As the head of a collections agency, I work with many different kinds of businesses. One thing many businesses with collection issues have in common is that they focus too strongly on making a sale, and not strongly enough on improving their sales process. Although it’s obvious that any business needs sales to survive, organizations that become too focused on sales at any cost tend to overlook warning signs that a client might not be creditworthy. Focusing on your sales process and the negotiation skills that your salespeople need can help improve your bottom line. These four strategies can help your salespeople improve their process.
Focus on Helping
For decades “ABC” or “always be closing” was the mantra of salespeople everywhere. The problem is that we live in a world based on relationships and ABC is a transactional approach. A better mantra for today’s world is “ABH” or “always be helping.”
Helping is about building trust with potential clients or customers. This gives you a chance to learn about their problems, goals and priorities. If you have a solution that fits their needs, you can offer it to them in the exact context and phrasing of your prospect, ultimately leading to bigger and better sales.
A focus on closing sales can also cause salespeople to spend too much time chasing down leads that will never close, instead of moving on to new prospects. Give your salespeople permission to accept “no” or “not now” as an answer and move on to more promising prospects.
Practice Active Listening
In order to help people, you need to first hear their problem. Active listening doesn’t mean sitting quietly while the other person talks. It also doesn’t mean saying, “I understand,” every few minutes. Active listening is a process that involves letting the other person know that you have heard and understand their concern and you are offering a solution that makes logical sense based on that concern. For example, if a potential sale is about to be derailed because of timing simply offering a discount won’t be helpful. However, through active listening you may be able to phrase that offer in a way that makes sense. “I hear you saying that not receiving this upgrade until January will delay your sales. Would giving you a 10% discount on the upgrade help defray that cost for you?”
Tell a Story
Both helping and listening require the salesperson to be empathetic. Storytelling allows your client or potential client to build empathy for you. Clients want numbers, they want to know how much money they’ll save with your product or service. They want to know what their ROI will be. But, they also want to feel good about working with you. They want to know that your company aligns well with their company, not just in terms of numbers or sales, but in terms of values and process. This is especially true for companies that have a B2C side. Defining your company story not only helps your sales team make sales, it can also help them feel more connected to your company, which can reduce employee turnover. The more experienced the salesperson, the better the sales process.
Let Employees Make Decisions
“Checking with the boss” can be a great negotiation technique in certain circumstances. For example, it’s been proven to work well with car sales because it creates a sense of unity between the salesperson and the buyer. However, it’s not the right way to go for most B2B sales. Rather than create unity, it can make the salesperson look uninformed, or lacking in authority. Not every employee can be empowered to make every deal, but empowering employees is another great way to reduce employee turnover, thereby improving your sales process and your sales.
Although it’s not a negotiation skill, one final piece of advice I always give companies about negotiating sales deals is not to get so caught up in appearances that you forget to do your due diligence. Running a simple credit check on a client, or ensuring that you have all the appropriate contact information can significantly reduce collections headaches later on. There are a lot of ways to close a deal, but if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Dean Kaplan is president of The Kaplan Group, a commercial collection agency specializing in large claims and international transactions. He has 35 years of manufacturing, international business leadership and customer service experience. Today, he provides business planning, training and consultation to a variety of companies.