The last post defined an ideal sales conversation as:
Genuine and productive dialogue between individuals who share a common purpose.
It’s probably embarrassingly clear that most sales conversations don’t quite reach that ideal. What are the barriers that prevent it?
Lack of preparation: You don’t know enough about the customer and their situation to open the conversation to a subject that they care about. Or you demonstrate that you haven’t done the work to earn the credibility to establish trust and intimacy.
History and preconceptions: The customer may have had a bad experience with you or your company, or may have preconceptions about you (planted by competitors, perhaps). You may be afraid to bring up potential negatives, but elephants in the room will make their presence felt if they’re not acknowledged and addressed early.
Excessive goal focus: This can manifest itself in two ways. If you focus too much on what success or failure will mean to you in this sales call, your eagerness or fear will leak through and taint the conversation. The second risk is being so focused on what you’re trying to achieve that you don’t pay enough attention to the person in front of you. One of the reasons for excessive goal focus is this next barrier:
Falling in love with your plan: Planning is a good thing, but don’t fall in love with your plan. No matter how logical it is, the customer always has a vote, and you need to use your judgment to know when to stick with the plan and when to follow the flow of the conversation. Along the same lines, you may have crafted some exquisite questions, and then be so focused on asking the questions that you miss signals—either they have already answered the question, or they’re telling you that they want to talk about something else.
Conscious competence: You know the techniques you’re supposed to use to ask the right questions, listen actively, and manage objections, but you still have to think about them. You haven’t used them so much that they become unconscious habits, a part of who you are. Sports psychologists tell us that athletes choke when they think too much. When they trust the techniques they’ve practiced, hard-wiring and habits carry them to success.
Impatience: Two vital ingredients of ideal sales conversations are trust and willingness to change, and both take time to develop. Pushing either one too fast can backfire on you. For example, we love to sell solutions, so we often try to cram them into the smallest opening that sounds like a problem. In doing so we may solve the wrong problem or scare off the customer who is not yet ready.
Pride, Enthusiasm and Passion: Wait—aren’t these all supposed to be good things? Why would they be barriers to an ideal sales conversation? They are good, but if they’re not held in check they can keep you from seeing things from the customer’s point of view. I’m reminded of Churchill’s observation that “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” Just remember, they’re not that into you or your product. If they ask what time it is don’t tell them the fascinating history of watchmaking.
If you remove these seven barriers, you’re well on your way to the ideal sales conversation. In the next post, we’ll examine the positive steps you can take to get the rest of the way.