Sales Execution: How to Close the Best Deal Every Time
Sales execution is not the craft of sealing the unlikeliest of deals with witty talk and trickery. It’s the ability to identify and remove the last concerns of a suitable, genuinely interested prospect.
That’s less glamorous, but highly effective and infinitely repeatable.
So, here’s a quick checklist before you rub your hands, eager to take on the nearest passerby:
- Have you set up a solid, segmented sales funnel?
- Have you validated your leads?
- Have you qualified those validated leads?
- Have you built rapport with your prospects?
If you’ve missed one of those, you might want to head back to check all remaining boxes. Running a viable business in the age of the customer, with satisfied buyers and predictable revenue, means approaching prospects that are actually interested and willing to listen to you.
As a salesperson, your most precious asset is your time, and it’s far better to spend it on a handful of your best prospects than spreading yourself thin across dozens of leads.Leslie Ye, HubSpot
Here are the five most common sales obstacles and how to overcome them with your validated, qualified prospect.
1Prospect likes the product but not the price
In this most common situation, the prospect is convinced of the product’s use but perceives the price as too high. Which is no surprise if you take into account the arbitrary nature of prices. Following the subjective theory of value, anything can be worth any price as long as there is a desire and/or a use case to justify it.
Since it’s another precondition for viable business, let’s presume that what you offer is in fact of such value for the prospect that it equals or exceeds the price you called up for it. Then, the prospect who deems your product too expensive is just not able to see and understand that value.
Solution: Value-based selling
Josh Kaufman defined value-based selling as “the process of understanding and reinforcing the reasons why your offer is valuable to the purchaser.” It’s a form of framing and can either aim to emphasize gains or prevent losses.
For example, your prospect tells you that spending a few hundred dollars a month on live chat software seems like quite a burden to her. Still, she’s convinced that adding a direct contact channel on her business’ website is generally a good idea.
At this juncture, knowing that the chat will likely increase her website conversion 3.5 times can lead the way. The purchase might suddenly appear like a no-brainer – compared to the earnings, the expenditure is negligible.
In cases where benefits are more abstract or don’t directly spell out to monetary gains, try to visualize the value in other currencies. For instance, a bicycle yields returns as time saved while not stuck in traffic. Quality office chairs reduce absences due to back problems among your staff.
Kaufman describes three universal currencies, at least one of which is subject of every negotiation:
- Resources: all tangible, swappable items, including actual currencies
- Flexibility: general freedom of choice, e.g. travel cancellation insurances
2Prospect likes price but questions product’s capabilities
Your prospect has certain expectations about what the type of product you offer should cost and you’re either within that area or below even. She is, however, not sure that it actually provides the benefits you promised or that they will solve her particular issue.
This scenario often plays out when consumers have plenty of choices and find it difficult to tell the difference between vendors. Also, the more complex the product, the more likely prospects are to question its useful application in their particular case.
Solution: Social proof, transparency, risk adoption
If you provided enough information to your prospect to make her agree to the price of your product, just going on about its features won’t move her any closer to the purchase. In this scenario, internal validation has been exhausted.
So, instead, use external validation to convince her that the product will work for her. Provide examples of customers similar to your prospect who are already enjoying the benefits of your product.
The more alike these examples’ use cases are to your prospect’s, the more effective this method. In B2B, industry, size, and prestige work as identifiers of a similar use case and a trustworthy voice. Referral programs are that popular for good reason.
Sometimes, downsides of a product scare off prospects although they are completely irrelevant in their use case. If you know about such weaknesses, be upfront and admit them while immediately clarifying that they won’t interfere with any of the benefits the prospect is looking for. They’ll reward this transparency with trust, making the sale easier.
If necessary, wipe away the last bit of uncertainty in your prospect through risk adoption. Take responsibility for the product to work in the exact way she is hoping for in order to make the investment worthwhile. Assure her in writing that if this isn’t the case, she can ask back her share in the transaction. You can implement risk adoption on greater scale through a generally customer-friendly return policy
3Prospect likes product and price but purchase “can wait”
In this scenario, you’ve got pretty much all that you could ask for: your prospect is fond of the product and convinced of its benefits, she even agrees to its price tag. There is, however, a certain lack of desire and urgency to purchase it now. If you just “let it simmer” at this point, chances are you’ll never hear from her again.
Solution: Education-based selling, value-based selling, creating urgency
Your sales motto here is basically “you have no idea what you are missing – I’ll show you!” Education-based selling means making prospects more knowledgeable and independent by introducing them to the ins and outs of the product, so they can confidently make decisions on their own terms.
By turning your soon-to-be customers into experts, you allow them to eliminate any blind spots themselves that could otherwise make them hesitate to buy. This is particularly effective with more upscale and technical products whose quality is hard to assess at mere sight.
Except for the price tag, an expensive shoe handmade with selected materials doesn’t necessarily look any different than a machine made one with materials from that month’s cheapest supplier. The superiority of one over the other gets clear once information about the production process and the origin and durability of the materials are submitted. This is even more convincing if the information can be translated to specific benefits for the prospect.
