Microconf Europe is a two-day conference specifically for self-funded startups and single-founder software companies. The 2017 edition took place in Lisbon, Portugal.
If you were fortunate enough to be there, you’ll know that Microconf is a great place to bring your projects and problems to the table and learn how to nurture them into opportunities for expansion.
If you weren’t able to attend, you’re still in luck!
The MRR Media team had their boots on the ground, we’ve crafted summaries of each speaker’s keynote, and we’ll be publishing them all right here.
"What is Sales Risk and How To Minimize It" by Paul Kenny
Paul Kenny doesn’t give presentations often. In fact, he spends most of his time in a dark room, listening to other people’s phone calls. Inbound. And outbound. He even eavesdrops on conversations between customers and customer service reps.
Paul knows that to identify areas for improvement in a salesperson’s approach, you have to hear them in action. He takes listening one step further.
What does Paul believe is the key takeaway from his presentation? The one thing that will absolutely make salespeople better?
Record your sales calls
Listen back to them and identify the spots where you sound awkward or where you’re not listening closely to the person on the other end of the line. Spot where there’s room for improvement, and address it. Deliberate practice makes perfect.
Listening to playback of your calls will also help build the one thing that Paul believes all successful salespeople have in common: self-awareness. This is the ability to objectively judge how any given interaction with a customer is progressing, and adjust accordingly. This is a skill that can be built through deliberate practice.
Here is Paul’s slide showing the key attributes that contribute to sales performance:
Six Elements of Effective Sales Performance (Courtesy: Paul Kenny)
The good news is, you don’t have to be a brilliant salesperson to be successful. You just have to be “good enough.” The goal of Paul’s presentation is to give you the tools, in the form of a checklist, to make that happen.
A Holistic View of Customer Relationship Management (Courtesy: Paul Kenny)
Take The Sales Process Seriously
You can’t survive and thrive on low-hanging fruit alone. Don’t be scared to go after leads that seem unattainable at first.
Customers, no matter what you’re trying to sell them, will always have questions, fears, doubts, and distractions. Be sensitive to that, and do your best to answer their questions and put them at ease.
All value is perceived value. What makes a dollar bill worth $1, when it has no inherent value? Shared perception of value. Your lead may not see the value in your offering, while you (who knows much more about it) do. Try to see things from their perspective and empathize.
Be aware that your competitors are likely either pursuing the same leads, if they’re not selling to them already.
Don’t badger your leads - Treat them as people, not prospects. Ask them questions about their business and your product. Aim to educate, not dictate.
Preparation - Nothing spells cold call more than a lack of preparation. Practice saying the name of the person and the company you’re calling before picking up the phone. Research the company and tailor your sales tactics accordingly.
First contact - First impressions are formed quickly. Don’t come across as an amateur. Your goal with a first contact is to win attention, give context, and gain approval to begin a dialogue. All in 30 seconds or less.Respect the time of the person on the other end of the line. Don’t waste it by asking them what they did on the weekend.
Open your call with:
- Credentials - Who are you and why are you calling.
- Appreciation - Show that you have thought about the person you are calling.
- Benefit - Give them a reason to want to talk to you.
Stay away from opening with:
- Apologizing for calling
- Asking if now is a good time
- False sincerity
- Too good to be true offers
- Talking too fast
- Asking for people by their titles rather than by name
- Any lie, gambit or trick
Profile Customer Needs - Build rapport and gather an understanding of what your lead actually needs. Find the pain points that your product may address. Starting with small talk can help tease this out. Open questions are a good way to build rapport.
The Three Types of Question (Courtesy: Paul Kenny)
Particularly if this is your first call with the client, try to establish their needs and how your product can address them. Here is a list of questions. You can use the ones that are applicable to your product for inspiration:
What Does Your Lead Need (Courtesy: Paul Kenny)
Aside from the practical needs your product may solve for the client, you should also focus on the emotional needs your product might fulfill. What feelings might drive your lead’s decision-making process?
Emotional Drivers (Courtesy: Paul Kenny)
Case Building - Don’t just deliver a sales pitch. Build a case for your product based on your preparation and anything new you may have learned about your lead during the call.
Here are the five principles of persuasion:
Personalization matters - People prefer a more personalized approach. If it’s your first call with a lead, try to glean some personal information during your conversation. Make a note of it for next time. You are trying to establish genuine rapport with your potential client.
Obliquity - In sales, the shortest distance between two points isn’t necessarily a straight line. Sometimes approaching your sales goal indirectly beats getting straight to the point.
