Controlling the Sales Process

A lot of sales training focuses on the idea of maintaining control of the sales process: Directing attention, leading the conversation, deferring questions about price until the end. Essentially it’s about getting clients to go along with your agenda rather than following their own. Is that realistic?

David:                   Hi, and welcome to the podcast. Today, cohost Chris Templeton and I will be talking about the idea of maintaining control of the sales process. Welcome back, Chris.

Chris:                     Hi David. I can’t think of a single sales person who wouldn’t want to completely control every sales situation. Is it at all realistic to think that we could do that?

David:                   No, not at all.

Chris:                     Okay. Good podcasts.

David:                   Yeah.

Chris:                     Moving on.

David:                   Great chatting with you. No, it’s not realistic to think that you can completely control every sales situation. Should we try to maintain control of each selling situation? Absolutely, we should. And can we do better if we do provide some sort of structure? Yes. So I think it’s realistic to recognize that if we don’t at least try to provide a structure, a framework, something that will allow people to get from the beginning of the sales process to the end, that they probably won’t end up buying something. And a lot of time and effort and energy and thought has been put into the idea of what happens when a client follows a sales person’s agenda, versus what happens when a salesperson follows a potential client’s agenda. Because if somebody walks into a selling situation with the idea of, “I don’t want to spend any money” and they’re taking control of the situation, then the salesperson is ultimately buying that idea. And so many times over the years, you’ve probably heard the adage that somebody is always buying something. Either the salesperson is selling the person on the idea of the thing they’re selling, or the potential buyer is selling the salesperson on why they’re not buying. And somebody has to accept that. But there’s always a sale being made. If you’re going to be the salesperson, if you’re going to be the person who is leading the conversation, then yeah, you definitely want to be able to increase the likelihood of having a successful outcome.

Chris:                     So what are some of the components that are involved in discussions that help you to retain more control of the sales process?

David:                   Well, a lot of it depends upon the people that you’re interacting with. So I’m not going to pretend that there’s some sort of magic formula that you can follow and have it work. Early on in my sales career, I took various sales trainings, and many of them talked about different structures that you want to have in place. And you want to start with step one and then move to step two and then move to step three. And you want to make sure that when you complete step one, you close the door on that. You’re not going back and now you’re going to step two. And as you listen to that sort of thing, you go, “wow, that sounds amazing.” But then what you find out is that in practice, you cannot control that, right? You could think that you had the pricing stuff all nailed down, that you put a nice bow on it and you moved on and now you’re onto the next thing. But the fact of the matter is that if the prospect then says, “okay, but I’m not sure about this,” you’re going backwards, right?

Chris:                     Yeah.

David:                    It’s not like you can completely control that. So I’m not a big fan of creating rules in selling that are completely unenforceable. I don’t like the idea of saying this is what has to happen when it’s out of your control. So I look at, okay, what are the aspects of the sales process that are within our control? And the things that are within our control are the things that we say, the things that we do, the order in which we say and do those things, the way that we handle questions and comments and objections, and those are the things that we can control. We cannot control how someone is going to respond to that. So I think the more we focus on the aspects of the presentation that we can control, how we would like things to go, how we’re going to structure our part of the presentation, and then recognizing that while we can get off track, somebody can certainly get us off track, as long as we know where we’re headed, so that we can get back to where we were and continue where we left off, we’ll have a much better likelihood of being able to have a favorable outcome.

Chris:                     You know, one of the things that occurs to me is that throughout the sales process, if you feel like you’re not in a place where you’re controlling that, a lot of times, I think there’s a lot of resistance in the conversation between the salesperson and the prospect. And I encourage anybody that’s in a sales situation to look at their role in keeping that resistance alive. And it’s really what you spoke about in terms of, you know, it’s great to have a bunch of steps outlined, but if they’re rigid and I don’t have the ability to roll with what’s happening with my prospect, I’m going to be in a situation where I’m creating that resistance instead of dissolving it. And I encourage salespeople to see what the client’s concerns are and make sure that you’re addressing them and not trying to follow this rigid process that has a client feeling like, “why am I fighting with this guy?”

David:                   Right? Yeah. You don’t want to be fighting with people. But you also don’t want to be in a situation where a potential prospect, particularly maybe a not particularly qualified prospect or a not particularly pleasant prospect, controls the conversation. Anybody who’s been selling for any length of time, might’ve been in a sales situation where you’re just starting out and the person says something like, “okay, so how much for your thing, how much does this cost? What’s this going to cost me?” And most salespeople don’t want to address price right up front. They don’t want to talk about that first, because then the person can say, “no that’s too much” without knowing anything about the solution that you’re providing. So in a lot of cases, it makes sense for a salesperson to have a repertoire of things that they can say that are good justifications for not being able to provide the price.

