Cornerstone Sales Skills for Better Sales Cycles

Every day you learn something new. It might be learning how to make a fantastic breakfast from YouTube, becoming more conscious about perceptions based on 360 feedback, or obtaining a certificate from a skill-based sales training program. You can also learn from having conversations.

In order to really get the most out of conversations, you must master four cornerstone sales skills: questioning techniques, being in control, social selling and objection handling.

These four skills complement each other, and a curious mindset will help you get the information you need. A fundamental element is to think about the “why” when applying the different methodologies. When you understand why people say something, ask something, or are completely silent, you can act accordingly. 

Before thinking about other people and other organizations, understanding the vision and mission statement of the company you are working for is recommended. 

Start by understanding the why

Imagine you have the best product in the market: it would seem that selling all the amazing product features would help you win every customer. But the reality is, there are more factors people consider when it comes to buying something new. We buy things for emotional reasons and justify the reasons by using logic.

As a salesperson, you certainly want to understand what you have to offer from a product standpoint. However it is more important to know why your product exists and how your company is helping your customers solve their issues.

You must first acknowledge your company’s vision and mission statement. Next, you focus on how your company’s offering solves customer pain points and how the customer benefits from using your offering. You must also be able to explain what your product does precisely, especially in later stages of the sales cycle, when the prospect has shown interest.

Sell me a pen” is a classic sales example and used in many interviews and training. I have seen people try to sell a pen based on all features they could think of but missed the opportunity to consider why the prospect is looking to buy a pen and specific pen features they were looking for. When you don’t understand why your prospect is in the market for a pen, you make the selling process more complicated than it needs to be. 

Use questioning techniques for better qualification

It is essential to qualify at all the phases of the sales cycle correctly. By collecting all the necessary information, you can better facilitate the buying process for your prospect. It sounds obvious; however, lack of information is still a challenge in many sales cycles, making it more challenging to get to the desired results. 

From my own experiences, inbound opportunities often lack critical information due to the high number of assumptions made during the process. For example, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have budget just because the prospect is reaching out to you. Is there an official project with an exact deadline, or are you dealing with an employee who is curious about market offerings and doing discovery to gain knowledge?

Questioning techniques are super powerful and valuable to understand what other people (don’t) want, need, and like.

Example 1

You are selling Christmas trees. On a sunny Friday afternoon in December, a customer (C) enters the shop and starts a conversation with you (Y):

C: Do you have a Christmas tree? 

Y: Yes, we do.

C: Ok, great. I want one.

Y: Sure. I will grab one and take it to checkout where you can pay.


The customer should go happily home with his Christmas tree. Unfortunately, the customer comes back the next day:

C: I’m sorry, but I have to return the tree as it doesn’t fit.

Y: Do you want to try a smaller one?

C: We can try. 

Y: Ok, no problem. We can take it back and give you a smaller one instead.

Amazing customer service, right? Unfortunately, the customer comes back the same afternoon and is upset.

C: It is the third time I’ve visited your store regarding a Christmas tree, but you still can’t get it right. My partner is not happy. The tree doesn’t have a clod and is quite small. I’ve been told to return the tree, and I want my money back.

This is an excellent example that offering a solution without fully understanding your prospect’s needs will lead to undesired outcomes—potentially hurting you and your company.

Here is where the questioning techniques come into play. Directional questioning helps you get a full understanding of prospect needs by guiding you in different directions. 



Example 2

You are selling the same Christmas trees. On a sunny Friday afternoon in December, a customer (C) enters the shop and starts a conversation with you (Y):

C: Do you have a Christmas tree? 

Y: Yes, we do. What are you looking for exactly? (DOWN)

C: A beautiful Christmas tree for our living room.

Y: You mentioned “beautiful,” could you elaborate on that? (DOWN)

C: Sure. A large tree as our ceiling is 3 meters high.

Y: That could definitely fit a large tree. Anything else? (UP)

C: Good that you asked. My partner likes the blue spruce. 

