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The Simple Formula You Should Be Using On Every Sales Call

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You’re midway through a 45-minute demo, and it seems likely you’ll close in this meeting. The buyer is paying attention, asking some questions, and even taking notes.

After you’ve finished explaining how your solution addresses her pain points, you say, “Are you ready to move forward? I can send over the proposal today.”

Instead of saying yes, the buyer replies, “Actually, I’m going to need some time to think it over. Let me get back to you next week.”

She never contacts you or returns your calls or emails. You have no idea what went wrong. During the presentation, she seemed highly interested.

But was she? Many reps assume quiet, inquisitive prospects who seem eager to be educated are also eager to buy. But that’s usually a false assumption. Talking at -- rather than with -- the buyer makes it difficult to discover their needs, identify their reservations, and gauge their intent.

If you want a true sense of your prospect’s interest, you need to encourage them to communicate. I use this simple framework on every call to encourage my prospects to speak up.

The 40-40-20 Framework

Divide every sales conversation you have into three stages:

  • 40%: Asking the buyer questions
  • 40%: Giving the buyer information
  • 20%: Closing

During the first 40% of the conversation, your prospect is the main speaker. Putting the spotlight on them helps them open up and become comfortable sharing details about their company and challenges.

Once you know these key facts, it’s far easier to present tailored suggestions and guidance during the next 40% of the meeting -- when you’re the primary one talking.

In the final 20%, answer any questions they might have and move the discussion to next steps. The speaking time should be split equally between you.

The Benefits of the 40-40-20 Framework

Many reps use this framework with the first two sections in the opposite order. First, they’ll present; then, they’ll ask their prospects for information. By that point in the call, however, prospects are accustomed to listening -- and time could have already been wasted on topics they don’t care about. Jolting them out of passivity is challenging.

In addition, they’re often bored by the product-centric beginning. To avoid this, don’t mention your product or space at all during the first 40%. It should be entirely devoted to the buyer.

Adapting 40-40-20 to Different Call Types

A connect call serves a different purpose than a discovery call, which serves a different purpose than a demo. Each interaction has a different length as well.

Nonetheless, you can and should use this framework for all your calls. If you’re running a 30-minute demo, spend the first 12 minutes asking your prospect questions and listening, the next 12 minutes connecting their needs to your product’s capabilities, and the final six minutes closing.

Sometimes, buyers resist talking about themselves. They’re anticipating a presentation, so leading with a back-and-forth discussion confuses them. If your prospect balks at your questions, say, “I’m gathering more information around [topic] so I can give you a [better recommendation/more accurate response/more relevant data]. Are you open to spending X minutes talking about [topic] before switching gears to [product]?”

Prospects may also launch into questions of their own, such as, “We’re interested in Option A and Option B. Which product are you seeing similar companies go with?”

Reps usually take these openers as signs their prospect is going to buy and reply with long answers about the advantages and disadvantages of each. You’ll be more successful, however, if you say something like, “I can speak about both options in detail, [prospect name], but will you indulge me for a couple minutes first? After I’ve learned more about X and Y, I can give you a more helpful answer.”

Proper agenda-setting also helps your prospects understand the call’s structure. To get their buy-in, explain your rationale. For instance, you might say, “First, let’s explore your current employee complaint handling process. Once I understand the inefficiencies in the system, I’ll provide some suggestions for improving it. At the end of the call, if you’re interested in learning more, we’ll schedule a product walkthrough. Is there anything you’d like to add or change to that agenda?”

This brief overview shows prospects the logic behind starting with questions, rather than a pitch.

Using the 40-40-20 framework dramatically increases the quality of your meetings. Not only do buyers open up, but you learn essential information about their desires and challenges. Ultimately, everyone benefits.

For more advice on Jeff’s sales techniques, check out his Your SalesMBA™ blog.

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