1. Do your homework
First things first: be sure you’re talking to the right person. You might not be able to figure this out until you’re in your first meeting. But then you can casually ask: “So who else is involved in the buying process for contracts like this at your end?” If someone more senior is mentioned, you know who to call next.
The more you know about your target customer, the better chance you have of understanding what they want – and how you can meet their requirements. Homework allows you to make suggestions that help seal the deal: pointing out you have a warehouse near their biggest retail outlet, for example, which would save them delivery times and costs.
Plus, knowing about a potential client flatters and impresses them. “Basically you’d love the prospect to say: ‘Wow, you’ve really done your homework,’ ” says Sean McPheat, sales coach and founder of sales training firm MTD Training. “When you get to that stage you know you’ve done a great job.”
Scrutinize your target’s website and marketing material, ask mutual contacts what they’ve been up to recently and swot up on industry news. Then show off your knowledge by sprinkling your conversation with stuff you’ve learnt about them.
Homework also means figuring out your ideal and lowest case scenarios for the sell before negotiations start. There’s no point doing a deal just for the sake of it. Figure out the lowest price you’re willing to sell for that still makes you a worthwhile profit. And never go below it.
2. Be their mate
“A lot of sales people sell on unique selling points and forget that sales are made for emotional reasons,” McPheat says. If your prospective buyer likes you, they’ll find it to harder to squeeze you on payment or terms. And they’ll want to do business with you rather than a competitor.
Invite your target to drinks or follow them on social media before the hard sell, and find some common ground. Fake common ground if you have to. Use it to build rapport next time you meet. It may sound contrived – it is contrived – but you need to find a way to bond.
Use their first name often, too. It makes people warm to you.
And keep your target involved throughout the course of your conversation. Ask them if they follow what you’re saying and if it makes sense, and go over things again if they sound unsure. You have to keep them on board with what you’re saying at all times.
3. Killer questions
Open the meeting by asking questions, rather than rushing straight into a sales pitch. Find out what your target buyer wants and what they dislike about their current supplier. “A real sales pro will pull out the pain and the hurt that the prospect is experiencing,” McPheat explains.
Of course, not everyone will want to badmouth their long-term supplier to a complete stranger. Sidestep that by talking about problems in a more generalized way. Say you’ve researched a certain issue (the one you suspect they’re facing) across their industry and you’ve found there’s a widespread problem. Then lead into: “What’s your experience been of that?” Use the word ‘experience’ not ‘problem’ so it doesn’t inadvertently place any blame on them.
You can then start giving the problem more weight in their mind. Ask them what the long-term effects on their business would be if that problem carried on. Ask them how quickly they’d need it resolved to prevent lasting damage. Sowing seeds of worry and urgency in their mind will help open them up to the solution you’re offering – which you can now tailor exactly to their needs, having found out what they want.
4. Make it win-win
The days of trying to completely screw over the person you’re doing business with are long gone. “That was the way they used to do things in the 80s,” says Brad Burton, MD of the UK’s largest joined-up business breakfast network, 4Networking. “These days it’s all about reputation. So talking someone into something that’s not right for them is a mistake.
“If I sort you with something today that’s not appropriate for your business, you’re going to go and Twitter about that. You’re actually doing yourself a disservice.”
Instead, Burton always aims ‘to make everyone a winner’. It makes your sale a heck of a lot easier if you can prove your service will help your customer. Plus, you can look forward to a few referrals if your buyer leaves the room feeling good about the deal.
Come prepared with numbers and arguments that show this will be a good move for both of you.
5. Live the dream
Convincing someone your product is brilliant is hard work. You needed to come loaded with enthusiasm. You’re selling your vision of the business as much as anything.
Know your product inside-out and practice your explanation of its wonders non-stop. Come armed with long and short versions of your pitch, so you can cut yourself short if they’re looking bored, or carry on if they’re engaged.
Tailor your pitch to each target. Make sure the bits that will excite them most come right at the beginning.
A few client testimonials neatly printed out never go astray either, and don’t forget to casually drop in the fact you’re in talks with other businesses too. (‘Casually’ is the optimum word there though – be cool, not cocky.) There’s nothing like a bit of demand to stoke the fire in a buyer’s belly.
And go in to the meeting expecting a yes. That optimism is really appealing, and will make you shine with confidence.
