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Leading Sales Conversations When the Seller Drives the Demand

How you run a sales meeting depends fundamentally on who set it.

Imagine for a minute you’re the COO of a mid-sized manufacturing company. You’ve been reading quite a bit about how to decrease costs in a supply chain. You do a little research and find supply chain consulting firms. You call a few that happen to be in your area and set up a series of sales conversations with them. In this case, you’re the buyer.

You are driving the demand.

Soon, a partner from one of the firms comes to your office. After pleasantries, he says things like: “So, what’s on your mind?” “Tell me what’s going on that brings me here today.” “Before we get started, is there anything in particular you’re hoping to get out of this meeting before we’re done?”

Then the meeting gets underway. He says:

“I have a number of questions about your supply chain that I’d like to find out the answers to, and from there I’ll be able to get a sense of what kinds of improvements are possible and how to achieve them. As well, at some point, I’d be happy to share some specific ideas, trends, and examples about supply chain efficiency. And, of course, about us and what we do.”

For the most part, if you’re the buyer, you think this meeting is starting off well.

Now imagine you’re not considering working with an outside firm to help you improve your supply chain, but in general, you’re always looking to make things better.

Your phone rings. It’s a partner from a supply chain consulting firm. He says he can help cut costs and improve efficiency in supply chains. You’re curious, so you invite him in.

Two weeks later, it’s meeting time. After brief pleasantries, he starts the sales conversation with things like: “So what’s on your mind?” “Tell me what’s going on that brings me here today.” “Before we get started, is there anything in particular you’re hoping to get out of this meeting before we’re done?” “I have a number of questions about your supply chain that I’d like to find out the answers to…” And so on.

If you’re like most, you might say (or at least think), “Whoa, you set this meeting. I didn’t take it so I could share my life story. Why are we here? What did you want me to consider? How do you improve supply chains?”

Mostly, however, buyers don’t say a thing. They just dismiss the seller as an amateur.

How to Lead Sales Conversations When You Drive Demand

When the seller sets the meeting, they should open with something like, “Thanks for taking the meeting. The reason we’re here is because we’ve been working with our clients to do X, Y, and Z in their supply chains. Many of them didn’t know these kinds of improvements were possible until we shared with them what’s possible. What I’d like to do is cover the approach, where it tends to help, and what it does. We’ll see if what we’ve done might apply here, see if we spark any ideas, and then we can take it from there.”

“Meanwhile, the overview will only take about 10 minutes or so to set the table, and I encourage you to jump in with questions at any time. I’ll probably ask some as I go along, too, just so I can make sure the content we cover is most relevant.”

“Before we get going, however, does this work for you? And, as well, is there anything in particular you want to cover by the end of the meeting so we make the best use of our time?

Let’s assume they say, “Go ahead. I’m curious to hear what you have to say.”

When sellers present their ideas and cases well, they share content in the sales conversation that makes the buyer feel something along the lines of, “Wow, they know just what it’s like to be me in this area.”

The buyer feels that the seller really knows what’s going on without having to say much and the seller builds credibility.

After a short while—assuming the seller is on target—the buyer engages. She might say something like, “You know, points 1 and 2 aren’t an issue, but 3 and 4 are killing us. If we could do something about them, my life would be totally different.”

It’s at this point the seller can shift from advocacy (telling the story) to inquiry (asking questions). The seller might say, “Okay, well, tell me more about what’s going on with #3.” While the timing wasn’t right to ask this earlier, the same question after the right setup and a bit of advocacy is now perfectly appropriate.

In any sales conversation, RAIN should happen, but it doesn’t always happen in the same order. Keep these important differences in mind depending on whether the buyer or seller drives the demand:

  • Buyer-Driven Demand: When the buyer drives the demand and sets the meeting, it’s typically more helpful for the seller to start with inquiry versus advocacy and more common to begin needs discovery by focusing on the buyer’s aspirations and afflictions. Think about it. They asked you to meet, so you essentially start with, “What’s up? What do you want to improve? What do you think is possible that you can achieve?”

  • Seller-Driven Demand: When the seller creates their own opportunity, it’s best to work backwards. Start with presenting a vision of a new reality. Intrigue buyers with new possibilities. If you asked for the meeting, you have to tell the buyer “what’s up” before you ask them. If what you present is compelling, they just might want to do something.

In any case, when you share ideas and when you ask questions all depends on who asked for the meeting in the first place.

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