I once spoke with a lawyer who wanted to improve his sales abilities, but he was not a confident salesperson. With a tinge of jealously in his voice, he told me a story about another lawyer who had struck up a conversation with a stranger at a niece’s wedding and turned that stranger into a valuable client. “I would never know how to do that,” lamented the first lawyer. “Even if I get into a conversation with a potential client, I don’t know how to turn it into a sales opportunity.”

Many of us have had similar experiences. We see an opportunity to do business with someone, but are not always able to turn these potential customers into paying customers. How do we do this more effectively?

An important part of ditching the pitch is learning how to turn improvised, persuasive conversations into tangible results. Anyone who needs to persuade others can turn a kernel of a sales opportunity into tangible results by recognizing the process by which your customers make decisions to buy from you.

A customer does not immediately say “yes” to you when you try to persuade her. She will say yes to you only after:

  • She clearly sees how she can benefit from what you are offering her
  • She sees your solution as her best alternative
  • She perceives that the benefits of your offer outweigh the costs

To get her to this place, you need to work with her through “The Decision Funnel.”

The Decision Funnel includes five steps that happen as you nurture a sales opportunity from the time it is a gleam in your eye until it turns into dollars in your pocket. At all steps of The Decision Funnel, you are ditching the pitch,creating fresh, spontaneous, persuasive conversations. Let’s explore each step.

Step 1: Identify the opportunity

When you speak with people, whether they are current customers or potential customers, you will inevitably identify business opportunities, as long as you are paying attention. A current customer may say or do something that illuminates a chance to expand your relationship, and a potential customer may inadvertently give you a clue to what would make them buy. Once you spot that opportunity, and decide you want to pursue it, it’s time to move to Step 2.

Step 2: Discuss the opportunity

Many people make the mistake of starting to sell as soon as they identify an opportunity. Neither you nor your customer is ready for you to start selling; you haven’t learned enough about the opportunity, and your customer has no vision of what this opportunity is or what it can do for her. She is not ready to buy.

At this point you want to engage your customer in genuine dialogue about the opportunity. Genuine dialogue is about give and take, responding only after listening, and being flexible. Your goal in this step is to explore and develop the idea with your customer, helping you both understand it better.

As you develop a vision in your mind of how you can help your customer, remember this truth: Your vision is clearer than hers. You understand your offerings better than she does, so it is important, during your discussion of the opportunity, to recognize that you need to help her see it more clearly than she does right now.

Step 3: Frame the opportunity

Now it’s time to help your customer develop a clear vision of how she will benefit if she moves forward with this opportunity. Through continued dialogue, you want to “frame” the opportunity, so she can clearly see the benefits of what you are offering and of working with you. Framing the opportunity is about giving your customer the tools to visualize the benefit of working with you.

I have discovered that asking a customer to “Imagine if…” is a great way to frame the opportunity. Ask your customer questions like, “If this were working really well, what would it look like?” or “If you were able to address this challenge successfully, how would things be different for you?” By encouraging your customer to think of a time in the future when things are better, she will be more likely to understand the value of your help in addressing this situation.

Step 4: Propose the opportunity

Many things we sell require written proposals. The points below are valid whether you write a short email outlining your proposal, or if you require a detailed written document.

Proposals are a confirmation of what you and your customer have already agreed to. You aren’t ready to propose the opportunity until you have successfully discussed and framed it, and you and your customer have a shared perspective about the value of your help in addressing her situation.

I suggest you start your proposal by reviewing the situation that surrounds the opportunity and follow that directly with a description of the benefits to your customer. Once you have established the benefits to your customer, you can then describe what you will do to help her realize those benefits. The actions you will take to complete your work should only be positioned as support for the benefits you will provide, not as the highlight of the proposal. The most valuable information for your customer is how she will benefit.

The most important rule of proposals: Price comes last. Only introduce price after you are sure that your customer clearly understands the benefits of working with you. Try as hard as you can to avoid “submitting a quote” or “delivering an estimate.” Price is only one factor in your customer’s decision; don’t make price a bigger factor than it needs to be by giving it priority.

Step 5: Sell the opportunity

No sale is guaranteed. But if you have “escorted” your customer through The Decision Funnel, your chances of making the sale are much higher.

Many people make the mistake of “presenting” a proposal to a customer, unknowingly allowing themselves to launch into a pitch. Nobody, especially your customer, wants to hear a sales pitch. To make the sale, you need to continue to ditch the pitch.

Have a conversation about the proposal, rather than a presentation. Ensure that the conversation focuses on your customer and the benefits she will accrue from working with you, rather than on what you will do. Never talk more than one-paragraph’s worth of information at a time without leaving a break for dialogue and discussion.

Keep The Decision Funnel in mind as you ditch the pitch, and you’ll find yourself turning more opportunities into tangible results.

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