The sales pitch is a relic. A dinosaur. A reminder of a time when salespeople held all the cards and all the information. Buyers were at their mercy, and they were talked into countless deals that, eventually, gave salespeople the bad reputation of being pushy, aggressive shysters.
Today, the most successful sales reps listen much more than they talk, asking questions to understand the buyer’s real needs. These sales reps want to sell, of course. They just understand that relationship building and trust will get you more sales in the long run than a sell-at-all-costs approach.
But buyers are still skeptical. They go into a sales meeting with their guard up, wary of getting talked into something they don’t need.
As such, sales reps have to fight an uphill battle: one where they must win trust AND win the sale at the same time.
And the key to winning that battle is the first few minutes of the call.
Think of a sales meeting as a dialogue, not a presentation
According to Marcus, we need to think of sales meetings as conversations, not presentations. Imagine a 60-minute sales call.
Research from Gong shows that the more time a salesperson takes up with talking, the less likely they are to win the deal. In other words, less successful sales reps spend a lot more time talking and a lot less time listening. These reps tend to “feature dump” — droning on and on about the facts and figures of what they sell. Buyers get overwhelmed and tend to tune out these kinds of presentations.
Instead, successful sales meetings involve a lot of “speaker switches,” according to Marcus, where questions and answers flow naturally back and forth. And research bares this out. When Gong looked at 67,149 sales calls, they found that top reps have about 20% more speaker switches per minute than bottom reps.
As Marcus puts it, “If you can manage to have some type of ping pong match in your conversation, your closing rates will go way up.”
But this doesn’t mean you should get walked all over. If you move too far away from the pitch, you end up sounding like a yes-man, agreeing to everything the customer says and watching as your sales call turns into a gripe session.
The best way forward is a balance: a discussion that’s attuned to the customer’s needs and guided by the salesperson toward an outcome that benefits all.
In many cases, this starts before the call even happens.
Set the tone before the meeting begins
To set yourself up for success, set the tone before the call even starts. This way, the call is on track to go smoothly long before you open your Zoom.
Send along helpful materials ahead of the call. Buyer’s guides, product comparisons, and other “assignment selling” resources can help answer questions ahead of time so you can spend more of your meeting on the prospect’s unique needs.
This way, you’ve already helped educate the prospect before the actual call begins.
According to Allison, you should make it clear ahead of time that you expect the prospect to review the materials you’ve shared.
Marcus says you should set the expectation that all cameras must be on throughout the call. If you’re not sure how to do this, try saying something like “We need to see each other to get to know each other, and so that I can see that you’re fully understanding some of the complex things I’ll be showing you, to prevent us from making any mistakes.”
Establish a clear agenda at the start of the call
Marcus advises the salespeople he coaches to set a clear agenda at the start of the meeting:
“In the next 45 minutes, we will cover X, Y, and Z. If we do so, by the end of our meeting we will all be clear about the best next steps.”
This way, buyers are clear about what they’re in for, what they can expect, and what will happen next.
But “best next steps” is pretty vague. Marcus advises being as clear as possible. He’ll say something like, “by the end of this call, we will all be clear whether you’d like to move forward and schedule an in-home consultation or whether you’d rather go with another vendor.”
Now, the script might vary a bit depending on your unique needs, but the mood we’re trying to convey is look, we don’t want to waste your time or our time. If you’re not a good fit for what we sell, let’s figure that out early so we both get what we need.
Even by doing this, you’re building trust with the buyer, reminding them that you want them to find the right solution for their needs — even if it’s not yours.
Address problems before they come up
At IMPACT, we use the term “vanguard” to represent a simple concept: The best time to address a potential problem is before it comes up.
The beginning of a sales call is the perfect time to do this. You can get any concerns on the table nice and early so they’re not a distraction in the back of your buyer’s mind.
“Sally, I know you’re concerned about price, so we want to be sure we cover that in our call today.”
“Anthony, you said you want to be sure that this new software integrates with what you have in place, so I will show you exactly how that happens right now.”
“Sharif, you asked about our cancellation policy, so we will cover that in great depth before the end of our meeting.”
By “vanguarding” these concerns, we get them out in the open and address them, putting the buyers are ease and making them feel heard.
Stay curious; stay present
If you’re going into surgery, you want to know that your doctor has done this a hundred times before. At the same time, though, you want that doctor to stay acutely aware of your unique needs.
A salesperson’s job is to understand the buyer — and the challenges that buyer is facing. Are those challenges similar to what you’ve heard from other buyers in the past? Almost certainly. Does the buyer want to hear a “yeah yeah yeah, I’ve heard the same thing from a hundred other people who are just like you”? Not at all. No one wants to feel interchangeable.
The key is being tuned in to your buyer. Staying curious and really getting to understand their unique vantage point. As Marcus says, “It’s about being present, genuinely curious, and getting to the core of the prospect’s needs.”
Think of salespeople as guides, not persuaders
The successful modern salesperson is a trusted educator and guide who helps prospects better understand the problems they’re facing. This means asking great questions, listening closely, and providing the kind of experience you’d want if you were the buyer.
“Empathy plays a key role,” says Allison. “Understanding the customer’s pain points allows you to tailor your approach and provide real solutions.”
But you only get this opportunity if you create it in the first few minutes of the call.
Build rapport, set clear outcomes, and work with each buyer to understand what’s at the heart of the challenge that buyer is facing.
When you do so, you’ll win more than you’ll lose.