By Diana Berardocco

For a salesperson dealing with a complex sale, closing the deal can be like playing in the ‘red zone,’ said Jose Palomino, CEO of ValueProp Interactive, before an Institute for Excellence in Sales and Business Development (IES&BD) workshop audience on April 25, 2014.

The ‘red zone’ describes the area of the field where advancing the ball and ultimately scoring may be more difficult. Palomino contends that salespeople are not being equipped to handle pivotal sales conversations that take place in the ‘red zone’ well enough to close deals. He presented a comprehensive roadmap for mastering these more multi-layered conversations to a diverse group of sales and marketing professionals attending the IES&BD program in McLean, Virginia. The IES&BD hosts monthly meetings to bring world-class sales speakers and authors to the Mid-Atlantic region.

Palomino’s insights are based on recent interviews with high-level sales leaders across the country who are responsible for larger B2B sales teams. They were asked to identify areas that have the most significant impact on sales, and the gaps in their sales team’s skillset or training.

“I recently took over a team that had a good sales process in place – but when I started to dig, I found out why it wasn’t working: “They were doing the steps, but they were not having the real conversations with customers that they needed to have,” said a sales vice president in a business solutions company.

There was general consensus among the executives that sales personnel engage in certain conversational “buckets” with clients during the course of most complex sales. Palomino noted the areas that come up repeatedly could be described as:

  • The Business Conversation
  • The Financial Conversation
  • The Technical Conversation
  • The Competitive Conversation
  • The Risk Conversation

Palomino’s research unlocked other significant findings. Although most sales methodologies focus on how a salesperson should sell, sales vice presidents said it’s more important to know how the buyer buys, and to sell based on the buyer’s perspective.

Interviewees also told Palomino that there is a constant need for sales managers to be sales coaches. Many of the sales vice presidents indicated that while their managers often lack all the tools necessary to coach their representatives, they nonetheless needed their sales managers to take on their coaching responsibilities more aggressively.

With his research as a backdrop, Palomino asked the audience “What’s at stake?” Then he did the math. Even with only ten sales representatives scheduling five appointments each week, the math adds up to 50 appointments per week times 50 weeks, and 2,500 sales conversations per year.

But beyond the opportunity in the numbers is the challenge of dealing with the doubtful buyer. Doubtful buyers often cannot make a purchase decision while concerned about pivotal unresolved issues that arise in “red zone’ conversations. Indecision often accounts for the slipped deal. “These slipped deals usually go away and slip forever. Part of the reason is that something was unresolved and never clearly addressed,” Palomino emphasized.

He said sales personnel need a better roadmap. By making their case in five fundamental areas of concern – business, financial, technical, competitive, and risk – sales professionals help customer’s bridge the gap between doubt and confidence. Understanding and closing the gap is the key to winning in the ‘red zone.’

“This isn’t about scripting,” said Thomas Ellis, EWC Consultants, a sales coach and workshop attendee. “These are specific conversation buckets salespeople must know and prepare to manage for success.”

Palomino explained the multiple dimensions of each conversation type and how to translate the attributes of a sales offering into the language of decision makers.

For example, the technical conversation moves the customer from the question: “How will we manage and absorb your offering?” to “I understand how your offering fits our organization and people.” If your offering makes your client’s head hurt, it is not a positive sign, he said. You need to ask “How do I make this easy?” Explore issues that align your offering with your customer’s technical requirements and establish compatibility with the technical infrastructure. Clarify the client’s time needed to learn, implement, and absorb your offering, he advised.

Palomino noted that engagement in these dimensions involves three primary areas of preparation:

1. Know what you want to know.
2. Know what you need and don’t need to convey.
3. Know how to handle deeper objections.

Continuing with the football analogy, Palomino told the audience to elevate their game with practice. “The best

[football] players practice moves prior to the game so the moves become fluid in the midst of the game.” During an interactive session, attendees applied the conversation “buckets” concept Palomino described.

With practice and training on these empowering sales conversations, the client will believe you are fundamentally aligned with their interests, said Palomino. Sales professionals will be equipped with the conversational skills to anticipate concerns prospects want addressed. That leads to the desired destination: closing the deal.

Diana Berardocco is a strategic and marketing communications consultant who resides in Alexandria, Virginia.