What adjectives would you use to describe a successful salesperson?
Common terms that come to mind may include goal-oriented, attentive, charismatic, and proactive. These qualities are must-haves when working with prospective customers. Oftentimes, the salesperson is the first human they interact with when experiencing a brand for the first time, and leaving a positive impression is the first step.
Taking a proactive approach to each prospect you engage can help you connect with prospects in a way that leads to more closed-won deals. Why? Potential customers want to know that they can trust you and the business you represent. Anticipating their needs, showing empathy, and solving problems before they’ve realized them are all proactive sales strategies to accomplish that goal.
But what does it really mean to be proactive when working in sales?
What is proactive selling?
Proactive selling is a sales approach that empowers the salesperson to take control of the sales process instead of waiting for the potential customer to do so.
There is no single approach to selling that reigns supreme for all deals, which is why sales training programs should set a foundation that reps can build upon. Whether or not you should take a proactive or reactive approach to sales will depend largely on your product, sales enablement resources, and the needs of the customer you’re working with.
Proactive Sales vs. Reactive Sales
Proactive salespeople may choose to present their products as a solution to a problem the client doesn’t yet know they have.
On the other hand, being reactive is simply responding to a situation without a strategy to arrive at the desired outcome. When a salesperson takes a more reactive approach, they’re more focused on responding to the inquiries of their potential customers than reaching out and initiating the sale.
While taking a reactive approach is appropriate in some scenarios, relying on that brand of sales can leave viable deals on the table.
If your way of selling is reactive in nature, you can easily be discouraged when a potential customer takes too long to respond or make a decision. Furthermore, sitting back and waiting for the perfect customer to come to you can cause you to waste time by focusing on potential customers who aren’t a good fit for your product.
When you take a more proactive approach, you as the sales professional are able to guide the pace of the sales process to better serve the customer and support your company’s bottom line. You can also ensure you are working with the right decision-maker who can move through the sales process with you, resulting in a closed-won deal.
Ready to gain proactive sales experience? Try these tactics.
Proactive Sales Techniques
1. Take time to plan and research.
To be a proactive seller, you’ll find that planning before approaching your sales conversations will be beneficial. Does that mean you need to spend hours pouring over the LinkedIn profiles and career histories of your potential customers? Not necessarily.
However, it does mean you need to approach each sales conversation with a plan that indicates where you want the conversation to go. Remember, being proactive means strategizing a path to the sale. Consider all of the factors within your control that could lead to the sale and approach each conversation prepared to reach that outcome.
2. Initiate conversations with potential customers.
Don’t be afraid to initiate conversations with potential customers who are a good fit for your offering. Now, I’m not telling you to solicit customers and spam them with your sales content — quite the contrary.
What I am saying is if you encounter an individual who has expressed a challenge or problem, and you know your product is a good solution, speak up and say so. Your next closed-won deal could be on the other side of a conversation you took the initiative to start.
3. Establish credibility by adding upfront value.
As a proactive salesperson, make sure you are taking the necessary steps to build trust with your potential customers. One of the most effective ways salespeople can build trust with their prospects is to add value.
You can add value in a couple of ways like providing informative and relevant content to your prospect or by positioning yourself as an expert in an area of interest for the potential customer you’re working with. Taking the necessary steps to build credibility early on in the sales process allows you to proactively shape the prospect’s opinion of you. This will put you in a better position for the sale.
4. Make data-driven decisions.
Chances are you are constantly reviewing sales data with your team. Do you and your team then use this data to inform your future sales tactics, or are you reporting on data month after month without applying the lessons learned from the information?
Proactive sellers use relevant data from their CRM to guide how they interact with potential customers. For example, let’s say your CRM reports that customers who view your company’s "About" page are more likely to result in a closed-won deal. You can use information from the "About" page in your sales talking points because you have data that strongly suggests this information resonates with potential customers, making them more likely to buy.
Dig into what information you have about what pages on your website generate the most conversions, and look for ways to fold that insight into your sales process.
5. Ask open-ended questions to understand customer pain points.
In addition to facilitating conversations with potential customers, you must be able to guide the conversation to close the deal. The best way to do this is to ask open-ended and layered questions to better understand your customer.
The ability to ask open-ended questions is an essential aspect of active listening. When you ask questions that cannot be easily answered with a "yes" or "no" question, you are giving your potential customer an opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns. This information is vital for proactive sellers because you can use it to determine whether or not the prospect is a good fit.
6. Anticipate objections and concerns.
Remember, being proactive means approaching a situation with the intention to influence the desired outcome. One of the most tangible ways a salesperson can sell proactively is to anticipate customer objections and concerns before they are voiced.
For example, if you work in tech sales and you know your potential customer is concerned about your product’s ability to integrate with their core system, you could then plan to include talking points about the smooth integration between your software and their core system in your presentation. By tackling relevant topics for your potential customer before they have a chance to ask, you are invalidating reasons your customer could say no, moving them closer to the sale.
7. Ask for feedback regularly.
Last but certainly not least, proactive salespeople ask for feedback from their customers and colleagues often.
By asking your prospects and customers for feedback about what influenced their decision to purchase (or not purchase) your product, you can gain valuable insights into what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to closing the deal.
When you ask for and regularly implement positive and constructive feedback into your sales approach, you can positively influence the outcome of your next deal.
The Proactive Approach to Sales Strategy
As your prospect is navigating a purchase decision, they’ll appreciate a subject matter expert to help guide them through the sale. Choosing to take the lead and proactively help your customers through the sales process can be a useful strategy in your sales toolkit. You’ll position yourself as a credible, helpful partner to their business which builds trust and instills a sense of brand loyalty to your business.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in May 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.