David:                   Now, if you’re selling a car, theoretically, that has a sticker on the side of it, then it’s harder to overcome that. I mean, they might say how much for that. And my general manager in my promotional business, a guy named Denny, he used to sell cars and he was hysterical. He just had so many different stories and approaches about different things that he used to do. And so when somebody said, “how much for the car?” He’d walk over and he’d point to the sticker and say, Oh, it’s a $35,421. And the person would say, “no, I know that’s the sticker price, but what are you going to charge me for it?” And Denny would say, “well, you know, statistically, 11% of people will pay sticker price for a car. And if you were one of them, I didn’t want to miss you.”

Chris:                     (Laughs)

David:                   It’s beautiful. Yeah. It’s a good way to break the ice. But for other sales, where there’s not a defined price, or a clearly and obviously defined price, then when somebody asks “how much for your thing?” It’s good to be able to say, well, it depends. You know, it’s going to depend upon the quantity that you’re buying. It’s going to depend on the quality of the product, because it comes in lots of different styles that could potentially impact the cost. And then you flip right into a question like, “tell me, roughly how many of these you’re looking to get?” (If it’s something that’s being sold in quantity.) So you give them a reason. You don’t just say, well, I’m not going to tell you that. Or I can’t tell you that you sort of give them a reason why you can’t tell them. Well, it’s going to depend upon the options you’re looking for. It’s going to depend on a few things. Tell me, what are you looking to do with this? Right? And then you want to ask a question and try to steer the conversation back to where you would like to be in the sales process versus where the person wants you to be right at the moment.

Chris:                     In web development I used to say to prospects, “do you have a sense of where you want to be budget wise?” Invariably, the answer would be “no, not really.” And I’d say something along the lines of, “well, I’m assuming you don’t want to spend a hundred thousand dollars.” “Oh no, no, no. I don’t want to do that!” And backing that down, like you’re saying, and saying, you know, look, if you want to be under $5,000, it’s a whole different approach for me then if you want to be under $10,000. And so being able to have that repertoire of questions to help to get a client answering the questions without being pushy about it, there’s nice ways to get them to engage. And if they won’t engage, sometimes there’s your biggest indicator of somebody not being interested in buying, eh?

David:                   Yeah. Going back to the whole idea of qualification. And some people will just disqualify themselves right in the middle of a sales appointment. Or right at the beginning of the sales appointment! You can just tell from the questions, from the approach, from the attitude that it’s not a good fit. And when that’s the case, you are so much better off just wrapping up the appointment early saying, you know what? It sounds like we don’t have a good fit here. Thank you very much for your time. And I’ve had situations where I’ve done that in the early stages of an appointment. Somebody is like, what do you mean? And I say, well, it sounds like you do business rather differently than we do. I don’t think we have a good fit. And sometimes they’ll try to talk you into it. And you can decide, at that point, if they’re sincere enough, and if you want to be talked into it, otherwise you just hold your ground. There’s so much fear around the idea of being rejected by prospects, and people don’t recognize that prospects are not the only ones who can do the rejecting.

Chris:                     Yep.

David:                   As a salesperson. You get to pick who you’re going to do business with and who you’re not. And if you’re not comfortable in a selling situation, don’t be afraid to say that up front and disqualify the prospect, even before they have a chance to do it to you.

Chris:                     Absolutely. And what a great feeling to be able to say, you know what? This just isn’t a fit and know that it’s not, and feel good about it. And, talk about the biggest way to let go of resistance is to say to somebody, yeah, you know, this probably isn’t a good fit, and see if they want to fight for it. And if they do, and that changes their attitude in terms of the sale, then by all means it’s worth looking at. But what a great feeling to walk away from a sale that just isn’t a fit. It’s really liberating at some level.

David:                   Completely. It is completely liberating. That’s exactly the right word for it. And I’ve had this conversation with salespeople who might just be starting out and they’re like, well, I need to get business. I’m going to have to get business. And I agree with that. I’m like, yes, I understand you have to get business, but is this the kind of business you want to get? Let’s say you managed to turn them around and you managed to convince them that they need to get what you’re offering and they need to pay the price that you’re offering. And they need to take delivery on your timetable and you convince them of all these things and they end up buying it. What’s the likelihood you’re going to get paid on time? If they’re whatever, if they’re rude obnoxious, belligerent, whatever it is, what’s the likelihood of that? And then you’re in a worse position than you were before. You’re better off not getting a sale, and not getting paid for it, then getting a sale and not getting paid for it.

