What is a Sales Conversation?
Recently I talked with a professional who is thinking of leaving her corporate job and going out on her own. As this was an introductory conversation to see if she and I might work together as coach and client, we quickly covered some of the basics: Did she have an idea of what her business would be? Who would she target as a client? How would she find those clients? We went on like that for an hour; it was a delightful conversation, with her sharing her vision and us looking at ways to create that for her.
One of the most remarkable parts of the conversation was when she told me of some of the people she was thinking of contacting to promote her business when the time came. I asked if she knew these people personally, and she said no, yet she didn’t feel it would be a big deal to contact them anyway. Some of these people are quite well known and big shots in their respective professions.
Let me repeat that again: she didn’t know these people personally, yet she didn’t think it would be a big deal to contact them, introduce herself, share with them her business, and ask if they might know of a friend or colleague who’d be interested in her services.
That, my friend, is a sales conversation.
What’s remarkable about this is that she’s never done sales, doesn’t think of herself as a sales person, and was just telling me how unsure she was about getting clients when she quits her day job. I listened to her be pragmatic and fearless when contemplating how to approach people and talk about her business. The way she spoke to me was enrolling and she wasn’t trying to sell me anything; remember, this was an introductory conversation about her hiring me. Yet by the time we parted, I would have hired her if I’d needed her services.
What did she do? First and foremost, she was herself. She was engaging, demonstrated value, and showed me possibilities I wouldn’t have considered. I heard stories of several clients she’d worked with, why they came to her, and how she was able to help them. Frequently she stopped talking to check in with me and make sure I was still with her; it was a two-way conversation. She was being a sales person, rather than acting like a salesperson. And that is an important distinction.
Being a Salesperson = You understand what you’re selling and how it can benefit the person. You have a two-way conversation about what they want and need, and how what you offer might help them. You make your offer as though you were passing a hors d’oeuvres tray, and they may or may not be hungry today. You have an outline of what you’d like to cover during your conversation, and the focus is on genuine connection and serving the other person. If you make a sale, great! If not, you’ve connected with someone on a genuine level, who may need you in the future, and have opened the door for potential referrals. Sales really can be this easy.
Acting like a Salesperson = You run through a sales script, making sure to hit all the points. The conversation appears two-way, yet you do a lot of the talking and have an agenda. You are likely attached to the person saying yes or no quickly, so you can move on.
I’ll give you an example, which really happened to me. Several years ago I was looking at buying a used car from a big car dealership. My boyfriend at the time had researched the car and knew all the specs, and I’d looked at a few of the facts myself. As we wondered the lot, a man approached us and asked us what we were looking for. I said I was thinking about getting a used car, maybe this size, price and model. From then on he looked only at me and ignored every question or comment my boyfriend made (he had determined I was the buyer). He asked me what color I liked and during the test drive asked me if I liked the pinstripe along the side (I suspect to appeal to my vanity or emotion). He stood a little too close for my comfort and I felt pressured to answer his questions, rather than him answer mine (and my boyfriend’s). Ultimately I walked away, having decided that type of car was not for me and that even if it was, I wouldn’t buy it from him. The entire experience left
me feeling not heard, seen or respected.
The difference between being a sales person and acting like one is a matter of connection and consideration. Of truly listening to what the person has to say, trusting them to have their own internal gyroscope. Your job is to help them see if what you’re offering is going to benefit them. It needs to benefit you, too, of course, so that you’ll have fun serving the client, making a difference and making a living.
The next time you find yourself dreading having a sales conversation, remember that a sales conversation is really just a conversation between two humans.
Your job is to be yourself and pass the hors d’oeuvres tray. Share the value of your services as well as your mutual humanity. Whether you make a sale today or not, you’ll increase your visibility and good will with each person you talk to, which will come back to you ten-fold in the future.