There’s one aspect of sales that never changes—the importance of time. The sound of the countdown begins each day of every week of every month of every year. For the most part, the sales process comes down to two things: numbers and time. And they go hand in hand. You spend days, weeks, and months racing away against that clock to ensure that you hit quota. But can you save time and still close more deals? Yes — by investing in the right processes, activities, and skills.
How to approach prospecting
At HubSpot, we hear this question all the time: “How can I increase my close rates?”
I like to answer that question with another question. “Where are you investing your time and effort?” If you’re wondering how to increase your close rates, you need to look beyond the closing call. Closing more deals start with paying very close attention to your prospecting and qualifying strategies. How well aligned are your prospects with your offerings? Does your product directly present a solution to a problem they’re having? Do you feel like you consistently have to stretch or connect the dots in a way that feels a little forced? Maybe it’s time to reassess your prospecting and qualifying strategies.
After all, these are the phases you identify—and pursue—good-fit customers. This means finding leads and prospects who genuinely need your product or service to solve their challenges and pain points. So, what does effective prospecting and qualifying look like? What tactics should you be employing? Here are a few questions you should be asking when you’re in the prospecting phase.
- Why should the person reading your email or outreach care?
- Do you understand what your prospect’s job is?
- What is your prospect doing right now that you’re interrupting?
Think about the person reading your email or outreach. What does it feel like to open this email from the perspective of a VP of sales? Is there any reason to open it?
99% of outreach is a template, and buyers are not impressed.
Ask yourself how you can make the receiver care about your outreach. If you understand who your prospect is and their job, you can get them to think and respond. Salespeople waste so much time on unproductive prospecting.
How to approach qualifying
While reaching people with personalized prospecting strategies is a crucial part of the job, it’s still just the beginning. You want to qualify your prospects early on in the process to ensure that yours and your prospect’s time spent well. When you’re qualifying your prospects, here are a few questions you must answer to help you be successful further along in the sales process.
- Why are you and your prospect talking now instead of two months ago, or two months from now?
- Has your prospect bought something similar before?
- What was that process like?
- What is their expectation of pricing?
- How do they go and get that money?
Answering these questions will help you identify early on whether your product or service is a good fit for your prospect—saving both you and your prospect time. These answers will also help you understand how your prospect arrived at this particular point—a good indication of what problems they’re trying to solve at their business.
Using MEDIC in the sales process
Using MEDIC, an altered form of the MEDDIC sales process, is a good strategy for qualification. MEDIC is an acronym that stands for:
- Economic Buyer
- Decision Criteria
- Identify Pain
In the Metrics phase, you want to find what quantifiable gains your prospect wants to achieve with your solution. In the Economic buyer phase, you want to know who makes the decision and has the authority to purchase. The Decision criteria phase is where you understand how the company makes decisions and what criteria they use. In the Identify pain phase, you’re beginning to understand what needs the prospect has that requires a solution. And lastly, the Champion phase is where you identify someone on the inside that’s invested in your success and advocates on your behalf. The Champion is likely the individual who is most affected by the pain you identified.
Keep in mind that there are a million different ways you can go about prospecting and qualifying—we can’t cover them all in a single post. But remember that each business and sales process is different—you must find what works for you and your customers. Tailor your approach to the needs of your buyers.
Setting expectations early on in the sales process
Once your prospecting and qualifying strategies are firing on all cylinders, you want to make sure that you’re setting clear expectations for your buyer throughout the sales process — all the way up to close. Often as a sales rep, you can push the buyer too quickly into the next phase. But how do you know whether or not the buyer is ready for that phase? If you push too soon, not only can it damage the relationship, but it’s likely to cost you a deal also.
Your sales process should always focus on how the customer wants to buy, and not how you want to sell.
You can overcome the error of “pushing a buyer too soon” by setting clear expectations before each interaction and inviting the buyer to respond whether they’re ready for that next phase. In the How to Close a Sale Lesson on HubSpot Academy, Patrick Downs, Sales Enablement and Training Manager at PandaDoc, talks about how he uses the ACE Framework to set clear expectations with his buyers.
Downs says, “I use a modified version of the ACE framework, so I’m appreciating them taking the time. I’m checking the end time. And then I’m also setting an end goal for us to shoot for some target for us to hit. And at that point, I’m going to ask them what they feel like would be a great mutual plan for us to hit.”
The ACE Framework:
- Check end time
- End goal
Not only is the ACE Framework a great way to establish and set expectations, but it’s also a good indicator for intent. If your buyer comes to the next meeting with all those action items you established in your plan completed, that’s a buying signal. If not, it’s a good indication that they might not be as serious or need more time.
Aligning on budget and timeline
Now, just as important as setting expectations for your buyers is to your close rates, so is setting expectations for yourself about where the buyer is in their readiness to purchase. This might seem like a given, but this is often a step that salespeople overlook. The more you know about your buyer, the more you will be able to tailor the sales experience to their needs and provide the best experience.
Two of the key areas you want to make sure you’re in alignment with are their budget and timeline. Asking about budget and timeline helps you understand what sort of expectation your prospect has about the price and how quickly they need a solution. If you try to move at a speed that’s outside of their expectations, you’re likely misaligned with their buyer’s journey.
