Many salespeople believe they have great relationships with their customers, and many do. When we really think about that great relationship, does it mean the stakeholder is willing to sell on our behalf when we are not there, and willing to take political risk to ensure we win the opportunity?
Forging these kinds of relationships does not happen accidentally. Gaining a Partner Ally is risky. As coaches, we often under-invest the time in tactically coaching our salespeople in how to execute a closing conversation.
We may have a great Supporter in the opportunity, and often, our salespeople will continue selling and tweaking the value proposition in the hope of them advancing the opportunity.
Closing a Supporter to become a Partner Ally requires a specific conversation though. It can be a more intense, personal conversation that seeks their support to work together to advance the proposed initiative. As a result, you will work together on the plan to bring the important people on board and collaborate on presentations or the business case… all while working hand in hand every step of the way.
This moment does not happen by accident. It takes thoughtfulness and involves a certain amount of vulnerability from the salesperson. It is a turning point in the relationship that, if done properly, can bring the opportunity wide open and help significantly to secure the win.
Confidence plays a huge role in these critical conversations being conducted artfully and authentically. There are three steps you, as a sales coach, can take to significantly boost the confidence level of your salesperson.
1. Acknowledge Your Salespeople’s Feelings of Anxiety or Hesitation
The first step in coaching your salesperson to have a closing conversation is to openly acknowledge that this conversation will feel different and talk about it. You can relate these feelings to a non-sales situation to validate the salesperson’s emotions in an experience they have probably had at some point in their life.
One coaching approach is to ask them about a risky conversation where they put themselves out there to venture into a new territory in a business or personal relationship. Maybe that time they asked for a pay raise!
As a coach, you can inject some fun with this analogy – adding more humor by saying their palms will get a little sweaty, and they will wonder if now is the right time or if they should wait. They will overthink it and play it out in their mind a hundred times before having the conversation.
2. Help Salespeople Find Their Own Style
Now that your salesperson understands what this conversation will feel like and that it is not about the value proposition, help them find words that fit their natural style and personality. You are helping them find how they will ask and plan for when to be quiet.
Brainstorm which approach feels most natural to them and aligns with their relationship with their client. A thought starter might be to ask them to consider asking the client something like:
- “Are you willing to take the journey with me?”
- “Are we both aligned in thinking that this is the best thing for both of our companies to embark on?”
- “Do you think we should make this happen?”
Whatever feels most comfortable but asks the question. Boom! Now the question is out there. The ball is in the court of the stakeholder to respond.
3. Practice Intentional Silence
There is an error salespeople often make – they keep talking instead of letting the question sit and waiting for a response. We tend to be uncomfortable with silence, and when we stay quiet after asking a question, one of two things will eventually happen:
a) The client will say “yes” and then that is when we go into planning mode on the next actions to advance the opportunity, who needs to get on board with the partnership, and how they can precondition or change decision criteria. This helps advance the opportunity significantly.
b) The client will say “no” and if the salesperson stays quiet long enough, the client will start to explain why they cannot fully commit. They will reveal insights into obstacles or barriers to the opportunity that, frankly, the salesperson does not understand yet.
In either situation, it is a fruitful and productive conversation to have that will advance the opportunity.
The conversation to gain a commitment to proceed is necessary to have, and it is often shielded away from or overlooked. It can be the difference between winning and losing. Giving your salespeople the confidence to have these vulnerable conversations is a lifelong skill that can help them create differentiation in this opportunity and for opportunities to come.
As a sales coach, if you can normalize the feelings your salespeople have leading into these conversations and give them the confidence to find their style, they will be more and more comfortable exercising this sales muscle over time, which will pay dividends.
Personal Challenge: Ask your salespeople to describe the conversation where the stakeholder turned to support them in an opportunity. If the response is based on the value proposition – you know they have not actually closed that person as a Partner Ally. Shift to using the coaching tactics in this article to help them plan the next conversation.