DeJuan Brown first found his “sales voice” working in the restaurant industry. Then he took a job as a tech sales rep.
Where he had once joked with people, anticipated their needs and connected with them on a personal level, he became stiff on calls, sticking close to the sales techniques he learned. If he heard a rejection, he knew to respond one way. If a prospect had a question, he’d respond another way.
“If I reflect back to those days, I would characterize it as more mechanical.”
While no one at his job told him he couldn’t be his authentic self in sales, he thought he needed to shun the voice he developed as a bartender and server to succeed.
“If I reflect back to those days, I would characterize it as more mechanical,” said Brown, who is now the senior director of global sales at Seismic. “I was very successful, but I didn’t necessarily feel like I was bringing my whole self to the world.”
That all changed in 2014 when his manager at a new job encouraged him to have more fun and be himself on sales calls. Slowly, he rediscovered the voice from his bartending days and started differentiating himself as a salesperson.
Ultimately, mastering a sales technique isn’t just about knowing what to do — it’s about finding your voice while doing it. It takes time and practice, added Chris Kosrow, who’s a sales manager at Showpad.
We spoke with Kosrow, Brown, Outreach Corporate AE Clara Hughes and Yottaa Enterprise AE Nathan Crafts about the techniques they find most useful in sales and how they make those techniques their own.
11 Sales Techniques to Know
- Focus on smart questions as much as smart answers.
- Practice transparent negotiating.
- Be curious about prospects and their companies during your outreach.
- Respond to rejection with curiosity.
- Use interesting content to build social engagement.
- Kick off your discovery calls with a hypothesis slide.
- Use short calls to check in with your “champion.”
- Create an account plan for each prospect that tracks each step of the sales journey.
- Ditch the script on demo calls.
- Cultivate multiple relationships on an account.
- Take care of your mental health.
DeJuan Brown, Sr. Director of Global Sales, Seismic
In Brown’s role at Seismic, he sells to C-level sales and marketing executives at global companies like IBM, Cisco and American Express. He looks at sales techniques as a framework to work from, rather than a formula to use.
Be Curious During Your Outreach
Every sales rep knows that, the more genuine and personalized their outreach is, the more likely a prospect is to respond. The challenge, however, lies in doing it consistently with every prospect. This is where curiosity comes into play.
Brown views curiosity as the framework upon which all outreach and discovery calls are built. It’s not a natural skill either, but a technique that needs to be developed over time. To grow that skill, Brown suggests reading a blog post or listening to a podcast from a specific prospect’s company and reflecting on what you learned from it. Then, challenge yourself to list the questions the content didn’t answer.
“We’re all left with questions that went unanswered by the thing we read or listened to.... Let’s ask that question.”
Those “I wonder” statements become the heart of personal outreach. The sales rep can reference what they found engaging about the content and ask about what they want to learn from the buyer.
“This is not a facade,” Brown said. “We’re all left with questions that went unanswered by the thing we read or listened to.... Let’s ask that question. That then becomes the expression of true curiosity in its rawest form.”
Respond to Rejection With Curiosity
Curiosity doesn’t end with the discovery call. Brown has found it’s a useful mentality when dealing with rejection too. If a prospect decides the product isn’t right for them, the best thing a sales rep can do is respond with a question. In this case, it’s often simplest to just ask, “What do you mean?” or, “May I ask you to say more?”
“If you can get behind the veil of the objection, then perhaps there’s a conversation to be had.”
But the question has to come from a place of genuine curiosity, Brown said. If you ask, “What do you mean?” in a perfunctory way, it can come off as defensive or create friction. However, if you are genuinely interested in the prospect’s response, they’re more likely to respond with more information that might end up uncovering a new opportunity.
“If you can get behind the veil of the objection, then perhaps there’s a conversation to be had,” Brown said. “Alternatively, there may not be. But taking the objections at face value without a curious mind will probably be less than ideal in terms of your outcomes.”
Use Interesting Content to Make New Connections
Social selling has become one of the most important tools in a sales rep’s repertoire for building relationships. As email inboxes become cluttered with automated pitches and cold calls get screened to voicemail, LinkedIn and Twitter remain one of the few places a rep can engage with buyers. The best way to do that is to aggregate stories and start sparking conversations, Brown said.
“People in the space I’m in are also curious or they have answers ... so we get conversations going on social.”
Brown found success using a news app like Flipboard to find stories that were relevant to his audience of buyers. From there, he uses a social media distribution app to schedule his posts with regularity. But the key to making it all work is curiosity.
