There are more than 3 trillion fish in the ocean. With so many creatures swimming around, you might think your odds of catching one are pretty good. But anyone who’s been on a fishing trip knows that it’s easy to spend the whole day without getting a single bite—or for the line to snap at the last minute while reeling in a big one.
The world of sales isn’t so different from the world of fishing. You may have tons of leads and prospects, but success ties back to actually closing the deal.
Win over more leads by following the advice of sales professionals who’re closing sales day in and day out. We tapped a few top sales leaders to share their customer-centric approach that’ll help you turn those nos into yeses.
1. Consistently connect with potential customers across channels
It typically takes at least a couple of conversations and positive interactions before a prospect is ready to sign on the dotted line. Consistent communication across different channels helps keep your brand top of mind, increasing your chances of closing a sale.
Jordan Cocklin, sales director at Virtual Hold Technology Solutions, suggests finding a good “cadence of touches.” While the right cadence can vary by industry and personal preference, you want to follow up consistently—without being annoying or overbearing.
Once you’ve established a cadence, reach out across various platforms to give leads an opportunity to engage when and where they want. Channels could include the phone, email, LinkedIn, or other social channels. Drew Hagman, an account executive at Convex, noted that even text messaging can be a good way to keep deals moving forward. (But keep in mind that cold calling usually isn’t effective—a 2019 Zipwhip study showed that 87 percent of respondents often reject or ignore phone calls from a business or unknown number.)
Regularly communicate with potential customers on their preferred channels to continue building your relationship with them and work toward locking in the sale.
2. Ask the right questions early on to determine customer fit
Once you’re communicating with a lead, it’s time to determine whether your brand is a good fit for them. Sometimes, a lead isn’t in the market for what you have to offer—that’s okay! The key is finding that out in the early stages of the sales process to save time and energy for everyone involved. Plus, it’s a lot easier to close the deal when it’s clear why a potential customer is a good fit for your product or service.
Gauging customer fit starts by asking leads the right sales questions.
“My mentor says: ‘Sales is just a series of conversations where the goal is to determine if you should have another one,” says Taylor Thompson, an account executive at Convex. “I take this mentality into each call knowing what questions to ask and what information to uncover to determine if we should keep the conversation moving forward.”
A few sales questions you might want to ask include:
- “What are you hoping to accomplish in the next month/quarter/year?” The answer should give you an idea of the company’s short- and long-term goals.
- “What challenges are preventing you from reaching those goals?” This question gives you an opportunity to address the customer’s pain points.
- “What has prevented you from pursuing/implementing a similar solution in the past?” More often than not, the answer ends up being related to finances or the timeline—both of which can block your ability to finalize the deal. This question allows you to align on the budget and timeline early, without being overly forward.
- “Is there anyone else you think I should connect with?” Figure out the best point of contact or the decision-maker as soon as possible so you can build relationships with the right people and seal the deal.
Of course, these questions are just a starting point. It’ll likely take multiple conversations to score a sale. Whether you use these questions or not, you’ll ultimately want to understand the lead’s goals and pain points and connect with the decision-makers for future conversations.
“Understanding what is most valuable to [the customer]—both from a solution and a proposal perspective—you move yourself much closer to the goal line,” says Matt Peoples, a CX and technology consultant at Virtual Hold Technology Solutions.
Of course, there could be many reasons why the customer isn’t a good fit for your company and vice versa. If that’s the case, it’s best to cut them loose. You’ll end up on good terms, and you can focus on closing the next deal.
“Don’t fit a square peg into a round hole,” Thompson says. “If there’s not a fit, tell them why and move on.”
3. Assume you’ll get the sale
The assumptive close is a popular sales technique where you speak with leads as though you’ve already made the sale. This tactic doesn’t mean lying (you don’t want to appear delusional)—it means showing leads you’re confident that they'll find the product or service valuable and make a purchase. It can feel uncomfortable at first for new sales reps, but ultimately, a positive and optimistic attitude can help you move leads through the sales funnel.
Tailor your questions, remarks, and outlook as if the sale is as good as done. As you explain the benefits and features of your product or service, showcase why it’s a no-brainer for the customer. Ask questions that prompt the customer to agree with you and solidify the next step or sale.
Say you’re selling a TV and hoping the lead will choose a large size. You might ask them, “So, do you want the 55-inch or 60-inch screen?” before they’ve even made a size request. The question is reasonable—many people want a big-screen TV—and it encourages leads to agree with the larger purchase.
According to Lindsey Eatough, associate director of partner success at MURAL, confidence and positive thinking are powerful tools for salespeople. The assumptive close leverages both of those qualities. Because you’re already assuming the sale is yours, there aren’t any nerves or hesitation to start. Customers will likely pick up on your upbeat vibe and feel confident as they move forward.
4. Be helpful, not pushy
As conversations continue, it’s easy to get overly excited about closing the deal and try to push your prospect forward before they’re ready. But potential customers can often sense when they’re just a number or part of a sales quota. You’ll have much better luck if you actually take time to answer questions and help prospects solve their problems.
