I remember one of the worst sales calls I ever had. It was a great prospect who needed what I was offering.
Safe to say I was stoked. My digital agency had already done some preliminary work for them and I was sure that the campaign pitch would go smoothly.
I could not have been more wrong.
You see, I sabotaged myself. My expectations and confidence in the call were unfounded. That affected (read:got rid of) my approach to preparation.
The result? The client didn’t buy. They didn’t buy because I broke one of my golden rules of sales…
Never get upset, frustrated, or short with a client. What caused me to get upset? My expectations were set that I had it made, and the call would be a breeze.
When the client started asking me questions scrutinizing our proposal (perfectly reasonable thing for a business owner to do before spending money), I got defensive, and defaulted to re explaining the benefits.
On that call, I was a horrible salesperson.
I was a horrible salesperson because I forgot another of my golden rules of sales…
It’s not about me. The entire process is about the prospect.
“All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like, and trust.”
— Bob Burg
I love that quote because Bob gets it. He understands that the sales process isn’t necessarily about what you have to sell, your expertise, or even price. The key to long term sales success is about developing a relationship.
You should think of a good sales process (especially the initial discovery call) as being a lot like dating. The goal is to figure out if each of you is a good fit for the other and if there’s going to be any long term magic.
In it’s ideal form, dating isn’t about tricking the person or simply getting them to sleep with you. Dating with the long term in mind is about slowly figuring out if each person involved is satisfied and developing something mutually beneficial.
To do that you need empathy.
“Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place.”
— Dan Pink
During my sales call that I mentioned earlier, I didn’t connect with or seek to understand the prospect at all. I was too busy with defending my company’s worth and my strategy, that I forgot to empathize with the prospect’s issues.
It didn’t matter that I had developed and proposed a great strategy, the prospect didn’t know me well enough to trust me and due to my ego, I had no idea what their actual needs were.
Empathy helps you understand your potential clients. When you understand your potential clients, you’ll be able to sell to them better.
Here’s how you accomplish that and start to close more sales for your freelancing business.
Step 1. Listen more than you speak
We’ve all been on a date where the other person would simply not close their mouth (even when they were eating… *shudders while remembering*).
I’d be willing to bet that same person likely didn’t ask many questions of you and wasn’t a very active listener either.
Despite that, you two are currently happily married now with 2.5 kids and a blue picket fence right?
Of course not.
That person is the absolute worst. They made you feel like their opinions were more important than yours, that they didn’t really care what you had to say, and didn’t connect with you at all.
Sales prospects are the same way. They need to trust you to buy from you. In order to trust you they need to understand you, and in order to start to understand you they need to first like you and feel mutual respect.
That won’t happen if you’re doing all of the talking and not listening.
The key to begin the process of truly understanding your prospect and their pain points, is to ask open ended questions. Then shut up and listen.
Not simply hearing the words coming out of their mouth, but actually listening. Listen to every single word.
Don’t give in to the urge to speak the whole time, interrupt them, correct them, or tell them about your amazing product or service.
In the beginning, they probably don’t care as much as you think they do, or even at all in some cases. Your best bet to figuring out what they need, is to listen.
Similarly to how listening will help you connect with a date, if you do that long enough on your sales calls, they’ll tell you exactly what’s wrong.
Step 2. Dig deeper
How awful would it be to date someone who you only knew what movies they enjoy or what their favorite taco truck is?
Things would get incredibly dull real fast.
In the beginning these pleasantries and surface level exchanges are perfectly fine, even necessary. They’re the foundation for getting to know each other.
But later on, both people start to hunger for more. You’ll start to yearn for understanding and to be understood. That mutual understanding allows each person to better operate and for real fulfillment from the relationship to happen.
Same goes for sales calls.
Don’t take everything they say at face value. they often don’t know how to articulate their biggest pain points in a way that directly maps to your understanding.
Always have them clarify. Ask “what do you mean by X” or “when you mentioned Y, how does that affect you?”
Chances are, there are almost always underlying issues that need to be addressed or problems that they aren’t aware of.
To do this you’ll have to slow down, jot down notes, take the time to not only hear them, but put yourself in their mindset. It’s the empathy thing.
Keep asking more pointed questions until you are confident you’ve got to the bottom of the issues they’re having.
Step 3. Stop trying to force it
Have you ever seen that one guy at the bar, university, or your office that simply refused to believe that no meant no?
That’s probably the same guy on the date who won’t stop talking (likely about themselves) and doesn’t care to get to know you all that well.
Yeah, he’s the worst. He thinks that he’s a hammer and that everything and everyone around him is a nail that just needs enough pounding.
It’s gross right?
So what makes you think that trying to mold yourself into whoever you need to be for a prospect that you know isn’t a good fit for your offer will work out well?
I’ve got news for you, it won’t.
Packaging and matching up your offering to your ideal buyer and their needs is the game. Remember, you’re dating them to find out if it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
So stop trying to shove an offer down their throat, and have enough self awareness and respect to say no to the wrong opportunities.
Just like you wouldn’t settle for a partner that is pushy, treats you badly, and never takes a shower, you shouldn’t be forcing a relationship with a potential buyer or client.
No go. Go sell.