When Brown shares a story, he’ll accompany it with a question. Because of that, people end up gravitating toward his posts, and he’s able to use that as a jumping-off point for connections.
“People in the space I’m in are also curious or they have answers ... so we get conversations going on social,” Brown said. “That’s what most people call engagement. I just get to have more conversations about the things I’m interested in and the things I know my people are interested in.”
Chris Kosrow, Sales Manager, Showpad
Before moving into a sales manager role, Kosrow worked as a mid-market account executive. To him, the best way to find your sales voice is to listen to your own calls and practice new techniques with a peer or manager.
Ask the Question Behind the Question
There’s a tendency in sales to have an answer for every question the customer has during discovery or a demo, but often, the best reps differentiate themselves with the questions they ask rather than with clever responses. To that end, Kosrow believes there are two questions every sales rep should have in their repertoire — “What else?” and “How do you mean?”
Both questions can help a sales rep clarify a customer’s intentions and create a more engaging conversation. Kosrow’s team picked the technique up during a training session by the firm Winning by Design.
The first question, “What else?” can initiate conversation after a presentation or an answer to a customer’s question, Kosrow said. It’s a more effective version of the close-ended question, “Does that make sense?” which almost always gets a “yes” response and kills the conversation. By asking, “What else would you like to know?” or, “What else were you hoping to find out about ‘XYZ’?” the prospect is compelled to respond with more clarifying questions or to summarize the points that mattered the most to them, Kosrow said.
Meanwhile, the question, “How do you mean?” helps a sales rep clarify any questions they don’t fully understand. It’s less confrontational than “I don’t understand,” and it encourages the customer to go into more detail about what they want to learn, Kosrow said. This helps the rep respond with information that the buyer actually wants to know, rather than with what the rep thinks they want to know.
Practice Transparent Negotiating
Negotiating can sometimes feel like a game of poker, where both parties hide their cards until the very end to get a better deal. Transparent negotiation, which Kosrow learned from sales consultant Todd Caponi, helps ease the tension and create a smoother deal-making process.
“It’s a very clear line in the sand, and it just helps you to be super, super direct in your negotiations.”
Kosrow does this by showing the customer a slide of all the discounts he can offer up front and what he requires in return. The discounts might require the buyer to purchase more licenses of the product, to sign a longer-term deal or to sign faster. In laying out the deals upfront, the customer knows what they need to do if they want a discount, and Kosrow isn’t put in a position to provide a discount he isn’t comfortable with.
“It’s a very clear line in the sand, and it just helps you to be super, super direct in your negotiations,” he said.
Clara Hughes, Corporate AE, Outreach
Hughes sells to sales leaders at companies ranging in size from 250 to 2,500 employees. Her sales techniques focus on helping people embrace change.
Kick Off Your Discovery Calls With a Hypothesis Slide
One of Hughes’ favorite parts of sales is seeing the change a customer undergoes when they purchase the product. Of course, change is also what a buyer is most resistant to in the first meeting.
To convince a prospect that the work it takes to purchase and adopt her product is worth it, she has to build credibility. And the way she does that is with a hypothesis slide in her sales deck.
“Nine times out of 10, when I come with my hypothesis talk track prepared, the conversation goes in a way that promotes next steps in the sales cycle.”
The hypothesis slide is the first item on her talk track. This is where she incorporates all of the research she’s done on the buyer’s company and where she thinks Outreach can help. She may include data from the company’s 10K report or a quote from the CEO during a podcast about how the company plans to grow its revenue. She’ll put that information alongside the photo of her prospect and a note about what she believes the prospect’s role and responsibilities include. At the end, she’ll include a theory of how Outreach can help them in that process.
The slide doesn’t require any additional work beyond what she’s already doing to prepare for the discovery call. However, by presenting it as a hypothesis, the buyer either believes it’s spot on and is ready to learn more, or they’ll steer her in the right direction.
“Nine times out of 10, when I come with my hypothesis talk track prepared, the conversation goes in a way that promotes next steps in the sales cycle,” Hughes said. “Sales leaders love to know they’re important and their org is important and that we can add value to it.”
Leverage Your Champion with Half Calls
One of the biggest professional challenges for Hughes during the pandemic has been maintaining momentum on deals. Keeping the deal moving has always been a challenge when selling into enterprise companies with drawn-out buying processes, but it’s become more difficult as those same firms deal with the uncertainty that’s come with COVID-19.