It’s essential to keep in mind that you don’t have to ask your buyer about their budget and timeline directly. For one, it can be uncomfortable. And two, you might not be talking to someone who has that information. Trial close questions are a great way to gauge whether you and your buyer are in alignment. Basically, you’re taking their temperature. It also sheds some light on whether or not they might be ready to purchase or move forward. If you’re asking a trial close question and your prospect isn’t prepared to go to the next step, you must reset. Find an end goal and move towards that with a new agenda. Even if it’s at the very end of a call, give yourself five to ten minutes to make sure you have time to reset and make sure that you’re going in the right direction.
In the sales process, every step is an opportunity to optimize for the close.
Closing a sale is one of the most challenging stages in the sales process. You spend hours finding prospects for your sales pitch. You prepare slides, figures, and sell the prospect on the solutions your product presents their business. You deliver it to all the right people… but your job isn’t done just yet. A sales pitch rarely ends in an immediate sale. You will more than likely need to face and overcome objections.
At HubSpot, we define objections as “… issues that prospects communicate to sales professionals as reasons why they can’t buy a product or service from them. Objections aren’t always hard “no” s, and they can sometimes represent opportunities for sales reps to clarify any misconceptions about the product or service to try to qualify the prospect and close the sale.”
Oftentimes salespeople view objections as negative. And while it’s understandable, objections are anything but negative.
When a buyer presents and objection, they’re saying that they want to buy your product, but they’re scared. Patrick Downs, Sales Enablement and Training Manager at PandaDoc, paints a perfect illustration of this in the How to Close a Sale lesson on HubSpot Academy.
Downs says, “Think back to even the last time you bought something at a grocery store. I’m sure you’ve put back items onto the shelf, even if it was a $4 item because you don’t want to spend the money on something you don’t need. There’s always the thing in the back of your head that’s telling you not to spend money. When I was in college, I used to put $5 of gas in my car, and sometimes I’d run out of gas. I had the money for it. I was just terrified of spending the money. So when buyers are presenting objections, what they’re saying is, please convince me that it’s worth it because I have at least a little bit of trust in you that you’re going to steer me in the right direction.”
When a buyer presents an objection, view it as a good thing. They want to buy your solution.
They need your help to convince themselves that this is the right decision. They’re looking to gather enough information to feel satisfied—and confident—in their decision. If they didn’t think your product might work for them, they would walk away.
How top salespeople handle objections
Objections come in all shapes and sizes. And they vary from prospect to prospect. Budget and timing tend to be among the most common, and, in some cases, you might find an objection that’s directly related to your competition. Recently, a common objection we’ve seen is the moral objection. For example, a prospect will say that they don’t like how you do X, and they prefer how another company does Y. It’s the feeling that something is misaligned between your values and theirs.
So what do top salespeople do when they face these types of objections? According to Downs, they get excited.
Here’s a step-by-step look at what top salespeople do—and what you should do (you can do this too) when they face objections.
- They lean in.
Don’t rush to provide a solution. This is an important phase for the buyer, and it’s important that they feel heard. Listen to what they’re saying, and most importantly, view the objective as a positive.
- They guide their buyer to the solution if it’s the right fit.
Think about this as putting your arm around your buyer and slowly guiding them towards the solution. An excellent salesperson doesn’t push or try to muscle their way past the objection.
- They acknowledge the objection.
Too often, salespeople dismiss an objection as irrelevant. Remember it’s important to your buyer that they feel heard. By dismissing the objection, you’re not listening.
Remember that your sales process should focus on how your buyer wants to buy, not how you want to sell.
- They try to understand the objection.
Asking probing questions can help you understand the details of the objections your buyer presents. If you rush to present a solution, you run the risk of presenting something that doesn’t align with their needs or solve their presented objections.
- They get permission to present a solution.
Once you clearly understand their objection, get their permission to present a solution. This might be by asking a simple question or reiterating what they’ve said. It show’s that you listened, it show’s that you did everything to hear them and that based on everything you’ve heard, you think you might have a solution that fits their needs
- They see what happens.
Finally, see what happens. Allow your buyer to agree or not agree with your solution and take it from there.
A common trend among top salespeople when they face objections is not focusing on the methods and tactics they use to overcome those objections; they focus on their mindset, going into those objections. Remember that objections should be looked at in a positive light, your prospect is telling you that they are interested in your product, but there are a few hurdles, which if you can help overcome, they’ll likely make a decision.
Irrespective of the type of objections, it’s essential that you take the time to address and validate any concerns your buyer has. While you want to create a sense of urgency, it’s essential that your buyer feels heard and understood. Some reps argue with their prospects or pressure them into backing down— but this isn’t proper objection handling. Prospects typically end up more convinced than ever of their position; worse, salespeople lose the trust and rapport they’ve built up. Objections are an inevitable part of the sales process. But as long as you’re familiar with common objections and equipped to answer them, you’ll be able to distinguish between prospects who have the potential to be good customers and prospects with whom you need to part ways.
If there’s one thing I can urge you to keep in mind, it’s this: closing a deal starts long before the closing call. It starts the minute you begin prospecting up to that final signature—and in some cases, it continues long after that. It’s crucial that as you move along in the sales process that you’re thinking about each stage, call, email, or demonstration as a point to optimize for the close.