Chris:                     Right. No, I’ve tried to push that round peg into a square hole. You know, when you think about it, how do you handle unreasonable prospects who just completely insist on doing it their own way?

David:                   Well, ideally you disqualify them. Ideally what happens is you recognize throughout the course of the conversation, that it’s not a good fit. And if they’re unreasonable as a prospect, how are they going to be as a client?

Chris:                     Thank you!

David:                   Yeah. They’re going to be as unreasonable. They’re going to be more unreasonable.

Chris:                     More unreasonable.

David:                   Yeah. So it doesn’t make sense to try to facilitate a sale for someone who is not a good fit for you. If they don’t understand what you do, how you do it, the value you bring to the table, your ability to help them. If it’s all about just getting a low price and getting things done the way they want it, when they want it, at the price, they want it without regard to the reality of production and being able to deliver things and the cost of goods and the cost of time, then you don’t have a good fit. When someone is truly unreasonable, you need to call it out. You need to be able to say, I’m sorry, I just can’t do that. If there’s somebody that you can find who’s able to do what you’re looking for at that price, I wish you well with it. Unfortunately, I can’t do that. And sometimes, if it is a price issue and you know, you’re not the cheapest going in, it’s not bad to say that. You can literally say to someone, how important is price to you? How important is it to get the very cheapest price? And they’ll say, well, it’s important. And I could say to them, okay, well, listen, in most cases, I’m not going to be the cheapest. option Because no matter how much I cut the price, there’s always going to be someone will come along and sell it for cheaper. Now, are they’re going to be able to deliver on time?,Are they’re going to be able to deliver a comparable quality product? I have no idea. So what we talk about is going to be something that will meet your needs. That will be a high quality product, and that will be worth what you’re paying for it. If that works for you, then we have a good fit. If not, then somebody else is probably a better option for you.

Chris:                     And the only thing I would add to that is to say right up front, look, we do charge a little more because we think that the service that we bring along with our product, our attention to detail, the way that we work with prospects deserves a little bit of extra. And if that’s something that’s not a fit for, you… completely understand. Let me point you in the right direction., Man oh man, there we are again, letting go of that resistance and seeing if they want to fight back for it.

David:                   Yeah. And sometimes asking them, may I ask you, are you the cheapest alternative in your market for what you sell?

Chris:                     Oh no.

David:                   No. It’s not likely they are. And if they are, and they’re looking for the cheapest as well, we’ll then, you know, they’ll find a better fit somewhere else.

Chris:                     And if you decide as a salesperson or as a sales manager or a business owner, that those are the people that you want to work with, I wish you the very best of luck in having a business that you enjoy doing. ‘Cause it’s not going to happen.

David:                   Yeah.

Chris:                     Get prospects that you like, people that appreciate you, that you have a great relationship. It’s such a more fulfilling way to do business. Isn’t it, David.

David:                   Yeah. And it’s a big wide world out there. You don’t have to settle.

Chris:                     You don’t and there’s plenty of ways to maintain and influence the control of the sales process without giving into people that you just don’t want to work with.

David:                   Exactly.

Chris:                     Boy, David, it is a big topic, maintaining control of the sales process. And one that is really important to having an enjoyable and successful business and sales career for your sales person. Let’s wrap up and talk about what’s coming up in the next podcast.

David:                   All right, Chris. In our next podcast, we’ll talk about shifting your marketing from stealth mode to intimidation mode.

Chris:                     I like that. Hey, in the meantime, if you need help growing your top line sales and bottom line profits, go to TopSecrets.com/call to schedule a strategy session and find out if David and his team can help you. That’s TopSecrets.com/call.

David:                    Thanks for listening to the podcast. Right now, I’m working with a small group of private clients to get things going in their businesses again. So if you’re no longer willing to settle for unqualified prospects and unpredictable clients, and you’re ready to start this week, then head over to TopSecrets.com/call.  We’ll get on the phone with you and make sure you’re crystal clear on 3 things: 1.) The market or markets you need to start dominating right now to accelerate your results, 2). What’s kept you from doing it so far and 3.) What’s broken or missing? Remember, in this business environment, sitting around, waiting for things to get better is NOT the answer. And if you knew what to do, wouldn’t you have done it by now? To see if we’re a good fit to work together, go to TopSecrets.com/call.

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