Y. Those are really nice, we have them. Does she like the blue spruce for any specific reason? (DOWN)

C: Absolutely. Christmas is all about family, and my partner used to have those spruces at home as well when being a kid. 

Y: Nice to hear that. What will happen if you come home with a different tree? (LEFT)

C: My partner will definitely send me back.

Y: Ok, so it is super important to come home with the blue spruce and close to 3 meters high. Is there anything else you need? (UP)

C: Almost forgot, I would like to have some new decorations

Y: New decorations, you say? What do you hope to gain from that? (RIGHT)

C: I’d like to surprise my partner. 

Y: Could you tell me more? (DOWN)

C: I usually don’t come home with surprises, and Christmas is a good moment to do so. 

Y: What does your partner like? (DOWN)

Conversation continues…

Both examples started with the same customer, the same first question, and a completely different outcome due to the salesperson’s questioning techniques. 

In the second example, more information is collected compared to the first example by asking open questions, follow-up questions, and guiding the conversation to get the full picture to understand the customer (and partner). 

A solid qualification takes more time in the beginning but is beneficial later on in the sales cycle.

Always be in the driver seat, be in control

We all know the stories of families that went on holiday by car, and multiple people in the car had a different opinion about the shortest road to the holiday destination. Before jumping in the car and starting to drive, you want to know the destination you are heading to so you can plan on how to get there and when you have to leave to be on time. Just driving randomly and making a stop at some fast-food restaurants doesn’t get you to where you need to go.

The same concept applies to both sales cycles as a whole and meetings specifically. You want to be prepared and stay in control. 

A. Sales cycles

Handing over the steering wheel in sales cycles to relinquish responsibilities doesn’t give you the recommended control to become closer to your destination. What if someone else is driving in a different direction?

I call it reverse engineering as you begin with the end in mind, “The Destination.” Talking about the destination with the other people involved (including the prospect) will only turn your destination into a common destination. The prospect has to drive along with you, right? That means you are in control.

B. Meetings

Your time is valuable, and you might have been called into a meeting by a calendar invite without knowing why you were invited. After the meeting, you realized that it was not worth your time spent. 

An example of being in control of your agenda is to stop joining meetings that have zero or little value for you. Also, when organizing meetings yourself, make sure you deliver value and communicate clearly. That includes sharing in advance of the meeting, the purpose [A], the agenda [B], the time needed [C], and the possible next steps [D].

  • Meetings without a purpose waste time and don’t get the right outcomes due to a lack of information/knowledge/right people attending.
  • Meetings without an agenda go in all different directions and don’t get you where you want to go.
  • Meetings without time management lead to poor (and inefficient) use of time, impacting achieving desired meeting outcomes.
  • Meetings without expressed possible next steps end up in misalignment and difficulties later on. 

Offer value when social selling

The digital transformation leaped over the past months since many companies widely adopted new work from home policies and regulations. We are behind screens more than ever before, and our usage of mail, chat, video calls, and social media is off the charts. 

According to LinkedIn, there is record-high engagement on their platform with even more users all around the world (690 million members). You can follow people, the company they work for, and interact with their content without being in contact with them previously. It is a significant first step to build a relationship.

Access to so many people is incredibly valuable, but its important to remember you are not the only one trying to engage with people via those platforms. You have to outsmart automated LinkedIn connection requests and all the people that are using standard messaging.

Do some research about the person you want to get in contact with, the company they work for, and write down a personalized message that contains value for them. It is all about them, and recording a video makes it even more personal. Marcus Chan wrote earlier for RevGenius Mag about 3 simple steps to using LinkedIn Video DMs to close more deals.

Below are the 5 weakest messages I received over the past week. Yes, I have anonymized them, as I don’t want to blame and shame them. As I included my initials in my first name on LinkedIn, I got some interesting messages. 

