Think back to the last time you shared a meal with a good friend.
You likely recall the restaurant and the food, the little sensory details like the man smoking the cigar across the street or the squawking birds in the background.
Now, think back to the first meal you shared with this person. Suddenly, it becomes much harder to remember the little details that paint a vivid scene — but I’m willing to bet there’s one thing you do remember: the conversation.
I’m also willing to bet that you talked about more than the weather. You likely talked about ideas, a problem, possible solutions and the motivations driving you to solve that problem.
Those are the types of conversations that build authentic human-to-human connections. And if you want to win more business, you’ll need to find a way to reliably connect on a human level — especially when there’s a screen standing between you.
Let’s look at three strategies you can use to build better connections, have more meaningful business conversations and start marking more deals closed-won.
Step 1: Strategic Questioning & Active Listening
Thoughtful inquiry and active listening are two factors that continue to separate high-performers from the rest of the sales team. And there’s a persistent misconception here: many believe you cannot teach these skills.
I’m here to tell you that they can be taught — but it requires a strategic approach that breaks the desired behaviors into their component parts. Let’s start with questioning:
Here at ValueSelling, we teach the O-P-C Questioning technique. The concept behind it is simple:
- Open-ended questions get people talking.
- Probing questions lead the prospective buyer on a journey of self-discovery to explore the business issue from all angles.
- Confirming questions summarize and validate shared information.
The true magic of this formula is learning to switch between question types seamlessly until you have identified a business driver that your solution will impact in a meaningful and measurable way.
That takes practice and experience — and there’s certainly no shame in stacking the deck in your favor.
Lean into your research to prepare 6-10 open-ended and probing questions that will help you identify problems already on the prospect's radar, how those issues impact the business, and solutions that your product is uniquely qualified to provide.
Now, don’t rattle these off like a nervous understudy in the school play.
You might even only ask a few in their prepared form. The idea is to help you envision the possible avenues the conversation could take ahead of time — freeing you up to place all of your attention on the other human.
However, just because your attention is where it should be, doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly master active listening. Here too, you have to put in the work — and your recorded sales calls are a gold mine of real-world examples.
Try listening to a call from Q4, then immediately write a summary of the key points, using the prospect’s words. Note what you got right and where you missed the mark; then do it again. Soon patterns will start to emerge, and you’ll be able to identify areas for growth.
Step 2: Accurate Follow-through
Picture this: You’ve had a brilliant first sales call where you told a value-based story that convincingly illustrated how you and your company have helped similar prospects in the past.
All that’s left to do is summarize your conversation in a follow-up note and provide the requested materials: a case study and a pamphlet that includes information on how your solution integrates with the prospective buyer’s CRM.
It’s an easy task, and it better be — after all, you only have 15 minutes to put this email together before your next meeting. Only, when you send over the case study, you send one on the client in healthcare, not the one in pharmaceuticals.
The prospect opens the email and immediately wonders: “Do they know my business at all?”
It might seem like a slight misstep, but trust is built in tiny increments. Every time you accurately deliver on what was promised, trust goes up. Every time you miss the mark, trust falls and must be rebuilt.
There’s no magical trust grade you have to meet, but trust is the foundation on which complex B2B purchases are built.
Step 3: Carefully Crafted Mutual Plan
When does the sales cycle end?
If you’ve adopted a buyer-first approach, you’ll know that a mutual plan is the beginning, a tentative step toward the ultimate goal: value realization.
Keep in mind that a well-designed mutual plan is much more than a to-do list.
It’s a written agreement outlining a two-way understanding of a company’s critical business issues and the activities needed to resolve them — and it’s a powerful tool for building confidence in buying decisions.
The key term here is mutual. To be successful, ensure your plan uses the prospect’s language and covers:
- A summary of the business issue
- How that business issue impacts business goals
- How your company will deliver measurable value to the organization and the individual
- A clear understanding of the prospect’s purchasing criteria and procurement process
- An agreed-upon timeline of the benchmarks and actions both parties will take to realize value
Remember: As the name implies, these mutual plans are done jointly with a prospect to eliminate confusion and build buyer confidence — that crucial element that only human-to-human connection can provide.
Until next time, happy selling,