Who Leads Your Sales Conversations? You or Your Prospects?

This is Part Four on how to build a sales system that works. Read Part One, Part Two, and Part Three here.

When you really break it down, a salesperson who has the highest lead to sales conversions is doing one thing better than everyone else: leading the sales conversation.

If you, in your sales role, or your salespeople are not leading the conversations you’re having with prospects, then the only other thing that can be happening is that the prospect is leading. There are only two options.

When the prospect leads, the conversation is driven by whatever happens to be on the prospect’s mind, and that may or may not serve the result. The prospect is not focused on the result you’re there to produce. For example, she may be consumed by what she wants you to know about her, yesterday’s difficult department meeting, this morning’s argument with her husband as they left for work, the dinner plans she has for this evening, and yes, the thing she would rather be doing than speaking with you. We all have a finite amount of attention.

If you’re not leading, you’re giving your prospects too much room to fill the available space in their hearts and minds with things that won’t lead to a ‘Yes’, even if your product or service is a real solution to their real problem.

Leading is about taking the prospect with you on a journey—your journey—and creating the room for them to let go and let you take them. It’s never about pushing or pulling. Or ‘closing’. Leading is about having authority with care. And, you don’t have to be born with it. As we’ve said before, extraordinary salespeople are few and far between. And, waiting for them to show up to create the sales growth you’re looking for is an exercise in futility.

As the leader of your company, you have a lot more control over your sales results than you may think.

If leading is what’s required to sell effectively, then what are the elements that you can build into your sales system to support your salespeople in leading? In my experience, when it comes to your salespeople leading their sales conversations, there are two critical elements.

The first is Structure. When you take the time to establish the benchmarks of your sales process—the steps of the process and the order in which they should be followed—and also script key elements of the process like, how you want your salespeople to start conversations, how you want them to explain the meeting agenda, how you want them to describe what you do and what it costs, you are actually building authority into the process that many salespeople may not yet have in themselves.

That’s why you build systems in the first place, to leverage people to produce better results—in alignment with your values—than they could have without the system.

Our salespeople tell us again and again that our sales system infuses authority into their sales conversations and shows them where they need to embody more of their own authority. Structure not only helps them be more effective from the start, it also helps them learn and grow.

The second element of a sales system that supports leading is Engagement Tools. These are the principles you create and teach your salespeople about what it means to lead with your prospects, given your values, when there’s no script for the moments that just can’t be scripted. Here are some examples of our ‘rules of engagement’ that can be applied to a sales process in almost any business:

    • To meet prospects where they are, enter their reality.

Listen for their ‘symbolic expressions’, the things they say that have more meaning to them than they’re actually expressing and ask questions like: “What does that mean?” and “Tell me more about that.” And then ask follow-up questions until you really get what they meant. Symbolic expressions are the opening opportunities to understanding what your prospects want and need and how you can help them in ways that are meaningful to them. ‘Old school’ ideas like ‘rapport building’ create superficial sales conversations and don’t do anything to establish your authority.

    • Questions drive the inquiry into your prospects’ reality.

Ask questions that you truly feel curious about. Don’t ask random questions just to fill space; you’ll lose traction. Don’t apologize or ask permission to ask a question—in either words or tone—or you’ll diminish your impact. Make your questions crisp, meaning succinct, direct, without anything extra. Crisp with care softens resistance and significantly increases the likelihood that you’ll get an honest, straightforward answer to your question. Asking questions in a circuitous or wordy way encourages deflections or indirect answers.

    • Learn how to use silence when ‘no words’ is the best question you can ask.

When you ask a particularly meaningful or challenging question, remain silent for as long as it takes the prospect to answer. Like being crisp, silence draws out what someone is feeling and gives them room to feel it. Notice your tendency to fill the space with words or nervous laughter to cover your discomfort with silence or your discomfort with the prospect’s feelings. Challenge yourself until you’re comfortable with silence.

    • Care, care, care.

Care about yourself and the results you’re there to produce. Care about your product or service and the value it truly provides people. And care about your prospects and giving them value that is meaningful to them, whether they buy or not. Authority without care is manipulation and that’s not something that anyone should want to get behind. Great salespeople care and use their authority in service of finding great, loyal customers who appreciate what your company has given them.

Leading will be operationalized differently in different industries—leading a sales conversation won’t look the same at a car dealership as it will at a bakery or at a software company. Unless you and your salespeople are exercising authority with care, the best results you can expect are the prospects who already decided to buy before they met with you. While it may sound counterintuitive, creating a sales system will actually make it possible for you and your salespeople to truly make a difference, and maximize your sales results at the same time.

Topics: Sales, Strategic Planning, Systemization

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Ilene Gail Frahm

Written by Ilene Gail Frahm

Ilene is the co-owner of EMyth and its Board Chair. She's been innovating EMyth’s sales process for decades and writes about the essential elements of a successful sales ecosystem in any small business. She also writes about leadership.

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