In every touchpoint, you should deliver value. All of the messages are about them, and the opportunity to provide value is completely missed. Imagine that someone sent you one of the following messages via a social platform or mail, would you feel engaged? 

1

Hello Richard, 

Just a quick question, do you use a dialler or call centre platform? 

XYZ is an awesome solution. It will turbo-charge your campaigns!

It would be great to DEMO it for you sometime, or arrange a FREE Trail.


Let's connect on LinkedIn! 


2

Hello Richard, I'd like to connect with you looking at remarkable experience in your Line of Business and wonder if we can exchange ideas to reach greater professional heights.

Regards, 


3

Hi Richard B.t.,

I would like to add you to my network.

My name is John Doe, Online Marketing Specialist at Johns Company and we help b2b customers with purchase lists, leadgeneration and pro-active marketing. 

Regards,


4

Hi Richard,

An impressive career you have carved out for yourself!

Recently, I started as an Inside Sales Consultant and I am very keen to learn more about the sales profession. So, I would like to add you to my network in order to follow you and perhaps learn a thing or two.

Best regards


5

Richard BT, it seems to me we have a lot of in common. I'd like to connect!

Handle objections with the SEARCH method

Nobody likes objections. However, you will get some objections and rejections during your life. The question is, how do you deal with those? Common objections in sales are “I have no interest,” and “It is too expensive” -- both of which can be followed-up in different ways. If we focus on the latter, a simple follow-up could be offering a discount, which might result in a deal if you are lucky, but then you won’t know if you could have landed the deal without the discount. 

When handling objections, you want to discover the real pain, which is usually not expressed in the objection you received. To discover the real problem and be able to follow-up properly, the SEARCH Methodology can be used.

SEARCH stands for:

  • Silent - don’t say or do anything, just wait for the other person to continue talking.
  • Echo - say back what the other person said as a question.
  • Ask -  start to ask open-ended questions to get to the real pain.
  • Rephrase - use your own words to make sure you understand it correctly.
  • CHeck, conclude, and get the confirmation that everything is correct.

The following example highlights the SEARCH methodology on the “It is too expensive” objection.

You (Y) are in a conversation with the customer (C):

C: It is too expensive

Y: …(SILENT)

C: because one of your competitors is way cheaper.

Y: One of our competitors is way cheaper, you say? (ECHO)

C: Yes, you are more than double their price.

Y: Could you be more specific? (ASK, ask follow-up questions and use the directional questioning techniques to get the full picture)

..

Y: So, if I understand it correctly, one of our competitors offers a light version that is 45% of our price and includes a lower minimum amount of users. You are willing to pay 20% more for our solution as you will solve the entire company’s challenges and not for just a single country. Is that correct? (REPHRASE)

C: Yes

Y: If you get a new quote from us with a price X, will you sign the agreement on Y? (CHECK)

C: Yes, that is what we just agreed on.

Put your cornerstone sales skills to use

The next time you have a conversation with a prospect, start with applying the techniques to control a meeting (2. B.) and use the questioning techniques (1.) 4 arrows (I write the arrows down myself on a piece of paper when starting a call). 

In case objections are raised (4.), take a breath (the silent period) before echoing back. A gift may arise. Answering questions about your product should include the why (1.) of your company as people like to feel emotions rather than just hearing some facts that they could have found on the internet. 

Upfront or as a follow-up from the conversation, using social selling (3.) will help you build a better relationship and drive sales cycles (2. A) in the direction you want. 


Pro Tip: The questioning and objection handling techniques also work when having a chat with your manager or partner.

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  • To understand how I got here today, I am sharing my story of where it began...
  • To understand how I got here today, I am sharing my story of where it began...
  • To understand how I got here today, I am sharing my story of where it began...

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Richard Harsevoort

I'm an adaptable and forward-thinking sales leader. In fact, I have more than 10 years of experience within sales positions and changing the status quo into something better. Helping others being active so that we create a better future together.

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