Not all of us are born sales people and the thought of selling a product, solution, or idea may make you feel uncomfortable. However, many of us are selling as part of our job every day even though sales is not part of our title or job description. As project managers, we actually need good selling techniques for every project.
Have you ever tried to convince management to change a project deadline or show executives that a strategic milestone is improbable? Perhaps you are working to properly set expectations with a new client whose ideas are unrealistic or you want to introduce a new tool to your team but need support from a group to move forward? All of these scenarios require selling.
Selling can be defined as a "persuasive conversation". It involves convincing someone to be inspired to take action by buying into you and your ideas. The ability to sell your-self and your ideas are critical skills for project managers, so, familiarizing yourself with a few basic selling techniques can help you become more successful.
In the selling discipline, one of the most respected methods is called consultative sales approach. This model suggests a consultative approach that first identifies the needs of your audience and then offers them a solution.
This method requires a high level of credibility and expertise as you are educating your client and making recommendations for a solution. It is effective because it requires your focus and understanding of your audience’s needs before you put forward your ideas.
To become a more persuasive project manager try to develop these basic consultative sales techniques:
Believe it or not, professional sales people spend a lot of time preparing for a sales call or meeting. Before you pitch your idea, spend some time getting clear on:
- Who is the target audience? Is it one person our a group? Can the person you are asking make a decision? What do you know about the person and how have past interactions been?
- What are the key needs or drivers? What need or problem is your client (boss, team) facing? A common mistake is to think your solution meets a top need. Be willing to think about all of the possible needs, not just the one you have the solution to. For example, your solution to the current staffing issue might be a winner but for your boss, a more pressing need exists with budget.
- Get clarity on what you are “selling.” Is it a new product you want to invest in or a new process or workflow? Get clear on what your solution or idea is and learn as much as you can about it. It is also wise to research competitive solutions or ideas, remember you are the consultant and expert.
- Get ready of objections. What would the opposition say? Take some time to brainstorm any objections that may come up and how you might overcome those objections.
2. The Pitch
Once the preparation is done, you are ready for the first attempt at your sales pitch or “persuasive conversation.” Here are a few tips to set you on your way:
- Make it a conversation. Connect with the audience and share your ideas, research and wisdom. Enthusiasm is contagious, if you are genuinely excited about your solution and believe in it, let the conversation flow.
- Focus on “Sharing” not “Selling.” Think of how your product, idea or service will help your audience and less about your wish to “sell” it. Consultative selling implies you have identified what your audience needs. Make the client’s needs the focus of the conversation.
- Ask Questions. Keep the audience involved and engaged. If your pitch is being made to one person, make sure to listen as much as you talk. If you are presenting to a group, ask questions and solicit feedback along the way.
- Look and Listen to feedback. Pay attention to comments and questions received from your audience. It is also important to pay attention to their body language during the pitch. If your boss starts to shuffle the paper on his desk, it might be time to wrap it up.
3. Handling Objections
Even with the best preparation, objections to your idea or pitch will arise at one time or another. One of the best ways to overcome an objection is to stop it from even occurring, by introducing what you suspect as the biggest objection yourself. Introducing a “suspected objection” will allow your audience to add context, however anticipating the objection will allow you to maintain control of the conversation. If an unplanned objection is introduced you can handle it in the moment by:
- Listening. Let the objection be voiced, rather than immediately jumping in to address the objection. Let the person with the objection fully voice their concern.
- Restate the objection. Restating the objection demonstrates to the audience that you listened and understood. It allows them to clarify if needed. It can be as simple as, “So you are worried about user adoption of the new system.”
- Explore the rational. Often times, the first objection is not always the real objection. Asking a few more questions around the objection and working to uncover why that objection exists will help you to overcome it. “Has user adoption been an issue in the past?” “What training was utilized on the last launch?”
- Address the objection. Once you understand the objection, you are better equipped to address it. Answer the objection head on with clear evidence, data and confidence.
In consultative selling the close in often part of the natural flow of conversation. You’ve listened to the needs of your client, addressed the objections and shown how your idea meets their needs. A logical approach is the close using the Next Step Method. “We’ve talked about our needs for a better project management tool and addressed the issue of user adoption, it feels like we are ready to move forward, what do you think is our next step?” After posing the question, pause and let the client answer. Possible responses can be a need for another meeting, a pilot, executive sponsorship etc. The goal is to move your idea or project forward by taking that next step.
Selling yourself and your ideas need not be a stressful undertaking. In using a consultative approach, you shift the focus toward the needs of the client or organization and by approaching the selling as an opportunity to engage in a “persuasive conversation”, you can begin to experience more successful meetings.
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