1) Ego Is The Enemy
Some say there are lions and elephants in sales. Lions have big mouths to convince customers they are awesome. Elephants have big ears to listen actively. I am convinced that Elephants are better sales guys and that you should let your ego at the door before every sales interaction.
It is not your job and not helpful to tell the customer why you, your solution and your company are awesome and a client needs to buy from you. Because customers do not care about their ego, but only theirs. They have their own problems to solve and want you to listen to THEM and feel understood — and that does not happen if you feel a need to prove yourself.
2) Listen Actively
To listen as in keeping your mouth shut is easy. To listen actively is a different beast. It is much harder as it means silencing your inner voices, thinking what to say next once the customer finishes speaking. It also means to care genuinely and be 100% present instead of waiting for your “speaking slot”. But you will only learn about your customer’s true problems if you are open to acknowledge, understand, and resolve the problems of your customer.
3) Customer Problem First
Solutions need to solve problems and have no inherent value. So you need to understand your customer’s problems first. Until then, take the solution off the plate and do not talk about it until you fully understand the problem. You lose most business opportunities at this stage. Not because the customer has insufficient time, money or authority. Your solution was just not tailored well enough, and you probably lost control during the sales process.
4) Target, Tailor, Take Control
It is your job to make your solution easy to understand, test, buy and adopt for the customer. The customer will not do this work for you to figure out how you fit into his setup and take control of the buyer journey. The customer has a business to run and his initial mindset might be something like “I got 99 problems but you ain’t one”. Therefore you need to make every 15min with your customer worthwhile by targeting, tailoring and taking control of the sales process yourself.
5) Date In — Date Out
Why does not everybody does that in 2019? Yes, customers will often answer something like “I will discuss this internally and get back to you”. But they rarely do. Because they forget, it is not a priority or they do not want to tell you they made 0 progress. Help them by locking in a 15–90min calendar slot with them at the end of the meeting and gain commitment on how you will advance in the next call or meeting.
6) Never Go Back
Your customer might want to discuss which problem to solve when how during offer negotiation. This would mean going back about 3 opportunity stages in your sales process, which would be awful. There are often 2 scenarios here:
a) You messed up your needs analysis and opportunity qualification and now figure out you are a bad fit for the customer. This means you invested significant time, energy and money for a deal you could not win.
b) Your customer is trying negotiate better terms or for the lack of better knowledge. This means you should stay rigid in the terms of “We agreed on A, B and C already. The thing left to make you more successful is to agree together on how to work together on D”.
7) Quid Pro Quo
Yes, your customer might still insist on adapting the terms of your collaboration. This is fine if you can figure out how to exchange value in a different model. If your customer is for example in a difficult cash flow condition, she might ask you for longer payment terms and a 10% discount. It often makes sense to still do business together — if you get a great testimonial, referrals and buy-in for a long-term collaboration in exchange. If the customer is unwilling to give you nothing for something from you, that is a “yellow light” from earlier in the sales process you need to resolve. Giving away value for free will not do that for you.
8) Value Before Price
What is the difference between if you use “Price” or “Investment” in a sales conversation? On Day 1, the value of a collaboration with you is often unclear. This means any price is money spent without a clear ROI (Return on Investment) established. Therefore I would go as far as advising startups to discuss price only once the customer commits to the provided value of your solution.
9) Be Helpful
Sales House Rules #1–8 reflect a B2B sales process from initial contact to signed offer. Rule #9 however applies throughout the whole sales process and even way outside of sales to potential customers. This is more of a core value to in every human interaction strive to help and not expect anything in return.
I hope this was helpful for you to shorten your sales cycles, but also to shape a customer-centric, effective sales culture in your company.
Now think about what your startup-specific “Sales House Rules” could be — and which ones did you have but got rid off because they did not work?