focusing on how they can ask better questions to engage the buyer.