Sales rules have seen their day.
Too many sales professionals are stuck on old rules that don’t fit in today’s sales environment.
Now’s the time for winning more sales through thoughtful, efficient practices.
“Most salespeople don’t understand the game of sales. They think selling is about them. They think selling is about their product,” says Keenan, author of Not Taught: What It Takes to be Successful in the 21st Century That Nobody’s Teaching You, and CEO, President and Chief Antagonist at A Sales Guy “It’s time to change the way we sell. The days of pitches, product-centric selling are over. The game has changed. Don’t be an order-taker. Be an influencer, be a problem-centric seller.
Here are 12 rules to toss – or at least reconsider – plus, why salespeople want to break them and how to take on new strategies.
Rule 1: Make a dozen cold contacts
Why you need to break it: Researchers say it takes about eight cold calls to reach a prospect. The reason this rule should be broken, though, is because it needs more context – name, a time frame. Those seven to nine cold contacts – calls, emails, social touches – are most effective if they’re done in a 10-business day window.
How to break it: Keep tabs. Mark your first attempt at contact, and mark when it’s time to stop.
Rule 2: Never take ‘No’ for an answer
Why you need to break it: Sometimes “no” is the right answer. Your solution isn’t always the right solution right now for prospects and customers. Salespeople don’t want to push through sales that aren’t a good fit for buyers. That can only lead to dissatisfaction and potential ill will.
How to break it: As you go through discovery, and uncover challenges and needs, keep a balance sheet. You’ll be inclined to note all the reasons your solution is the right fit for prospects. But you want to balance the sheet with objections buyers make and points you recognize don’t make for a perfect fit.
Rule 3: Don’t sell on features and benefits
Why you need to break it: Features and benefits often get salespeople in the door. Most buyers research solutions online before they talk with salespeople. So they’re already comparing your features and benefits to your competitors’.
How to break it: Talk about features and benefits as long as buyers are interested. When they indicate they understand your solution, ask questions to uncover the compelling reasons they need to do business with you – perhaps it’s extended services, a higher level of trust, continuing education, industry knowledge. Once you’ve established features, benefits and compelling reasons, you can sell on your value, too.
Rule 4: Always Be Closing
Why you need to break it: This rule rides the pendulum. At one time, experts and sales leaders swore the ABCs of selling were Always Be Closing. Then they swung another way: Always Be Servicing. Both are great ideas that should be broken because salespeople want a more inclusive approach. You can’t be focused on one element of selling – whether that’s closing, servicing, prospecting, qualifying, etc. – at any given time.
How to break it: Schedule relentlessly. Carve time out each week for every selling activity so your pipeline remains healthy with buyers in nearly every stage at any given time. Yes, some weeks will include more closing. Other weeks might be all about prospecting. But the new sales rule is schedule time for all your selling activities.
Rule 5: Use a script to present
Why you need to break it: It’s important to prepare and practice so much for presentations you sound like a natural. But working off an almost-scripted presentation leaves room for mistakes if things go off course – which often happens when questions and objections come up.
How to break it: Continue to prepare and practice presentations, and master these theatrical improvisation techniques:
- Say “Yes and …” It’s a powerful tool for objections. It suggests you’re positive and open to possibilities. The immediate “yes” is an agreement what buyers say. Your “and …” should highlight or suggest something that bridges the gap between buyers’ objection or question and your pitch.
- Focus on learning, not winning. Whether buyers object or call something you’ve said to question, prepare to turn the conversation toward learning. Have these questions ready: Can you tell me more about that? Why do you feel that way? Can you explain what led you to that conclusion? Can you clarify?
Rule 6: Selling is a numbers game
Why you need to break it: Many leaders and reps believe the old sales rule that increasing the number of everything – contacts, meetings, presentations, networking events – will increase the number of sales. The “numbers game mentality” fails to recognize this: If salespeople contact, meet, present to and network with more of the wrong buyers, they won’t increase sales. Sales is a process game – and it starts with identifying the buyers who most likely to need and want your solutions.
How to break it: Regularly work with your boss or a mentor to review your selling process and fine tune it. You want a deeper focus on how to identify the right buyers to contact, present a better message to them and follow up in meaningful ways.
Rule 7: Salespeople must be optimists
Why you need to break it: Salespeople need to be realists. Optimists look for the bright side in everything. Sales brings rejection, disappointments and frustrations, and salespeople need to prepare realistically for those pitfalls to succeed.
How to break it: Know the facts about sales success: You’ll lose more than you win. Now, don’t let that make you a pessimist. Instead, recognize and prepare for what can go wrong: For instance, prepare two prospecting lists and start with the group that’s less qualified. Head out early for meetings in case of delays. Carry backups for every aspect of your presentation.
Rule 8: Discounts are the way to win sales
Why you need to break it: Value wins sales. Customers buy when they see how a solution adds value to their personal or professional lives. If a discount is their tipping point, they didn’t find your solution valuable – and will soon be easily swayed by a price-cutter.
How to break it: Buying is an emotional journey. One of best ways to help customers recognize the value of your solution and relationship you’re building together is to stir up and acknowledge emotions. Recap the things they’ve admitted “frustrate” them about their current situation. Talk about the positive feelings – recognition, accolades or satisfaction – they’ll have when they implement and experience your solution.
Rule 9: You must have a personal touch
Why you need to break it: Sales aren’t made on personal contact alone. And salespeople aren’t going to fully build and nurture relationships through digital channels. Salespeople need to incorporate social selling strategies, messaging and a personal touch to get buyers’ attention and close sales.
How to break it: Use email templates, social media touches and calls to connect with buyers. Ask for meetings with prospects who are open to it. Suggest online meetings for those who aren’t. Recognize some prospects may sign deals without ever having a personal meeting.
Rule 10: Educate buyers
Why you need to break it: Buyers often need to learn less about you than you need to learn about them! Still, many salespeople spend too much time telling prospects about their expertise, company and solutions and not enough time learning about prospects’ challenges and needs. Salespeople can’t align needs with solutions without seeking an education on buyers.
How to break it: Look at your slide deck. Read through your prospecting notes. Eliminate 60% of what you have to say about you. Add 60% more questions about prospects. Take this story from Inc. as an example: A top salesperson researches buyers online before initial meetings and makes calls to several people in the organization. She says, “I’m getting ready for a meeting with senior management and want to verify a few assumptions I’ve made about your business.” Here prospects are usually candid and dispel or confirm assumptions so she whittles her company and product information down to the barest essentials – like two slides – and use the rest of the presentation’s slides to stir conversation about the buyers.
Rule 11: Play hard to win negotiations
Why you need to break it: Many sales leaders and salespeople associate negotiations with competition and conflict. Following a sales rule like that, they enter negotiations with a hard-nose, must-win-more mentality, and that’s unhealthy.
How to break it: Approach negotiations as a situation where you collaborate and create an outcome with the most possible mutual wins. Aim to dissolve conflict and clarify misunderstandings rather than be the winner.
Rule 12: Check in, stay in constant touch
Why you need to break it: Some customers don’t need constant attention. They’d rather you leave them alone when they don’t have a need. They may even become frustrated and less interested in buying again if you “touch base” too much.
How to break it: Pay attention to customers’ reactions to your follow-up. If you sense you’re more of a nuisance than an ally – or customers tell you so outright – stop. Ask customers for permission to contact them again, or if they’d like to set up a recurring order in the interest of saving them time and effort.