10 Ways To Have A More Effective IT Sales Conversation

Staying Ahead Of The Game

The sales process is changing along with a rapidly changing technology environment and businesses are going to have to keep pace in order to remain effective in the future, Ryan Estis, business performance expert at Ryan Estis & Associates, said in a general session at XChange Solution Provider 2014, hosted in Los Angeles by CRN publisher The Channel Company. Companies are meeting their potential buyers in a different place, he said, with 60 percent of purchasing decisions being made without ever having contact with a salesperson. "When the world changes, you have to change with it, and certainly when your customers change how they make buying decisions, we have to think differently about how we go to market," he said.

Take a look at 10 tips Estis gave during his session to help change the sales conversation and hopefully drive more sales.

2-Way Communication Skills

The best way to have an effective sales conversation is to master the art of listening and "seek to understand, not be understood," Estis said. While it may differ slightly for every client business, he suggested a 70-30 split, with most of the salesperson's energy being directed toward listening rather than talking. That drives a more meaningful conversation, he said, and helps salespeople both better understand their potential clients and deepen the relationship between the two people.

For example, Estis said at cocktail parties most people break the ice by asking, "What do you do for work?" However, he said it would be much more effective to ask, "What do you like to do when you aren't working?" to drive a deeper and more meaningful conversation, an idea that can easily be applied to a sales conversation.

Know Economics Drivers, Key Decision Points

Sixty-five percent of salespeople cannot identify the business metrics most important to their potential client, Estis said. In order to have a deeper understanding of the customer, salespeople should know potential clients' buying triggers and identify the priorities of their business going forward.

"The DNA of a top [sales] producer, someone who can consistently exceed their performance plan, is changing. A lot of what was good enough to get us to this point from a sales conversation is not going to drive the kind of growth you want in 2014 and certainly not five years in the future," Estis said.

Provide Valuable Insight

One of the keys to effective sales is to provide valuable insight to the potential client business that they might not have known themselves, Estis said, and then tying that knowledge into additional business value that can be driven by adopting technologies. In that aspect of the sale, Estis said his research found fewer than 40 percent of executive buyers said that salespeople met their expectations.

"You know enough to challenge the customer to think differently about their business, their problem areas, their opportunities. Top producers always lead with value over price," Estis said. "I think there is a real opportunity for you here because the customers that we spoke to are starving for it."

Create A Sense Of Urgency

Estis said the best salespeople are very commitment-oriented, push the customer and know how to be assertive without being aggressive, all with the goal of shortening the sales cycle. There's a lot of alternative choices out there, he said, so very little of the conversation is about what technology can be provided through the sale, but more about how you do business. If the potential buyer says they don't need the technology right now, change their mind and make them want it, he said.

"Top producers make compelling events happen," Estis said. "They educate on the technology and demonstrate the value that moves the prospective buyer to a place where a compelling event happens."

Differentiate Yourself

More and more, businesses have to tell their story about how they can deliver a value proposition in terms of customer outcomes, Estis said, and the story has to revolve around how it impacts the client's business.

"Why do people buy what you sell, why do they buy it specifically from you?" he asked.

Define Your Value Proposition

A good value proposition has three parts, Estis said. First of all, it has to be authentic. Second, make promises that your business can deliver upon, and, third, make a compelling case for change.
"The pain of staying has to be greater than the pain of change," Estis said.

Once the sale is landed, there is a direct and proportional relationship between value and price, Estis said. That is, the higher perceived value that a client takes from your technology to their business, the higher price you can charge for the services.

Get Into The First Part Of The Conversation

A lot of the sales conversations are happening before the salesperson even approaches the customer, Estis said. Buyers are coming in with preconceived notions of what they want, and it's more difficult to overcome them. The trick is to change what happens before you arrive for the sales pitch. One easy way: Ask for it. Ninety percent of satisfied customers are willing to make a referral, he said, but only 11 percent of sales organizations are asking for it.

"You want to enter the first mile of the decision journey where the CIO lives without you," Estis said. "You need to not only think about how you're telling your story, you need to think about who else is helping you tell your story. The way we connect, the way we communicate, the way we consume and get influence is [changing.]"

Social Selling

One area where Estis said he's had particular success is the idea of social selling. The Internet is leveling the playing field for small and midsize companies, he said, and the barriers for those kinds of businesses are coming down. The average CIO gets 150 emails a day, and salespeople need to figure out how to break through the noise. One way to do that is through social media and blogs, he said.

"It's providing opportunities if we can insert ourselves into those conversations," Estis said. "You know who is working this way, thinking this way and deciding this way? Your customers."

Do Your Research

Part of sales is knowing that resistance to the conversation is coming, Estis said, but the trick is to know how to break through it. The way to do that is to do your research ahead of time into what the customer wants, what their business needs and what its pain points are. Going into the conversation informed means you are much more likely to get their attention and break down those initial barriers.

"That’s the game-changer," Estis said. "That’s the opportunity."

Along with pre-call planning comes a post-call audit of how the conversation went, and learning from it for future conversations with that buyer or others.

Change How You Get In The Door

One tip that Estis had for getting face time with busy decision-makers is to change the question you are asking. He suggested asking, "Do you have your calendar handy?" That will immediately move you into their schedule and in a 15- or 30- minute meeting, you're much more likely to be in an offensive sales position with a prospective buyer. Doing that puts your producers in a position to earn commitment, he said, and take advantage of every opportunity to advance the relationship with the buyer.

"Use this moment in time as an opportunity to move the needle of where you're going to be five years in the future," he said. "Look at the future through the lens of opportunity."