So, Hughes turned to having weekly “half calls” with her champion. The champion is an employee at the buying company who is committed to the product and willing to promote it internally. She uses the weekly half call to prepare her champion for upcoming events and catch up on any internal changes within the company she needs to be aware of.
“It gets me to the right people, it gives me insight that I may not have asked for if I didn’t have that relationship and it helps me stay on top of timing.”
She typically sets up the meeting via text and has a specific topic in mind to discuss, whether that’s gathering more metrics to a high-level goal or going over the slides in an upcoming meeting. The frequent communication helps her build trust with the champion and gauge the deal’s progress.
“It gets me to the right people, it gives me insight that I may not have asked for if I didn’t have that relationship and it helps me stay on top of timing,” Hughes said.
Create an Account Plan
There’s more to sales than just building relationships. The best reps also keep meticulous notes on their prospects and where they’re at in the deal. To aid with that, Hughes suggests maintaining an account plan for top-tier accounts. The account plan can be built on a spreadsheet and includes important information about the company, key stakeholders and a 30-60-90-day plan.
“It helps me take previous knowledge of what worked and what didn’t into new accounts that I want to get out in front of.”
The plan helps her identify who she needs to speak with at each stage and acts as a checklist to make sure she isn’t missing any steps in the deal cycle. She’ll then take detailed notes throughout the process, which she refers back to for plays to run on future deals.
“It helps me take previous knowledge of what worked and what didn’t into new accounts that I want to get out in front of,” Hughes said.
Nathan Crafts, Enterprise AE, Yottaa
Crafts sells to people in marketing, e-commerce and IT roles within Fortune 500 e-commerce companies. Early in his career, Crafts tried to read as many sales methodology books as possible. While he was drawn to the psychology behind sales, he learned that psychological tricks alone would lead to a high turnover in deals. For him, the key is to take the time to add your own voice to the conversation and relate to buyers.
Ditch the Script on Demo Calls
If there’s one thing Crafts has learned selling remotely, it’s that buyers are tired of sales decks ... and listening to rehearsed scripts ... and Zoom calls. The best way to keep a buyer’s attention during a virtual call is to approach it like you would a conversation with someone at a bar, Craft said.
“It’s hard sometimes to shed the costume or front that we put on everyday as salespeople. Remember, we’re speaking with people when we engage.”
To set up a more inviting atmosphere, Crafts suggests setting the cameras default to “off” for the buyer. That way, they have the choice to make it a video call or to keep it off. From there, he tries to make his discovery conversational. He’ll try to find common ground with the prospect based on the research he’s done and perhaps ask them questions about what made them take the call. This helps create a natural entry point into a conversation and alleviates some of the formality that comes with a virtual sales call.
“We need to be human,” Crafts said. “It’s hard sometimes to shed the costume or front that we put on everyday as salespeople. Remember, we’re speaking with people when we engage.”
Cultivate Multiple Relationships Within an Account
When Crafts sells into enterprise companies, he tries to build a relationship with someone in the product-user tier, the manager tier and at the leadership level. Since enterprise deals can have eight or more stakeholders involved, the multi-threaded sales approach ensures he’s addressing the needs of most people in the room to keep the deal on track.
The key to building those connections is to set up individual meetings with a person in each tier, Crafts said. When stakeholders are in group meetings, they’re not as likely to voice their concerns. So, he works with his champion to introduce him to their manager or to a senior leader. During those conversations, he’s able to understand what motivates them and what their KPIs are, which, in turn, helps him provide more relevant information about the product.
Ultimately, one champion is often not enough to close a deal. While they can be a useful ally, it’s important to broaden your reach within a company, Crafts said.
Take Care of Your Mental Health
There are so many situations in sales that are outside a rep’s control. No matter how engaging they are on the phone or how well-executed their pitch is, “No” is still the most common response reps will hear. That rejection can take a mental toll, which is why it’s important not to overlook maintaining your mental health, Crafts said.
“When you have a set routine, it gives you that feeling that you’re in control of your life when not everything is going your way.”
Crafts suggests sticking to a healthy routine that you can control. Every morning, he drinks water, walks his dog and then meditates for 20 minutes. He’ll then create an agenda of priorities for the day. After work, he’ll have dinner and go on a second walk. It’s a simple routine, but it gives him something he can control every day — which, in sales, can be a blessing.
“It’s easy to feel a little helpless, let down or discouraged at times,” Crafts said. “When you have a set routine, it gives you that feeling that you’re in control of your life when not everything is going your way.”