Sales success: Talk the prospect’s language

By Jim Kendall

This column originally appeared in the April 13, 2015 Daily Herald

                Conventional wisdom says most entrepreneurs would rather review production spreadsheets or polish their consulting concepts than make a sales call. Assuming for the moment that conventional wisdom is correct, it’s not surprising the dialogues Tom Latourette has often go like this:

“I had great conversations with them,” a business owner will say. “We talked for three months. I gave them a proposal. Then they went dark. They didn’t return my calls.

“Finally they told me they decided to work with someone else.”

“When that happens often enough,” Latourette says, “the (business owner’s) question becomes, ‘Is there another way?’”

Apparently there is, at least if you listen to Latourette. Based in Mount Prospect, he is Midwest managing partner of M3 Learning Inc., a Saratoga, CA sales support company. His task is to help the rest of us become better salespersons.

“No matter what line of work you’re in, you’re selling,” says John McIlwain, vice president-advancement at Aspire, an organization whose mostly west suburban facilities provide services for children and adults with developmental disabilities.

To sell successfully, however, “You have to know who you’re talking to, find out about their situation and adapt your message,” McIlwain says.

“What we know isn’t important until we know what’s important to the prospect,” Latourette says. Consequently, he suggests some pre-selling research – perhaps on your prospect’s competition, industry issues or product concerns – that can help you frame a more focused message.

The goal is to prepare yourself to lead the sales discussion.

“What I learned was how to flip the conversation,” McIlwain says. Flipping the conversation allows you, the salesperson, to understand a prospect’s concerns and flip the discussion to your positive sales message.

Denise Gierach adapts the Latourette approach and asks targets, “If we’re talking three years from now, what has to have happened for you to be a success?” The answer gives Gierach, managing partner of the Gierach Law Firm, Naperville, information she needs to steer the conversation toward the legal services her firm offers. “How do I help them reach their goal?” is her business-building thought process.

McIlwain and Gierach clearly have paid attention to Latourette.

Like many sales consultants, Latourette takes varying approaches to sales success. One of the most interesting is his theory that selling must be both above and below the line.

“There are two sales you must make,” Latourette explains. The first he labels a technical buyer sale – for example, the product manager charged with fixing a problem your company can help fix. The other sale, above the line in Latourette’s scenario, is to the product manager’s boss, who likely must approve the sale.

However, the boss’ typically more comfortable role “is to solve business cases,” Latourette says. “It’s almost a different language.” The research Latourette suggests will make it easier to talk the boss’ language – and ultimately turn the conversation to the benefits of your problem-solving abilities.


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