“No one wants to ‘be sold’ anymore,” says John Kutay, director of growth at Striim. “They want to partner with a vendor on the success of their projects.”
One of the key ways you can turn down the sales pitch and actually focus on your potential customers is to listen more than you talk.
“Be authentically interested in your customer, and they will believe in you more and be more forthcoming with their true feelings,” says Peoples.
Practice active listening—the process of paraphrasing, repeating back, or asking questions based on what is said. Eatough recommends asking clear questions that show you’ve been carefully listening to what the prospect has said.
Say a prospect tells you, “Our remote team has been struggling with communication.” You could follow up with something like, “We’ve been hearing a lot about communication struggles since more businesses went remote, so you’re definitely not alone. Can you share some specific examples or scenarios where communication has been a challenge?”
You can also frame discussions as learning opportunities for potential customers. Hosting demos and webinars or sending content resources can be great ways to help the prospect and keep the conversation going. Josh Roth, senior director of inside sales at Lob, says the company uses whiteboard sessions to work through problems alongside customers.
As the saying goes, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” In the same way, focusing on being helpful rather than serving your own self-interests will help you form better connections with customers and close more deals.
“If you look out for the customer or prospect, then generally, you’re able to dig deeper than if you have ‘commission breath,’ ” Roth says.
5. Leverage your brand advocates
If it seems like prospects are still on the fence after a few productive conversations, it might be a good time to call in some powerful reinforcements—your brand advocates. Whether you work for a B2B or B2C company, you should leverage relationships with loyal customers to make more sales.
People who love your products or services are naturally great at talking them up to others in their networks. Research has shown time and time again how word-of-mouth marketing, influencers, referral programs, and reviews help boost sales.
“Explore how you could support your most avid users to become an extension of your sales force and build a community around them,” says Till Pieper, CoScreen co-founder and CEO.
One good example is Step, a banking app for teens that added 7,000 to 10,000 new accounts per day in 2020. Most of those new users came from the organic, word-of-mouth growth provided by Step’s referral program and a growing list of influencers.
You can spot brand advocates in a number of ways. Oftentimes, they’ll reach out to you through formalized influencer or advocacy programs, like our Zendesk Luminaries program. You may also notice potential advocates, thanks to frequent social media engagement, positive reviews online, and insights from your customer relationship management (CRM) tool. If you see a potential brand advocate, proactively reach out to the customer.
Once you’ve identified your brand advocates, you can build mutually beneficial relationships. Advocates can help with testimonials, referral incentives, brand awareness campaigns, or even one-on-one conversations with potential peers. In exchange, they get perks from your brand, such as free products or ongoing networking opportunities.
“You already have a foot in the door and can work with those first users on making them more successful and amplifying their reach even further,” says Pieper.
Overall, you’ll have to do less cold outreach and hard sales pitches because brand advocates naturally attract leads who are curious about your product. These loyal customers provide the real-life success stories you need to make the deal a slam dunk.
6. Create a mutual action plan with your prospect
If it seems like you might be close to making the sale, consider developing a mutual action plan (MAP) with your potential customer. This plan holds both parties accountable on the deadline and implementation to help you cinch the deal.
Mutual action plans go by multiple names—execution plans, go-live plans, or mutual close plans, to name a few. No matter what you call it, it’s basically a mutually agreed-upon plan that lays out who does what and by when.
Often presented as a slide in your sales deck or a separate document, the plan lays out each step to implementation in an easy-to-follow format. You can then go over each step with your prospect and adjust as needed. That way, everyone is happy and in total alignment.
According to Cody Raphael, head of new business at Virtual Hold Technology Solutions, not clearly understanding timelines is one of the most common challenges salespeople face. MAPs help solve that problem and set expectations from the start.
“MAPs create shared accountability and ensure that both sides are on the same page at every step of the process,” adds Eleanor Dorfman, a sales leader at Retool. “With that increased accountability, there’s less chance of the deal slipping through the cracks or getting lost in the shuffle.”
Also, MAPs will often boost trust early on in the relationship. Sure, you may be used to how the process normally goes, but your potential customer likely isn’t. MAPs show initiative and reassure the prospect that you actually know what you’re doing.
Learn from the rejections
Even the most experienced angler doesn’t catch every fish that swims by. The same goes for great salespeople—they’re not going to convert every lead into a customer.
While these pro tips will help you close more deals, you’re sure to hear plenty of nos along the way, too. Don’t view these experiences with a negative attitude—look for lessons that will help you improve.
Perhaps you stumbled over a key talking point during your pitch. That’s okay; practice your next pitch in the mirror or with a trusted colleague. Maybe you didn’t do quite enough research—now you know that you need to spend some time studying your prospect before pitching.
Whatever the issue is, you can always overcome your shortcomings and make more sales in the future. As they say, there’s plenty of other fish in the sea.