Gaining commitments: it can be a natural part of consultative sales when you apply the principles correctly. But sometimes there are challenges. As a sales professional, you may feel as if you’re using your sales skills effectively, and that your calls are going really well. But somehow getting to that commitment isn’t happening as consistently as you would like. You don’t want to be pushy (which isn’t effective), but you do want to gain commitments from customers.
Developing the sales skills that gain commitments involves learning to recognize buying signs and use certain “convincer strategies” to confirm the sale. Start with the mindset that “closing” isn’t a singular event. In fact, with insightful sales solutions, closing takes place at every step of the sales process, whenever you take the opportunity to reinforce decisions and gain commitments. The final close is important, but it’s not everything.
Here are some things to keep in mind when you face challenges in gaining customer commitments.
Reassess: Have You Covered All the Bases?
First, reassess whether you have covered all the processes that go into successful consultative selling:
- Pre-Call Planning – Before contacting a customer, consider expected outcomes and set your contact objectives. Prepare questions that guide the sale, and have a strategy for influencing customer questions. Be sure to research changes that are happening in your customer’s business so you can position potential solutions that are relevant.
- Call Openings – Are you building rapport, striving to understand the customer’s communication style? Are you clear about why you’re contacting them and the potential value that you bring?
- Discovering Needs – Do you have a sound understanding of the customer’s business, their needs, and the value you can offer? They may not tell you their needs, and in fact may not entirely know what they are.
- Positioning Solutions – Are you discussing solutions that add value for that particular customer? This is an ongoing process and involves doing some upfront research, spending time with them and asking smart questions.
- Handling Stalls and Closing on Actions – When you make recommendations, you may encounter objections. The first step is to avoid defensiveness. So for instance, if someone were to object to your price, you could say something like, “Price is important, Let’s take a look at it.” That will help get the customer moving with you rather than against. Then you can clarify to get to the heart of the issue by asking open-ended questions like, “What are you comparing it to? Or How much too much is it?”
- Following Up – You may have to initiate actions that were promised during the sales process. Here you work to solidify action from the customer, and following through on what you said you would do can set you apart from the competition. Make sure you have a good internal communication system for keeping your pulse on implementation.
- Fine-Tuning Strategy – Each customer contact is a chance to uncover information that can advance the sales strategy. Every new commitment is an opportunity to ask yourself what the next sales objective is for the account.
How Coaching Can Help
Training expands your knowledge base, while coaching is more personal and deals with specific behaviors. Coaching is a matter of putting what you’ve learned into practice and receiving feedback and insights for moving forward. Since salespeople often operate independently, it is important for sales people to coach themselves after each call. Start with reinforcing what went well and then evaluate what you will change. If you get into this habit, it will become a natural part of your sales process. There is also benefit to receiving sales coaching from peers, sales managers and other experts. In Consultative Sales Certification, we hold online meetings where participants share successes and give each other feedback under the direction of an expert coach. Collectively, the group has all the answers to any sales situation you might face. If you are having difficulty moving a sale forward, pose the situation to your peers and managers. Most likely someone in the group will have faced the same issue at one point and may be able to help you walk through solutions.
Know that Closing Doesn’t Just Happen
Sometimes, the only thing that gets in the way of commitments is lack of taking action. “This (participating in CSC) has helped me realize why we aren’t closing. Before, we would go into a sale and feel like it felt good and then nothing would happen. So now we plan sales so we are able to plan for commitments and know when to ask for them,” said Tari Warwick, Sales Operations Manager-Sashco and recent Consultative Sales Certification (CSC) graduate. If you are closing sales without taking action, then you should feel very blessed. Some of the most effective actions to take are simply getting small commitments throughout the entire process and interactions with your customers. Getting little yes’s along the way makes the big yes easier. Recognizing and acting on simple buying signs is also very important to your ability to gain commitments. For instance, if a customer asks you to review details of your solution, that is a positive buying sign. They wouldn’t bother if they weren’t interested. Another positive buying sign is when customers lean forward. This is a sign of confidence and may be an opportunity to affirm decisions.
Reestablish and Demonstrate Value
When you’re working toward gaining a customer commitment, you may have to reestablish value. Remind the customer that they currently do not have the benefit your solution offers. If you’ve established rapport, your solution will be accepted more easily. Go back to your initial needs assessment. What potential solution do you offer to the customer to either alleviate a problem or to help them gain more. You may need to calculate out the exact gains. For instance, I just received a new insurance quote. While everything looked good, I did not have urgency to take action until the agent showed me exactly what I was going to be saving in a year. Then, be ready to follow with a simple closing question like, “What is preventing you from moving forward right now?”
Break It Down
Sometimes when commitment to a sale appears far off, you have to wonder: is this account worth hanging in there for? If you conclude that it is, then you may consider breaking your value-oriented selling down into smaller, simpler steps. What small commitment could you expect from this potential customer, and how can you pursue that? From there you can add another small goal, working steadily toward the commitment for purchase. By accepting smaller wins, it also enables you to demonstrate how good you are.
The icing on the cake is really knowing how each and every person is influenced. Some people are influenced by testimonials from others, some from proof, some from the need for change and a myriad of other “convincer strategies”. While you can, and should, learn the formal convincer strategies aligned to consultative selling, it really is as simple as paying attention to the behavior of your customers. If they have asked you for a demonstration or proof in the past, chances are they will be influenced by the same for future considerations. Don’t wait for them to ask you – armed with this information, take action and watch your closing rates increase!
Gaining commitment is at the heart of value-added selling, and sometimes gaining commitments can be challenging. But when your sales skills include reassessing and ensuring you’ve covered the bases, working with a coach on specific sales skills, establishing and demonstrating value for customers, and occasionally breaking the “sale” commitment down into smaller commitments, you can meet these challenges effectively.
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