Storytelling - Too many salespeople tell their customers what to do. It is far more effective to tell them a story — for example a success story from one of the existing users of your product — and let your lead decide for themselves that they need what you’re selling. People generally don’t like to be told what to do.
Language and tone matter - Be careful to keep your language and tone appropriate to the conversation. Too often salespeople will try to be overly familiar, and, in making things too casual, stray from the business goals of the call. Friendly, approachable, but businesslike is a good tone to strive for in most situations.
Inspire action - At the end of your call, your lead should be excited to try or buy whatever it is you’re selling. At the very least, they should be willing to move it up the chain of command. Have a clear goal for every call you make. Nothing is ever achieved in sales unless we ask for a specific commitment.
“Closing” is often used to connote finalizing a deal and getting a signature on the dotted line. In reality, you may “close” many individual sales calls or meeting before the deal is done.
For Paul, closing is…
Asking for commitment - A commitment to what? A commitment to:
- A concept
- An action
- A purchase
This is important because there are only two mistakes that salespeople make when it comes to closing:
Asking in the wrong way at the wrong time or... Failing to ask in the right way at the right time.
Moving a business conversation forward - Often, particularly with large companies, you will have to work your way through many layers before talking to the actual decision maker. A confirmation from your lead that they are passing your proposal up the chain of command is a job well done—you’ve closed on that sales goal.
Closing Tactics Broken Down
The rebound tactic involves promising an additional service or function to the client then using using that to force a commitment.
Customer: “If only your product had the ability to schedule tasks that repeat on a monthly basis, I would consider signing up right away.”
Salesperson: “I can get our team right on that if you sign the contract today. I will stipulate in the contract that if you don’t have the ability to do monthly scheduling by the launch date, the contract is null and void.”
The assumptive tactic comes into play when a salesperson assumes that the customer has agreed to commit to the next stage in the sales cycle. This could be actual sale, or an agreement to pass it along to a superior for review.
Example: “Thank you for giving me the time to demonstrate our product. I can have the contract over to you for signature later today. Does that work for you?”
The Trial (Hypothetical)
Perhaps the most common closing tactic, salespeople use the trial close to confirm that the lead is moving towards a full commitment.
“I appreciate your concerns. If we can address them to your satisfaction, would you be willing to move forward to the next stage?”
Buyers like to be given options — especially when it comes to closing time. Give your customer two or three options, all of which have outcomes that you will be satisfied with.
“Would you like to sign the contract today? Or would you like to commit to sign once we have added the feature you requested?”
With an indirect close, the salesperson asks the customer a question that leads to them committing to the sale.Example:
“Now that I’ve addressed all of your concerns, have we got a deal?”
Perhaps the simplest of all tactics. This is the one to use when you know the lead is ready to sign.
Salesperson: ”If you sign the contract now, we can get rolling right away.”
When To Close
These are the best times to take your conversation to the next level:
- At the end of the call
- After gaining agreement
- After handling objections
- In response to a buying signal
- After identifying needs
- As a means of controlling the conversation
- Whenever the opportunity presents itself
Bonus Secret: The Founder’s Advantage
Paul promised everyone a secret at the end, and it was a good one. Realizing he was talking to a room full of entrepreneurs and founders, not dedicated salespeople, he expounded on the advantages a founder has when they sell their own product. Customers are more likely to give their time and attention willingly to the owner of a company. They are, in general, more interested to hear from the person who had the idea for the product, or at who owns it, than they are to hear from a salesperson.
He also reinforced how important it is for founders to do their own sales at first. Without that experience, how can a founder expect to train a salesperson effectively? When you’re in the early stages of a business, it can be invaluable to speak personally to your customer base. Find out first hand what their needs are and how that informs your product offering and functionality. In the early stages of a business, this kind of feedback is too valuable to be put in the hands of a salesperson.
Throughout the presentation, Paul largely avoids talking about “making a sale” or “sealing the deal.” Rather he focuses on reducing sales risk. It’s an important distinction. When you look it from this angle, sales is not so much about making individual deals, as it is minimizing the opportunity cost created by not making deals. What are the decisions you make and actions you take that increase your sales risk? How can you and your salespeople avoid it?
Following the steps outlined above (particularly listening to and evaluating your own calls) will make anyone a better salesperson, and minimize sales risk in future.
Lastly, Paul left us with this inspirational quote from management guru Peter Drucker:
“The single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that there are no results inside its walls. The result of a business is a satisfied customer.”