6. Watch their feet
It’s unlikely your target will be 100% honest with you throughout the pitch – they want to keep their cards close to their chest just as much as you do. Grasp the basics of body language, and you’ll have a much better insight into what they’re really thinking.
If someone’s interested in what you’re saying, they’ll make direct eye contact, have a relaxed brow, with feet pointing towards you. Their mouth may be slightly upturned at the corners. If they’re leaning back with their hands behind their head, they’re incredibly relaxed. If they’re still, they’re pretty much captivated. Good news – you’re in.
But you need to back off if you notice someone tapping their fingers or fidgeting, looking around the room, bouncing their legs or with their arms crossed. If their posture or face seems tense, pull back. Ask what they think, and give them a chance to talk themselves into a more relaxed state, when they’re more likely to be open to your suggestions.
You need to be aware of your own signals too, so your buyer trusts you. Try not to go up at the end of your sentences or nervously half hold your breath – it makes you seem uncertain. Keep your posture as relaxed as possible and don’t cross your legs or arms. Nod when they speak to show you understand and aim to keep your voice measured and calm.
Mirror the other person’s body language if you can. It builds rapport.
7. Use NLP
Nero-linguistic programming is all about subtly structuring the way you speak to persuade someone. You can use it to keep your buyer open to your offers.
Rintu Basu, NLP coach and founder of The NLP Company, suggests the following technique for handling objections to your proposition.
Start off with an agreement, even if you completely disagree with what they’ve said. “Whenever you agree with someone, you’re essentially opening them up to you. It’s a rapport builder,” he explains. “If they said something like, ‘I wouldn’t want to buy one of your products because I think it’s rubbish,’ you can say: ‘I agree you’re thinking like that.’ “
You then use the word ‘and’ to lead into the next thing you’re going to say (never the words ‘but’ or ‘however’, which negate your agreement).
You can then move your prospect’s thoughts away from the negative thing they said to a new talking point. Using the earlier example, you’d say: “I agree you think like that, and the issue isn’t the nature of our products, but how much of a return on investment you get from them.”
You then lead into a question that encourages them to think about the new line of thought. So to continue the above: “I agree you think like that, and the issue isn’t the nature of our products, but how much of a return on investment you get from them. So how much of a return do you need to make this worthwhile?”
Their answer tells you what you need to focus on to continue moving forward, and moves them on from thinking negatively about your product.
8. Make them think you’re a martyr
You want your buyer to feel they’re getting fantastic deal. So create the impression you’re making sacrifices for them.
Pitch your price higher than you expect to them to pay, and gradually allow them to bargain you down – but only give ground when they do. Gradually decrease the length of time of the contract or the quantity of what you’re selling in sync with the price drop. And make it seem like you’re stretching yourself to give them that, adding in the occasional, ‘Well, I wouldn’t normally, but…’, so they feel they have the upper hand.
But don’t take the mickey with your pricing. Be fair. Throughout the negotiating process, reiterate why your cost is justified (without being pushy).
Pick up on any obstacles to a sale so you can push them to one side. If they’re telling you your price is too high, ask them if they’d want your product if price wasn’t an issue. If they say yes, you’re in – you just have to find a price that suits you both.
Keep an eye on the body language to figure out what they really think of your suggestions, to keep yourself in check.
9. Play good cop bad cop
Here’s a tip from killer deal maker Brad Rosser’s excellent startup book, Better, Stronger, Faster. You might be the only person in your business, but you can still defer to a higher power when things are getting hairy to give yourself extra leverage. Say you need to consult your accountant or exec board (whether or not you have one).
By telling your target that you’d love to do the deal but you’re not sure if your board or accountant would go for it, you stay on their good side but still keep the boundaries you want to, protecting your position.
10. Don’t close
Rushing the close of a deal (the bit where you get them to agree final terms) is a huge error.
Always act patiently. Make sure you leave yourself a free window after sales meetings in case things overrun. You can guarantee you’ll lose a sale if you have to rush off.
Everything should be about making your prospect feel like they’re buying wisely rather than being sold to. So give them some breathing space if you sense they’re feeling suffocated of if things are tense. Say you understand this is a big decision and would they prefer to meet at a later date, after they’ve had some thinking time. It shows you empathize and gives the impression you have their best interests at heart.
Stretching things out can also save you if you start feeling out of control. It’s far better to do a deal slowly than hurry a deal that leaves you short-changed.