Seven Principles for More Effective Sales: Part I

Mar 17, 2022

I used to hate sales, but as I learned more about it and practiced it more, I found that it wasn't nearly as complicated and difficult as I made it out to be. In fact, I discovered seven principles for more effective sales:

  1. The strategy session is not solely about making a sale. It’s about helping your prospect better understand the problem at hand, so they can make an informed and empowered decision. 
  2. Show up as an expert advisor who diagnoses the problem and provides a solution. 
  3. Only pitch to people who want to be pitched to. Otherwise, you’re wasting your breath. 
  4. Listen to your prospect and make them feel heard. They need to trust that you fully understand their unique situation. 
  5. Stay on topic and don’t jump to giving advice. This is a conversation about solving the problem, not a conversation that solves the problem. 
  6. You’re leading the conversation, not them. 
  7. It’s okay if they turn out not to be a good fit. Point them in the right direction anyway. 

In this episode, I talk through the first four principles, and what they really mean in the context of effective, ethical sales.

Today's episode is the first part of a two-part episode series on seven principles for more effective sales. We will be going through roughly half of the principles today in this episode, and then in the next episode, we will cover the remaining principles. I'll go ahead and get started with a word about what these principles actually are and what they aren't, and we'll start with what they aren't. These principles aren't suggestions for language or tactics that are going to help you close a sale. Instead, these principles are things that you want to keep in mind and consider around the whole philosophy of sales and how you approach a discovery call or a strategy session. 

Principle number one is that the strategy session or the discovery call is not solely about making a sale. What it's really about is helping your prospect better understand the problem at hand, so that they can make an informed and empowered decision. Oftentimes, we pay attention to only one metric of whether a sales conversation is successful, which is whether it resulted in a sale, and honestly, that's a horrible way to look at it. If your close rate is at a respectable 20%, that means you're going to view 80% of your sales calls as failures. That's a pretty quick path to feeling demoralized and feeling burnt out. No one can keep going when they feel like they're failing 80% of the time. 

What's more, treating a sale as the primary metric for success fails to consider a whole host of other factors that are entirely beyond your control. For example, whether the prospect is a good fit in the first place, if they can afford to work with you, whether the timing is right for them, and honestly, whether you even like each other and get along. The good news, though, is that the primary purpose of a strategy session really isn't to make a sale; it's about helping your prospect better understand their problem and their situation, so they can make an empowered decision. 

Most of the time, when a prospect gets on a call with you, they don't fully understand their situation, even if they think they do, and it's usually just a result of blind spots that we all have or merely a lack of information. That's why coaches play such an important role; it's our job to identify and dig into those blind spots, and then provide them with the information they need to help them fully understand their situation. A successful strategy session is one that results in an “aha moment” or a realization for the prospect. 

Principle number two is to show up as an expert advisor who diagnoses the problem and provides the solution. Imagine walking into a doctor's office and barely sitting in the seat before she hands you a prescription for some drug you've never heard of. You might be a little bit confused and say, “But I haven't even told you what's wrong!” Has that ever actually happened to you in that way? No, probably not, because that would be gross malpractice on the physician’s part. 

The more common scenario is that the physician asks you what's going on, maybe digs a bit deeper into understanding some of your specific symptoms, and then gives you a diagnosis. She'll then prescribe a solution, sometimes in the form of a drug, other times in the form of lifestyle changes. And if she's really excellent, she'll also explain her reasoning for prescribing a solution, and that increases your trust in her advice, because it shows that she thoroughly understands your problem, making you much more likely to actually follow her recommendations. 

In the context of a sales conversation, you are the physician; your role is to understand and diagnose the problem and then to prescribe a solution. In fact, you need to be an excellent physician, who explains the reasoning and thought process behind that recommendation. When you approach a strategy session with this mindset, you really position yourself as the expert advisor, the equivalent of a physician in your own space. The result is that you build trust with your prospect by demonstrating to them that you have their best interest at heart, not your own. 

Principle number three is to only pitch to people who want to hear your pitch. Otherwise, you're wasting your breath. While you want to reserve your strategy sessions for people who really are ideal clients, you won't know if they're an ideal client until you've actually spoken with them in depth. There are a variety of reasons that the prospect on the other end of a strategy call might not be a good fit. Sometimes, you'll encounter ideal clients who seem perfect, except for the fact that they're not particularly interested in working with a coach or a consultant at the moment. Situations like that are going to happen, and that's totally fine. There's a simple principle to help make every strategy session avoid those awkward situations and go more smoothly: Only pitch to prospects who want to hear your offer. 

That means only sharing your offer when you think it's a good fit and they want to hear about it. Your warmest prospects will outright ask you how they can work with you. This is an ideal situation, wherein you've had such a successful conversation that they're champing at the bit to hear how they can work with you. Most of your prospects probably won't ask to hear your pitch, but you can easily find out if they are open to it. It just takes a simple ask, something like “I can definitely help you with XYZ specific problem. Would you like me to tell you about what it would look like to work together?” When you pitch only to people who say yes to that, to people who want to hear it, the whole process feels smoother, because you've gotten their go-ahead and their consent instead of blindsiding them with a pitch. Otherwise, the pitch can kind of feel stilted and awkward, really zapping your confidence and making them, at the end of the day, much less likely to say yes. 

Principle number four, and the last principle that we will be talking about in today's episode, is to listen and make your prospect feel heard, because they need to know and trust that you understand their unique situation. Throughout a strategy call, you ask your prospect a series of questions to help fully understand their situation and to help them fully understand their situation, but what often gets overlooked is how to listen to their responses and make the prospect feel heard. 

When your prospect feels like you are really hearing what they have to say, it creates confidence that you actually understand the problem and situation they're facing. Everyone thinks that their specific situation is 100% unique to them. As an expert in your niche, you will likely see the same several situations over and over again, just with minor varying details, but for your prospect, it is unique for them. It's important that even though you might have seen someone's situation a million times before, they still need to feel that you understand them as an individual. 

Use active listening techniques, like repeating back what they've told you, or leading into your response with “In light of what you said about XYZ…” This communicates to your prospect that you are both listening and understanding what they've said. If something comes up that you don't understand, don't hesitate to ask a clarifying question. Asking a follow up question isn't a reflection of your ability to understand your prospect the first time. Instead, it's a signal that you're not only hearing what they're saying, but you're also also listening and actively trying to understand. 

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