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Consultative Sales in an Inbound World – According to Meatloaf


boy girl paradis by the dashboard lightsWhen I first started coaching clients about inbound sales, I wrote this blog post about slowing down in sales.  I grew up with all girls, so the metaphor of a frisky boy as a salesperson going too fast with inbound (or outbound) leads seemed fitting. The Meatloaf song, “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” was played multiple times every weekend at my mother’s house and has somehow become the family’s theme song. We even sang it at my wedding to my ever-so-patient husband.

I now have teenage boys so the last few years have been an interesting learning experience for me. One thing that I have learned is that it’s not just the boys (salespeople) who go too fast. Sometimes it is the other way around, prospects can also move too fast. Sometimes they even lie. Of course they aren’t talking to anyone else! Like the song goes:

“I remember every little thing
As if it happened only yesterday Parking by the lake
And there was not another car in sight
And I never had a girl
Looking any better than you did
And all the kids at school
They were wishing they were me that night”

A salesperson who lets their prospects go too fast can get caught up in the lie they want to believe and end up in the same position as if they were the ones rushing things. They submit a proposal to a prospect who suddenly disappears. When prospects are moving too fast, salespeople need to be aware and confident enough to slow them down.

If not, the prospect will end up:

  •  not returning your calls or emails
  • delay making a commitment (“Let me sleep on it, I’ll give you an answer in the morning.”)
  • suddenly changing their mind about what they need
  • negotiating the price multiple times

And if a salesperson does give in and does win, like the infamous Meatloaf song, they might also be “Praying for the end of time” and end up with a nightmare client that you have to fire. What could be more frustrating than going through a difficult sales process only to be committed to a client who wasn’t the right fit and is unlikely to turn into a referral source for later on? And that is the thing with inbound, the key to success lies in those evangelists who start spreading the word about you. Seems a little old-fashioned, doesn’t it? All things old are new again in our brave new inbound world.

Avoiding that frustration comes down to asking the tough, personal, and sometimes uncomfortable questions. And not just for the salesperson, but for the buyer as well. Who hasn’t heard that before – right? So why is it still the most common sales advice for both inbound and outbound sales? Because all of us, veterans and newbies alike, can fall into this for a number of  different reasons. Doubts start to fill our heads: Will the lead change their mind? Will I lose the bid? What will my boss think if I lose a deal? What if I never have another qualified lead as good as this, or anytime soon due to the lack of an aligned marketing team helping to feed the pipelines?

The answer to how to ask the best sales questions is as unique to the person the salesperson is listening to and asking the relevant questions in order to dig deeper into their “whys”. There is no script that can lay it out step by step like a Color by Numbers children’s coloring book. So how do salespeople know what to ask and when the right time to ask is?

When and if salespeople are actively listening to the person on the other side, they will pick up the cues intuitively. If they are talking in their head, thinking about how much time they have left to get to the point, or formulating the next questions – they are not actively listening.

And while I don’t have much faith in scripts, there are ways to ask important qualifying sales questions that are unique to the style and connection that a salesperson has with the buyer(s).  And it doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be a simple series of questions:

Why? Why are they calling, visiting, downloading? Because their boss told them to? To educate themselves? Price shopping? Putting together a budget?Why you? Why now?

What? What are the looking for – really? What is the problem they are having that they think you might solve?

When? When do they need it? If buyers are more than halfway through their buying process, you have to ask them more questions to figure out where they are. I might ask things like: Who else have they talked to? What is the criteria they are using to make their decision? Who else needs to be involved in this process? What happens if they don’t fix the problem? Does something need to happen immediately, or further down the road? Whether or not they answer, or how they answer, gives me clues as to how close they are to making a decision.

How? How much do they expect to pay for it? Even if people tell me they don’t know, they have never bought this before, they don’t know what it should cost, they still likely have an idea how much is too much. I might say something like: “Clients like you with similar goals typically spend between X and Y a year. Is that reasonable, or scary to you?”

Remember, there are plenty of fish in the sea. A full pipeline solves all perspective problems. You get one with consistent activity. So get out there and find the right match.

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