A better sales conversation
Names and some details in this story have been changed. I’m sharing the story with the permission of the original person.
My friend James is a business coach, and a damn fine one at that (he’s helped me with some sticky problems). His main channel to market is LinkedIn where he’s really active and getting a lot of responses.
But somehow James just wasn’t able to make the sales he wanted to. He adjusted his messaging (which got him leads he was ideally suited to help) and scheduled video calls. He delivered a ton of value on LinkedIn and in the video calls, proving his expertise and insight. But still sales were slow.
Eventually I persuaded James to record (with his potential client’s permission) one of his online calls. He sent me the video, and we analyzed what he was doing. There was one obvious big omission, and we sat down to craft an framework for a better sales conversation.
Over the next two days he made more sales than he had made in the previous month.
In this article I would like to share the framework we crafted. Armed with this knowledge, I hope that you will be able to make more sales as well.
James, his clients and his marketing
James’ ideal clients are small business owners, sometimes solopreneurs but often with a small team.
Their problem is that they’ve reached a ceiling in their business and they can’t seem to break through. Sometimes they believe the problem is technical, but most of the time they realize that they are the bottleneck in their business. They struggle with raising their prices, having sales conversations, thinking like the experts they are and charging what they’re worth.
James’ magic is his ability to guide his clients past the usual “just do it” kind of advice and finding the inner beliefs that are the real limiting factors. He then helps them not only break through those beliefs, but also solve the technical problems they believed were holding them back.
Most of James’ marketing is on LinkedIn, where he provides a ton of value through posts, videos and comments. He is highly respected, gets lots of views and comments, and this allows him to book online sales calls with potential clients.
The missing ingredient
James’ market is well defined, he’s built up substantial market awareness and is able to book calls with his prospects. By the time he has a video conversation with a potential client, the client already knows about James and what he can do for them. The calls seem to go well, but not nearly enough of them turn into sales.
The video recording James made of one of his sales conversations immediately pointed out the missing ingredient:
James wasn’t tying the value of his coaching services back to the business value his client would get.
James would demonstrate - right on the call - that he could help the client break through at least one barrier. But when he came to pitching his services, he wasn’t comparing the cost of his coaching services to the value the client would get.
Once I saw the missing ingredient, we were able to craft a more complete framework for the sales conversation.
The sales conversation framework
The framework we crafted has three main parts:
What’s the problem, and can I help the client solve it?
Is it worth solving - financially and emotionally?
Does the client think this problem is worth solving?
Here’s how it works:
Part 1: What’s the problem, and can I help the client solve it?
In this first part of the conversation, James has to understand what the client is struggling with and determine - for himself - if he can help the client solve that problem.
The conversation starts with a welcome and asking them “tell me about your business, and why we’re talking today.” James then guides his prospect through talking about their business and the problem they would like to solve. He applies his particular insights to help his clients discover at least one thing holding them back, and he helps them get the insight and understanding they need to break through that barrier.
This is where James proves his expertise and value - but also where he needs to make a critical decision. If he can’t help the client, he will need to tell the client that much, and give them some recommendation or even referral that will.
But if he can help the client, he needs to bridge to the next part of the conversation. That bridge is important, and looks something like this:
remind the client that we’ve just solved a problem;
tell them that you know how to help them solve the other, bigger problems they have;
but before we talk about my coaching, we have to figure out if the problems are worth solving.
Part 2: Are the problems worth solving - financially and emotionally?
This last bit may have the client sit up a bit - what do you mean we have to figure out if the problems are worth solving?
This is where James gets to prove his value as a business coach, and the answer to the client goes something like this:
We’ve just solved one problem on this call. If you decide to invest in my coaching services to solve the bigger problems, you need to be sure this is a good investment for your business. I typically look for least a 5 times return on your investment, and if it’s not clear that we can get there, I’m going to recommend that you do NOT invest in my coaching at this point.
What James has just done is tell his client that he (James) has his client’s best interests at heart. In fact, if the client can’t see a 5 times return on their investment, James would not recommend his own services.
This is a powerful statement. He’s not just there to sell his services - James is there to help his client make the right decision.
With that as background, James works with his client to figure out the financial value of solving the client’s problem. This is usually not a detailed financial analysis - just a quick take on what solving the problem could be worth. The key is that James is doing this with the client on the call, and the client can see the numbers prove the business case as they work through them.
Now James switches direction just a bit and asks the client “how will you feel if you solve this problem?” This part is probably just as important as the financial justification, because most of our purchasing decisions are made emotionally and justified logically.
By asking the client how they would feel when this problem is off their shoulders, James is effectively asking the client to paint the dream for themselves. And it is the ability to see this dream - together with knowing it’s a sound financial investment - that has the client decide whether they’re going to buy or not.
This is the bit James was missing in his sales conversations before. With this in hand, he can now move on to the last part of the conversation.
Part 3: Does the client think this problem is worth solving?
The last part of the conversation is short and sweet. James will summarize the conversation, pointing out that they:
solved a problem right on the call;
proved James’ expertise in helping the client solve these kinds of problems;
calculated the financial value and showed that it is going to be at least a 5x ROI (Return On Investment); and
the emotional relief the client will feel will be huge.
Now he’s going to put the ball in the client’s court with the following question:
Do you think this problem is worth solving?
If James did his job well, the client will say yes. James can then follow up by asking if the client is ready to make the investment, and follow up from there with the specifics of his coaching engagements.
As James and I discussed the sales problem, we put together a Google doc to document the script we had developed. Here it is:
Part 1: What’s the problem, and can I solve it?
Opening: I have a framework for this, and here’s a brief picture, but I don’t want to get sidetracked right now, I need to understand what’s going on in your business; tell me about your business and why we’re talking today
Method: drill down to find out what the real problem is, root cause etc
Bridge: Yes I know how to solve this / (or not)
Part 2: Is it worth solving?
Opening: Now let’s figure out if this is worth solving
Method: What’s the financial upside? What’s the emotional upside?
Closing: Financially yes/no, Emotionally yes/no
Part 3: Do you think this is a good investment?
Opening: I think this is a great investment, what do you think?
Method: You convince me that this is a good thing to do
Closing: Are you ready to make the investment now? I’ll send you the details
James is now learning how to apply this framework to every one of his conversations. Sometimes he can close a sale in a single call; sometimes it takes two or more calls.
But the underlying principle is that he’s there to help the client - and this is the principle that each one of us has to apply to every conversation we have with a client.
Because that’s why we’re consultants, or coaches, or deliver a service. We help people.
I hope this helps you have better sales conversations with your clients.