In our last article on systematic selling, you may recall my reference to a crucial "tipping point" during the "agreement on need" stage of the sales process.
This is the point where the salesperson transitions from extracting information about the prospect's needs to summarizing and restating back to the prospect what the salesperson heard and understood.
It may be the most critical part of the sales cycle and one that most salespeople totally miss.
The agreement-on-need step encapsulates the prospect's main points, hot buttons and the important benefits he or she is looking for in a product or service. It is also the place where you prove you have listened carefully, while demonstrating you have the prospect's interests in mind.
In the case of our previous illustration with a prospect like a big New York City-based communications company (or any other company seeking creative services), a key summary statement might go something like this: "As I understand it, you're looking for an agency partnership that has deep category experience, a seasoned account team, ongoing ROI modeling and analysis with frequent testing and a new creative strategy to position your company as the leader in the category. Is that correct?"
Notice here the million-dollar question, the one that sets the stage for closing down the road and that brings clarity to the prospect's level of qualification.
That question is simply, "Is that correct?"
It is less important that the summary statement be perfectly crafted but essential that it is followed up by the question, "Is that correct?"
Because this question requires the prospect to bring clarity to what you understood about his or her needs and the assumptions you may have made about them. It may also prompt the prospect to give you more details in terms of timing, budgets or other previously unspoken aspects of the potential sale.
I can't tell you the number of times I've heard salespeople charge into a presentation with little or no rapport established, no trust built and without any understanding of the prospect's true needs. There was plenty of impressive show and tell but little or no feedback from the prospect.
It is no wonder why the sale is never closed, simply because the sale was never really open for discussion and exploration.
Even with the most seasoned salespeople, however, it's not uncommon to miss an important point, especially if you are taking notes and are trying to capture as much on paper as possible. If the prospect talks fast, you can also misinterpret what is said, since you may be concentrating on gathering as many facts as possible. And of course, any prospect is capable of miscommunicating certain details that can quickly take a sale down the wrong path.
In the case where the prospect does not agree with your statement of need, you must listen carefully to the prospect's reply and make sure you understand what this new information means. Once you have done so, you can add this new component to your statement of need and again follow it with, "Is that correct?"
The agreement-on-need step also makes communication with your prospect so much easier.
When you've done the agreement-on-need step correctly, you know what the prospect is looking for and wants to accomplish.
But more important than that, the prospect knows that you know, which simplifies the communication from that point on. How many times have you personally been involved in listening to presentations by salespeople, and they had no idea what you needed or how they could be of assistance. Needless to say, they were trying to close a sale that had never been opened.
Many times in a multi-call selling situation, after the salesperson has gotten the agreement on need, a formal presentation needs to be prepared to show how the salesperson and his or her company can provide the services as outlined in the agreement on need step.
It is most important when going back for the formal presentation that after continuing to establish rapport and asking any additional qualification questions necessary that the salesperson again does the agreement-on-need step and finishes up with the three magic words, "Has anything changed?"
It doesn't matter whether it's been a week, a month or a year since your last conversation with your prospect, as we know, things change on an hourly basis in business.
Most salespeople would go into a subsequent call assuming everything was the same as the last time they were there and then when they finish up the presentation, the prospect blurts out, "Oh, I should have told you, we sold the company last week."
As we stated earlier, when selling becomes a procedure, it ceases to be a problem.
If it's not a procedure, it will always be a problem.
Is it necessary to sell the company to a long-established customer?
Learn why or why not and how to do it. In our next column we'll cover the importance of the sell-the-company step and where it should be done. We will also introduce the F.B.R. concept and show you how it can dramatically change your presentation style.
Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.