We spend a lot of time here at Imagine advising companies and salespeople about how to approach and manage the B2B sales process. Over the last 20 years, we’ve developed quite a bit of intelligence into the behaviors that drive win rates and growth.
I was talking a sales situation over with my marketing manager, Jackie, and we felt that sharing this approach would be a good topic for a blog post. I’ve written about the overall sales process in many other posts, so today, I’m going to be a bit more tactical and share the seven steps I follow when pursuing any sales opportunity that presents itself.
- Establish My Initial Hypothesis
If you’re thinking, “doesn’t that mean you’re making an assumption?”; the answer is yes. If you’re wondering how I can make an assumption before I know anything about the prospect; the answer is, “quite easily.”
You see, before I have my first conversation with a prospect, I already know a lot about them. I’ve gone through the painstaking effort of clearly defining my ideal target profiles. I’ve built clear buyer personas to get inside the hearts and minds of the people we are trying to serve.
So when I get an inquiry, I’m able to quickly assess where the prospect fits within our opportunity grid and am able to establish the initial business case that I believe I will be making.
This is an interesting stage, as I’m an avid researcher and I think that salespeople often waste tremendous amounts of time researching. If you don’t know what you’re researching for, it’s easy to get lost in the process. By setting my hypothesis first, I know what to look for – information that either supports or conflicts with my supposition.
I’ll look at their website and their LinkedIn profile. I’ll go to Hoovers to learn about their industry and who their competitors are. Along the way, I’m visualizing the entire process -- including creating and delivering my sales-winning presentation.
- Create 3 – 5 Resonating Questions
The one piece of advice by Brian Tracy that has always stuck with me is, “A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.” My job is not to tell them my story, but to lead my prospect to tell their own story and align that to my advantages.
Early on I learned that the key to controlling the sale was to command the conversation. And the key to do that without being pushy is to ask powerful questions, where the prospect is learning about their business as much as I am.
I call these questions Resonator Questions, and in my preparation I work to create several of them to get the conversation off to a good start.
- “Forget” Everything I’ve Learned
By this point, I’ve learned a lot. In many ways I’m ready to make my recommendations (which is a challenge many experienced sales professionals must overcome).
Despite the fact that I’ve got a clear hypothesis at this time, once I begin my conversation with the prospect, I “forget” everything I know. I utilize the questions that I developed to get the conversation going and then I adjust to what I hear.
I’m always comparing what I hear, to what I expected to hear. When it’s a match I move forward as planned. When it’s not, I make the adjustment (which brings me to point 5).
- Identify “What’s Wrong With This Picture”
At this point, my conversation with the prospect has begun and I’ve got a very clear picture of what my success track will look like. Where I find my approach differs the most from typical salespeople is that once my conversation starts, I focus far more on what I’m seeing that doesn’t fit, than what does.
My job is to identify red flags and roadblocks to my plan, and to assess if those obstacles are likely to be addressed. I’m always assessing:
- Is the prospect serious about the problem?
- Do they have reasonable expectations?
- Do they appear willing to address the areas that will need to change?
By keeping my focus on what doesn’t fit, I’m able to adjust more quickly and effectively and end the process if I feel it’s not worth the effort.
- Focus on “Advancing” Not “Continuing”
I first learned about this concept in Neil Rackham’s famous book SPIN Selling. I actually found this concept to be even more valuable than the questioning model that was the focus of the book.
Rackham discovered that successful sales interactions almost always ended in what he called an advance; when an event or specific action would take place on the part of the buyer that would move the sale forward.
Most interactions, however, end in a continuation; where the conversation continues but the parties have agreed to no specific action and there’s no measurable progression.
I’ve always been a fan of sales coaching. One of the great benefits is just being able to talk through the situation with someone who understands the strategy and approach. In addition to the insights you gain from them, simply hearing yourself talk out the situation makes you more aware and prepared.
In this case, after every conversation I have with a prospect I sit with my VP of Sales & Marketing Programs, David Fletcher, and run through what happened vs. what I expected to happen. We then discuss our options for moving forward and lay out an action plan.
Have any tips for handling B2B sales opportunities that I didn't list here? Let us know in a comment below.