Just because someone is a skilled marketing professional does not mean that he or she knows how to sell.
New business development professionals at ad agencies very often, it turns out, get little to no training on how to effectively complete large, complex sales. Yet using some proven techniques and a little pre-call planning, business development reps can greatly improve their success on calls with prospects.
This article explores how mastering a few basic techniques will develop the right approach to effectively establish a relationship that moves a sale forward.
Mastering the SPIN
Neil Rackham developed a new approach to the selling process in 1988. Rackham’s company Huthwaite, Inc. assessed more than 35,000 sales calls for products and services. Rackham identified the techniques most frequently used by successful sales professionals.
These observations disproved a number of popular myths about the selling process, such as objection handling, which Rackham argued could actually hurt the chances of selling. In turn, Rackham established a new sales model – SPIN selling.
SPIN selling focuses on four core sets of questions:
- Situation Questions, which focus on finding background details that help form a better understanding of the prospect’s situation
- Problem Questions, which allow you to unearth the problems a prospect has that your product can solve
- Implication Questions, which gets a prospect discussing the ramifications if the problem is not resolved
- Need-Payoff Questions, which address how your product can help address the implications raised
Today, sales professionals around the world incorporate the SPIN selling model into their sales process with great success. Using the SPIN framework, an agency business development professional can achieve significant results. Business will not be won on the first call, but through multiple calls that establish a relationship and lay a foundation. Each call will have its own objectives and outcomes aimed at moving the sales forward.
Stage 1: Opening
The purpose of an effective opening is to gain the prospect’s agreement for you to ask questions. You are seeking permission to begin a relationship and gain a deeper understanding of the prospect and his or her business needs.
In the Opening stage, there’s no need for benefits statements. In smaller sales and brief calls of 10 minutes or less, an opening benefits statement may help engage the prospect’s interest. But in longer B2B calls, there is no link between success and an opening benefits statement.
It’s tempting at this stage to share everything that’s great about your agency and jump right to a solution. But research shows that successful sellers don’t talk about themselves until late in the call. If you start talking about yourself or your services too soon, you allow the prospect to start asking the questions and take control of the call.
That said, it is important to communicate who you are, why you’re making the call and establishing a basis for asking questions, but it’s not about giving a large number of details about your agency or services.
This opening needs to be brief, 30 seconds at most.
Stage 2: Investigating
The Investigating stage is the most important stage in complex sales.
The core objective is to uncover a need the prospect has. Before that conversation occurs, however, you need to do pre-call planning homework.
Look at your prospect’s industry, company and at the prospect himself or herself. What are the potential weaknesses or opportunities that you can identify?
Make a list of each of your agency’s capabilities that can improve upon the prospect’s weaknesses or take better advantage of an opportunity you’ve identified.
Frame several questions for each of these weaknesses or opportunities.
Your focus in the investigating stage should be to ask these types of questions that lead the prospect into explicitly identifying a need that you are uniquely positioned to solve.
How will you know when that need is expressed? It’s a matter of keying in on any statement a prospect makes that expresses a concern or want that can be satisfied by your agency.
Once you’ve identified a problem or dissatisfaction, ask key questions about where the issue arises, when, how often, and to whom. Explore what happens if or when the problem arises.
By asking thought provoking and relevant questions, you add considerable value to the relationship. Prospects say that asking questions about specific problems increases their respect for sellers.
Stage 3: Demonstrating Capability
Once you have a firm grasp on the needs and the ramifications of those needs, it’s time to turn to your agency. There are three main ways to describe your agency’s capabilities and the solutions you can provide.
- Features. Using this approach, you detail facts about your services; such as how large your social media team is or what awards the agency has won.
- Advantages. This approach focuses on how a capability can be used to help a prospect. For example, “Using our [capability] we can engage with your audience on social media quickly, typically with an average response time of four hours or less.”
- Benefits. This method describes how a feature or advantage meets an explicit need expressed by the prospect. “We can give you the real-time responses you said you want on Facebook 24 hours a day.”
Of the three, focusing on benefits is the most persuasive way to secure business. Why? Because in doing so, you are connecting the dots for the prospect. You are drawing the line between your services and the need the prospect confided in you.
Waiting to introduce your solution is more effective. By waiting for the prospect to express a specific need you can meet, you can tailor the capability message to address that particular issue.
Stage 4: Obtaining Commitment
Ask most people what makes a good sales person and they will sale it’s about closing the deal. In large, complex sales this is not true. Asking questions is.
In small sales you often get a commitment to buy or not buy on the first call. In complex sales it’s different. Fewer than 10 percent of calls result in a sale or no-sale. If this is the case, how can you define success?
In most complex sales it’s about advancing. This means taking deliberate movements forward with commitments that get closer to the sale.
What constitutes an advance for an ad agency new business call? It depends certainly on the business and your agency, but typical examples of successful advances are:
- Agreement to meet in person at their office or yours
- Agreement to schedule a time to review relevant case studies or thought leadership that the prospect has identified to be of interest
- Introductions to other relevant decision-makers at the company that were identified on the call
If the outcome of the call does not reach an agreement on an action that moves the engagement forward, it’s a continuation. The call is unsuccessful, no matter how nice the other party was. Building rapport is not an advance.
You can prepare to avoid a call ending in just a continuation. It begins by understanding what kind of advances will be used to decide if the call was successful.
This planning requires you to set realistic call objectives that move the sale forward. You then need to select the advance that involves the highest realistic action you think you can achieve. Make this your primary call objective.
Top sellers will plan out these advances and ask questions during the Investigation stage that lead the prospect in the direction of the primary objective.
In agency new business, your first call with a prospect is not a pitch or a presentation. It is a way to establish two-way communication.
Each call requires pre-call planning that identifies objectives that moves the sale forward. To accomplish this, you have to strategically uncover the prospect’s needs by asking the right questions at the right times. You can’t expect the prospect to come right out and state their challenges.
With a little planning and practice, you will see better outcomes from your calls. Prospects will come to trust you more and to rely on you and your agency as a problem-solving expert.
Christian Banach is an advertising agency new business consultant and sales director at Catapult New Business. You can connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.