Business needs and solutions are more complex than ever. As a result, both the customer and the sales professional are entering an extended buying journey. This iterative and dynamic process involves, on average, six different interaction channels, according to research from McKinsey.
Pushing the sale through this process is difficult because quality is no longer the selling feature it once was. Instead, customers need solutions that go further. Meeting these needs is a high-stakes challenge that demands two critical skills:
- Asserting a point of view to shape customer thinking
- Building alignment among stakeholders
These two skills are becoming a necessity for effective sales professionals who face increasingly large buyer teams. These large, high-stakes sales are a characteristic of a business landscape in which 75% of US industries have experienced an increase in concentration over the last two decades.
Asserting a Point of View to Shape Customer Thinking
The customer’s thinking represents the accumulation of their experiences to-date. Reshaping these ingrained beliefs is difficult. The sales professional must widen the customer’s purview, revealing the full scope of risks and opportunities. Doing so means using three key strategies.
Be Specific and Lose the Jargon
The sales professional must assert their perspective. This assertiveness, however, doesn’t mean using exaggerative language or avoiding objectivity in the dialogue. Instead, sales professionals should make their perspective known by expressing it in clear terms free of jargon.
One research study showed that “technical language use negatively affected authors’ integrity and credibility.” Jargon and technical language often appear as an attempt to distract or overwhelm the listener. Clear, direct communication in accessible language is effective because it is honest and free of pretension. Finding this communication means being specific in observations. Doing so shows the customer that the sales professional is attentive to details.
Normalize Discussions of Risk
Sales professionals must normalize discussions of risk. That is, they must help the customer understand that all decisions, even no decision, present risk. What’s important is that the risks are calculated, rightsized, and outweighed by beneficial outcomes.
Sales professionals must help acclimate the customer to an environment in which a degree of risk is commonplace. Rather than assure the avoidance of all risk, sales professionals must illustrate that the risks involved are acceptable, given expected benefits. Moreover, the choice to not move forward and remain with the status quo carries its own risk.
Use Reflection Questions
Reflection questions encourage the customer to think more deeply about the topic and fully consider the sales professional’s viewpoint. These questions serve both parties. The sales professional learns more about what matters to the customer. At the same time, the customer is engaging in an exercise designed to help them crystallize their understanding of the challenges and goals they’re facing.
Examples of reflection questions include, “How does this solution fit into your business model?” and “What are your thoughts on this approach?”
Building Alignment among Stakeholders
Purchasing decisions today occur across many stakeholders. Creating alignment among these groups is difficult because differing emotions are in flux. Stakeholders fear losing control, making the wrong decision, and losing their reputation. To build alignment, sales professionals need strategies to address these concerns.
Understand the Source of Misalignment
Misalignment stems from two sources: fear and communication breakdown. New business decisions can incite fear when stakeholders believe that they will have less control. Simply put: emotion drives decisions. When the emotions turn negative, the stakeholder is no longer aligned to the value of the solution. At the same time, weak communication worsens misalignment. Differing communication styles may lead one person to overstate their position and another to understate their thoughts. To uncover the specific cause, sales professionals must listen, observe, and read between the lines. Are the stakeholders expressing frustration with one another? Do meetings lack substantive discussion? After watching for these characteristics, sales professionals should ask directly.
Synthesize Different Perspectives into One Story
Sales professionals need to synthesize different perspectives and needs into one cohesive story for change. The story must acknowledge each stakeholder’s central pain point while also proposing a solution forward. This approach is a good opportunity to reinforce common ground. Effective sales professionals lay the groundwork for this process in the early stages of selling. They take the time to organize and understand the disparate goals and concerns among the decision makers.
When developing a cohesive story for change, sales professionals must consider not only those with the authority to change but also those who are accountable for making the solution work. By compelling those who are accountable, the sales professional is creating an ally in the sale.
Putting a Plan into Action
Solutions are becoming commodities. The customer’s leverage increases amid industry consolidation. Business challenges are becoming more complex. The result: each buying journey is a new, uncharted path that must navigate financial and emotional barriers. Sales professionals need a stronger approach to overcome these challenges because, in a competitive landscape, every sale is a high-stakes scenario. Sales professionals need to:
- Assert a Point of View to Shape Customer Thinking
a. Be Specific and Lose the Jargon
b. Normalize Discussions of Risk
c. Use Reflection Questions
- Building Alignment among Stakeholders
a. Understand the Source of Misalignment
b. Synthesize Different Perspectives into One Story
Download Richardson’s white paper, High-Stakes Consultative Conversations, to learn more about how professionals can elevate their skills to increase win rates and deal size while reducing cycle time and improving resource utilization.