In order for education-based selling to work, your product has to offer the best price-performance-ratio around. If it doesn’t, your prospects will use their newly acquired knowledge to identify a better option among your competitors.
If necessary, mix above technique with value-based selling to create urgency. Again, you want to inspire loss aversion. To do so, make your prospects aware of a problem that your product solves for them or an untapped potential that it unlocks.
Ideally, you’re able to point out problems or potentials the prospect was yet oblivious to because she was lacking essential information. An example: “You can feel how light and durable these running shoes are. But what really makes them stand out is the special cushioning technology that is designed to guard your joints against trouble on the long run.”
4Prospect expects too much effort in order to use product as desired
If a prospect thinks the purchase can wait, you show her why that isn’t the case. In this point’s scenario, though, it’s the other way around: The prospect is put off by the anticipated labor and time expenditure until the product’s actual benefits will take effect.
Solution: Education-based selling, value-based selling, onboarding assistance
To remove such doubts, you have to either convince the prospect that she’s assuming wrong or otherwise that the extra effort is well-spent. You can use the same techniques as in point three.
This time, education-based selling is used to make the hard and complex look easy and simple. In order to address your prospect’s most common preconceptions about what it takes to benefit from your product, you first need to assess them. Send out surveys to existing customers or ask your customer service reps for a report from the frontline.
A good example for when effort deceives is the usually daunting task of switching energy providers. They carry outdated expectations, like having to mediate between current and new provider, energy calculations basically seeming like rocket-science, or that if anything goes wrong (and it surely will), you’ll be temporarily left in a cold home and dim candle light.
Being aware of such prejudices enables you to address them right from the start in your sales process but especially in the final stage, the sales execution. So, provide your sales reps with an internal FAQ or resources like this post by British energy provider OVO.
Another way of removing effort-related doubt is to offer prospects assistance early on. A comprehensive onboarding doesn’t negate the effort but it takes away its fright by putting someone knowledgeable at the prospect’s side and marking the way ahead. Depending on your product, you can use clever instruction manuals, tutorials, or online onboarding processes. Add webinars and on-site training to provide in-depth custom options for B2B customers.
To justify effort, use value-based selling. Your goal is to put the effort in relation to the benefits, so your prospect is motivated to move past the former and work towards the latter. This works best if you can compare effort and benefits in the same measuring unit: “If you invest time X today, you save time Y tomorrow.”
If you can’t, invoke the proverbial ‘sharpening of the axe’ as a guiding principle to show that the benefits outweigh teething problems.
For inspiration, look at the example of Brooks, the seasoned UK-based manufacturer of bike saddles that are incredibly comfortable – once you’ve made it past the first 1,000 kilometres of slowly fading pain while breaking the seat in.
Their pieces require a lot of effort until you can enjoy their benefits, but you’ll do so for decades – so goes Brook’s promise. The company has managed to build a reputation on the quality of its product, the effort is widely known as a necessary evil.
5Prospect likes the product and agrees to the price but it blows their budget
If this happens, don’t make the mistake to attempt a value-based sell. Tenaciously reminding prospects of how much the product is worth its price when they can’t or simply don’t want to spend more shows disregard of their financial situation. This will eventually repel them.
Solution: Empowering prospect
Since your prospect has shown interest in your product and a purchase, look for options that could drive down the price.
Besides individual discounts and deferred payment, downselling will be an especially promising approach. Offer your prospect a lighter version of your product with the option to upgrade at a later point when her funds are better.
Offering a comparable product meeting not all but most of her requirements is another option. Every consumer has in her mind a list of features, ordered by importance. Some are essential for the product to deliver any use, others are convenient extras.
For example, if your prospect is seeking a new laptop for work, where she’s usually connecting it to an external screen, the expensive retina display could be a feature she can do without. And one that will significantly lower the price.
But it’s not only the kind of options you offer that matter. It’s also the mere act of relieving the prospect from the choice to go all in or get nothing. Following up on her individual needs will already be recognized as a favor. And as the reciprocity principle suggests, she’ll likely return the favor at a later point, with a repurchase or upgrade.
If your prospect clearly communicates that the price is a problem considering the risk that goes along with the purchase, and only then, attempt risk adoption as explained in point two. Don’t disregard your prospect’s financial situation.
Getting better over time: the review loop
To move towards better execution, test your performance with sales KPIs. Here are some signs that your sales execution isn’t at its best:
- conversion rate is low while lead qualification rate is high
- average time until deal is closed is high
- repurchase rate is low
- churn rate is high
Also, establish monthly or quarterly sales reviews to assess and discuss how much your teams and individual employees are in line with your strategy, for instance via stoplight reporting.
Try to close every review session with an up-to-date list of customer types and/or lines of business (in B2B) that are hard to sell to. Also spot the products that are hard sells, generally or for certain customer types.
Encourage your sales managers to voice their daily observations in meetings and routinely go back to lead generation stage to adjust your outreach approach accordingly. This way, your next quarter will always be a better one.
Read this post in German.