Sales Techniques: Conversational Selling

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The need to increase sales is an ever-growing pressure.  And that means making the most of every selling opportunity.

One sales technique that potentially applies to all areas is conversational selling.

What is Conversational selling?

Conversational selling is all about changing the nature of sales conversations that take place either face to face or via the telephone away from product pitches and towards meeting customer needs. Some sales people can do this ‘naturally’; others need the support of tools to make it easier to have such conversations. Generally, it is the top performers that know how to do this – so the objective of any conversational selling solution is to “make the rest as good as the best” – with dramatic results to the bottom line.

Conversational selling is about building relationships, and the glue that holds relationships together is trust. People buy from people they trust. The best sales people build this trust ‘naturally’. They listen and use dialogue to focus on the customer’s world – their interests, their needs, their objectives.

The dialogue in any B2C selling context is based on one simple premise – that everybody is interested in themselves. And by sharing their ‘story’ they open up the opportunity to sell. Once trust has been built with a customer, it is the key to unlocking their lifelong value to the organisations with which they do business.

A different premise

Conversational selling is based on the premise that:

1. A small number of sales people have ‘natural’ sales ability
2. Approximately 80% of any one sales team do not

Research amongst the 80% ‘non-natural’ sales group shows that a key reason for their ‘discomfort’ with selling was that it felt manipulative and went against their integrity and personal values.

Research also shows that there are many opportunities missed because of short-term focus. Good ‘sales leads’ are often identified for the future but sales people are less likely to concentrate on them as they don’t fit in with the pressure to deliver immediate targets – despite the fact they can see the benefit to the customer.

What sales styles are used today?

Clearly the knowledge, skills and experience of call centre sales staff directly impacts service delivery and can be improved by training. But this is expensive to do well and must be continuously reinforced through coaching to become sustainable. The result is that telephone sales call centres have become very good at inducting new staff but lack an efficient way to develop staff as training packages are too often classroom-led and based on a one-size-fits-all approach.

The missing link is that course materials are rarely accessed and delivered in bite-sized chunks at the moment that agents realise they need on-the-job help. At the same time there is no virtuous circle where results of training intervention are tied back to the outcomes that management require.

Many customers are now reaching burn-out with ‘traditional’ sales approaches. With so many products and services being sold ‘at’ them, individuals are now choosing providers who seek a clear understanding of what they, the customers, need to buy. In short organisations that give them the best customer experience.

Conversational selling – making it as easy as having a conversation with a friend

The latest techniques, supported by the right ‘tools’, are about making it as easy as having a conversation with a friend. This is a key component to building and developing  a long-term relationship with customers.

Top tips for conversational selling

1. Focus on creating a two-way dialogue rather than just making a pitch

‘Design the approach to engage people in a natural conversation, the kind you might have with a friend.  This lets both parties decide whether it’s worth their time to pursue the conversation further. The key is never to make assumptions as you will have no idea whether a potential customer can buy from you because you know nothing about their objectives, priorities, their decision making process, etc’.

2. Be open and have integrity

‘Potential customers can see through the charade of asking lots of product-driven questions. Be yourself, but don’t be self-interested. Find out about the customer, get them to talk. People buy from people they trust. If they feel that you are simply selling to them, the barriers will go up and the conversation will lose its potential.’

3. Talk about the potential customer’s world, not your own

‘When you talk about your company and your product to a customer, it’s just another advertisement to them. You haven’t engaged them. Potential customers are much more interested in themselves and what’s important to them. So if you start the conversation by focusing on their world, they’re more likely to interact and engage with you.’

4. Don’t talk about product, talk about ways of meeting the customer’s objectives

‘When the conversation is focused on the customer’s objectives, you will not need to think product. Only when you understand their objectives and priorities can you introduce the benefits of your product/service.’

Make the aim of the conversation to discover whether your organisation, you and your customer are a ‘good fit’.

‘By simply focusing the conversation on problems and issues that you can help to solve, and not jumping ahead
and trying to sell something, you will discover that the potential customer will give you all the direction you need.’

5. Create openings by using prompts and guides for the conversation, not ‘scripts’

‘Life is not a script, nor are normal conversations. When we read from a script, we’re not being natural. We’re playing a role. And that means we’re trying to sell rather than enjoying an opportunity to meet someone new and find out if we can help them.’

The outcome is that conversational selling takes the potential customer away from the traditional sales process and into a more satisfying buying process. It is a two-way dialogue that lets the sales person learn what they need to know by flowing with the conversation. And without getting ‘off-track’, the customer’s real issues will emerge… naturally.

Successfully implemented conversational selling delivers a step change in results whilst improving both staff and customer satisfaction.

Click here for our Top Tips for Selling Over the Phone

Tim Aston is the Founder of iQeQ


Author: Jo Robinson

Published On: 10th Mar 2010 - Last modified: 19th Sep 2019
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  • Fantastic article. Probably indirectly covered here…most sales organizations know their product better than their competitors. So they feel uncomfortable telling customers their product is a “do all”. The real challenge is in a balanced approach that helps the customer.

    Ram Iyer 12 Mar at 15:10
  • Tim Aston has raised a crucial debate for contact centres. Far too often businesses are so concerned with the hard sell they forget the underlying importance of the customer experience. Many organisations have become obsessed with introducing scripts for use during any customer liaison, which can lead to customers feeling they are asked random questions that bare no relevance to the discussion that’s actually taking place.

    Due to the human nature of interaction, contact centres should instead focus on providing customers with conversations that are relevant, intelligent and timely. Effective call centre agents should be able to gain meaningful insight and information from customers by positioning their dialogue in a manner appropriate to the individual conversation. By building an emotional connection with customers through showing an interest in the conversation, representatives are far more likely to make the consumer feel they’ve got some value to gain.

    Instead, of agents being put in a position where they have to faithfully follow a script they should be supported with more of a guide, which would allow staff to have relaxed and conversational discussions, deepening the customer experience. Those agents that envisage themselves in the customer’s situation are in a better position to understand the process and advantages to their conversations, and empathise with a consumer’s decision making process. Through empowering agents with information and treating them as valued resources, they will be confident in knowing how, and when to ask the right questions.

    Chris Hancock 15 Mar at 14:53
  • Interesting article but is there proof to show that conversational selling gets better results than scripted selling.
    Also, how can conversational selling work in a contact centre enviromnment whereby the advisor is selling financial services products which are regulated by FSA

    Lloyd Burgess 11 Sep at 13:46