Are your salespeople making presentations, but closing very little business? Do they think, “People love me, I have a great PowerPoint presentation, I’m ready, willing and able to present my product anytime”? Is that all it takes?
Selling should always be more about asking and listening than about telling. Your salespeople love the products and services they sell and are very knowledgeable about them, so of course they want to rush out and tell everyone. But steady, consistent sales come when you learn about the customers (their goals, their problems and their vision for growth) and then determine if a fit exists between them and your product or service. The only way to do that is by listening. Salespeople need to be masters at asking the right questions and listening to the answers.
Ask questions and listen
How can you tell if your solution fits the customer’s needs?
- Be sure you’re talking to all of the people who are involved in the decision.
- Prepare questions in advance so you can give your full attention to the person speaking, not to wondering what you’ll say next.
- Take notes. This way, you won’t have to interrupt the speaker, you can remember the answers and jot down how your solution would help, you can prepare for follow-up questions, summarize at the end and use your notes to prepare your presentation.
- Interject only briefly (and when appropriate) with a clarification question or with a feature or benefit that fits something the speaker mentioned.
- Most people love to talk about themselves and their company. Let them do so and ask good questions that keep them on track and deliver the information you need.
So if salespeople are asking and listening instead of telling and presenting, how can the prospect learn about the solution?
The solution should be interwoven into the conversation. For example: You ask, “How has your company solved this problem in the past?” The answer: “We’ve never really found a solution.” Is this an invitation for the salesperson to dive in with their product information? No! More questions need to be asked. “What have you tried?” and, then, after they give their answer, ask: “Why didn’t that work?”
A follow-up might be: “It sounds like you need a solution that’s easy to use and doesn’t require constant monitoring, is that right?” Depending on the answer, share some information about how your solution might work in that case. Then move on to ask more questions to get the rest of the information needed.
By now, the prospect will want to know more about your solution. Is this the time to get out the PowerPoint and start presenting? Again, no. First make sure all of your questions have been answered and let them know you’ll come back with a solution to fit their needs.
At this point, the salesperson should return to the office with answers to all the questions and create a customized presentation, adapting from whatever good “generic” presentation your company already has.
Keep the sale moving forward
For the sales manager, this is a good time for some focused coaching. Be sure the salesperson understands the prospect’s problem. One or two slides will be needed for each feature or benefit that speaks directly to the solutions they need. There may be other fantastic features and benefits, but don’t be tempted to throw them in. (They can always have extra materials ready if needed.)
Have the salesperson practice the presentation. They need to practice the balance between presenting and asking questions about what has been presented, before moving on to the next idea.
At the beginning of the presentation, there should be a brief review of what was learned at the last meeting, letting the prospects know that each point will be covered. Start by describing their situation and the current need that led them to contact your company. Take their needs one at a time and match something from your solution that solves each. If there’s an area you can’t address properly, let them know your solution won’t cover it, but you have considered alternative ways to handle it.
When you present a solution, check in with the prospect to determine if it works for them and if they have any questions. Often when people hear ideas fed back to them, it helps them to clarify even further and develop new thoughts and directions. This may happen during your presentation and you will learn even more about your potential customer. This type of selling shortens the sales cycle because it keeps the sale moving forward—or ends it quickly so time isn’t wasted.
And if your salesperson uses PowerPoint, be sure they remember these simple rules:
- You do the talking, not the slides.
- Short bulleted ideas only, your words fill in the details.
- Slides should be very easy to read quickly.
- Use a large font size. The prospect should never have to squint to read the slides.
- Make sure the background doesn’t distract the reader from the content.
- Graphs, charts and photos should illustrate main points as much as possible.
These days, purchasing decisions are rarely made by one person. None of the above will help if the salesperson is talking to one person only or the wrong people. Salespeople need to be coached to find multiple people at each organization who are interested in their solution. Questions need to be asked of all of them individually or in a group setting. Coach your salespeople to find all of the decision-makers, take time to ask questions, listen and tailor their presentations to their audience. Good presentations engage the audience and encourage them to participate.
Vistage Associate Alice R. Heiman is president of ARH Consulting, LLC, a sales consulting and sales management firm based in Reno, Nevada.