I recently came across an article on the value of sales conversations, Old-School Selling is Dead (Right?), written by Kelly Riggs (@kellyriggs). Kelly is an author, speaker, and business performance coach for executives and companies throughout the United States. He has worked with companies in a wide variety of industries, with sales revenues ranging from $3 million to Fortune 500.
Widely recognized as a powerful speaker and dynamic coach in the areas of sales, management leadership, and strategic planning, Kelly is a former sales executive and two-time national Salesperson-of-the-Year with well over two decades of sales management and sales training experience.
Recognizing that Riggs is a leader in his field with lots of insights to offer, I was eager to follow up on some of his points. Here’s how it went.
Sales conversations certainly aren’t dead, but would you say the WAY reps communicate with prospects has changed? And is this always for the better?
KR: Sales conversations will never die unless a sale becomes nothing more than a transaction. In that case, what is happening is not really "selling" at all; it is some type of commoditized purchase in which the buyer has no need whatsoever of outside assistance in making the buying decision.
When that assistance is desired (or required for some reason), the sales "conversation" becomes a necessity. But if that conversation is not a dialogue that elicits buying information and buying motivations from all of the influencers in the sale, I don't think a conversation has taken place.
I do believe that many salespeople have substituted communication technology for real communication, which has also created a false sense of security in many cases. From my perspective, when a salesperson substitutes communication technology for the sales conversation, and that sales dialogue does not ensue, it is definitely not for the better.
What role do you think content should play in adding value to sales conversations?
KR: The idea of "content" is nothing new in the world of selling. The only difference today is the delivery technology. Before technology, that content (white papers, case studies, survey data, collateral materials, etc.) was delivered as a hard copy and automation happened in the form of a calendar reminder!
So, I believe that "content" delivery has always been critical to the sales conversation, because it can serve as the catalyst for that conversation or it can be used in support of that conversation.
Generally speaking, the strategic use of content plays a role in establishing credibility, in providing information critical to the buying decision, and in providing the opportunity to deliver added value to the customer.
One of the things that I like to tell salespeople and sales managers is that we should quit labeling the conversations with prospects as "sales" calls. Instead, we should use the term "value delivery" calls or "value creation" calls. A "sales" call seems to communicate that the entire objective of the call is to sell something (regardless of the point in the sales/buying process) rather than to use that call to create a conversation that delivers value to the prospect.
You write that sales dialogue is sometimes replaced with PowerPoint. Are sales presentations and sales conversations at odds? How can a rep give a presentation without giving a monologue?
KR: A bit of clarification here: at some point, the salesperson will outline/detail a solution to the prospect. That should come after considerable conversation/dialogue that has elicited the information that allows the presentation to be on point and effective. That "presentation" will necessarily call for a change in the dynamic of the conversation.
Here is what I mean: Early in the sales process, the weight of the conversation should rest with the prospect; they should do most of the talking. Sadly, that's not true for many salespeople, but in order to get information critical to the solution, the prospect should generally be talking much more than the salesperson.
Over time that ratio will move more towards the salesperson. However, a sales presentation, regardless of the tools used, can (and should) still be an interactive dialogue. Questions can be used in a variety of ways to create interaction with the prospect - to clarify details, to confirm understanding, to obtain feedback, and so on.
The purpose is to engage the customer and make sure that we are getting feedback throughout the presentation. It is not at all uncommon for a salesperson to finish a one-sided, one-way presentation feeling very good about it only to lose the sale and find out about one or more critical items that did not get addressed.
A monologue does not create or confirm information that is critical to the sale.
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