How to Start a Sales Conversation

The 1st Two Ditch the Pitch Habits

Input before output

For thousands of years most salespeople have assumed that their job is to tell a persuasive story to their customers. Their focus is more on output (what the sales person says) than on input (what the sales person learns.)

The focus of these first two Ditch the Pitch Habits is input before output. If you’re paying close enough attention to what’s going on around you, noticing and interpreting what is happening, you will be able to be quick on your feet.

Habit 1:
Be alert to be quick on your feet

As Ram Dass wrote, ““The next message you need is always right where you are.” The first step to being quick on your feet in a sales conversation is to look for those messages. Here are some specific ideas to help you be completely alert in a sales conversation:

Be there! 
Your ability to succeed in a sales conversation is directly related to how present you are, and how little you are distracted by anything other than the conversation you are in with your customer. A sales conversation can never be done on auto-pilot. You can’t multi-task. You can’t be thinking of your next meeting. And, if you’re on the phone, you definitely can’t be reading your email.

Say less
This seems obvious, but it’s the number one reason sales people miss things. They talk too much. Another Ram Dass comment: “The quieter you become, the more you can hear.”

Be curious about the details
Not only are answers in the details, but a focus on details is an effective way to keep your attention focused as well.

Expect the unexpected
Be open to all new information, and be willing to abandon any of your preconceived notions. Check out this article on the “Invisible Gorilla.”

Habit 2:
Size up the scene

Imagine you start reading a novel, with no previous information about the book’s plot. As you read the book and notice what’s happening in it, you start to understand its characters, its plot and its messages.

The same thing happens in a sales conversation. As the conversation unfolds, you start to be able to answer the question, “So… what’s going on here?”

Here are some specific ideas to help you size up the scene in a sales conversation:

Understand character
Sales strategy is heavily influenced by the character, personality and style of the buyer. Seek to understand who you are dealing with before you start formulating your approach for dealing with that person.

Understand context
Here is a truism about every sales conversation you will be in during your entire career: Your customer was already alive before coming into a meeting with you. You are entering the flow of your customer’s life, and you need to understand the context of what your customer is experiencing. What’s going on in your customer’s life right now?

Listen for the “game”
Stage improvisers have a concept they call listening for the “game.” As an improvised scene evolves, they are alert to the emerging story and its related themes. As you interact with a customer, and begin to understand the character and context, you will similarly be able to understand “what’s going on” between you and your customer. You will have a clear picture of the situation.

These two first Ditch the Pitch Habits are critical to a successful sales conversation. Whether you are an accomplished sales star, a sales neophyte, or somewhere in between, I encourage you to use these simple steps to help you Ditch the Pitch. The next thing you’ll notice? Your results improving.

(In the next issue I’ll explore Ditch the Pitch Habits #3 and #4,Say Yes and Explore and Heighten. The essence of these two habits is “Go with it!”)

Steve Yastrow

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