Why selling doesn’t work – and listening will generate more new business

For some, the word selling conjures up uncomfortable images of persuasion, manipulation and control – having to manage a conversation with a prospect to such an extent that you get them to the signed contract before they’ve had time to draw breath.

For others, selling is a word they loathe with a passion, often because they hate being sold to – and this puts them off the whole principle of sales for life.

Does the idea of having to ‘sell’ leave you cold?

For another, wider group – people who’ve never been involved in sales, introverts, gentler souls, non-people people, technical industry specialists, the less-confident – well, the word selling just leaves them cold.

The great news is you don’t have to be able to sell to get more new business.

In fact, it actively helps if you don’t.

What you do have to do, is to listen. And you do have to help.

In my first ever iteration as a somewhat reluctant New Business Director, I tried selling, and it didn’t work for me.

My firm hired someone to support me, an outsourced sales consultant with a job description not that unlike mine now (yikes!), but his way just wasn’t my way.

Not convinced that new business is just a numbers game?

His way of generating more new business was a numbers game, a cold-calling game, a ‘keep on banging the phones and you’ll get there’ game.

So I tried it, (hard to think why, now, but I did, because I was new to this) – but it just didn’t sit right with me. And it didn’t work. I couldn’t see how this approach fitted with us being able to charge what our services were actually worth – and what we needed to charge, to survive.

That was 11 years ago, and meanwhile I was being paid to get more new business in. So I had to find another way.

How a mentor helped to get me started

I began with finding a mentor – one that understood me, understood the world of higher-value professional services, one with the same values as me.

I only spent one day with this guy (if you’re interested, he’s Blair Enns, of Win Without Pitching, a Canadian guy who teaches marketing agencies how to win new clients without giving away their creative for free), and he cost £1,000. Plus VAT, probably.

£1,000 was a lot to pay for a day’s training, 11 years ago, and it still seems a lot now.

But if you balance that against grasping the vital principles of what you need to know and do to become a truly sustainable thought-leader in your own niche – one that your clients and prospects will turn to for advice, support and consultancy – then it no longer feels like a lot to pay at all.

It feels like a real bargain.

And suddenly, it wasn’t about selling any more.

It was all about becoming an expert in our own space, and about being a valuable, helpful resource for our prospects and clients.

‘And so, any conversation or communication that I might need to have with a prospect – by phone, email, blog, on the website, a newsletter etc. – I simply needed to make sure that we were being that resource.

To me, that sounded eminently do-able. And it fitted with my own values.

Be helpful? Be a valuable resource? How exactly?

I know where to start, I thought. Let’s begin with writing stuff that answers the types of questions our clients ask us.

Bearing in mind we were highly experienced in healthcare marketing already….

  • Let’s explain and unwrap the mysteries of the NHS buying structure for all those companies trying to sell into the NHS.
  • Let’s carry out a survey into GPs preferred methods of communication and ways of learning about new healthcare services, and share that with clients or prospects.
  • Let’s run workshops for marketing directors on who buys what in private hospitals, and how.
  • Let’s create a calendar of relevant events that would be useful to attend to people selling into the NHS…

What to do became so much clearer and simpler. And thus, easier.

So that was the comms sorted.

But more importantly, this ‘don’t sell, listen’ approach was especially relevant in the most powerful form of communication in the buying cycle, which is a face-to-face discussion.

Cripes – a sales meeting !

Once upon a time, I would have worried about how I would sell my firm to a prospect at a meeting.

  • What would my 60 second elevator pitch sound like?
  • Would I be able to get across the breadth and depth of all that we did if we only had 20 minutes together?
  • How would I persuade them to give us the work?

To do this, I really needed a crutch or two as well.

The wrong way to handle meetings to get more new business

It was all about how beautiful my PowerPoint presentation was and whether our designer had remembered to put in the logo of Brand X that we were now working with.better sales meetings

Had they changed the 4th bullet point down on Page 12 of the creds deck (marketing agency slang for credentials presentation)?

Would I remember to name-drop our biggest client Brand Y and its billion pound turnover, just to impress them?

Looking back, I can see why I did it. Because it was all that I knew, and it was how everyone else was doing it when I went to meetings at a more junior level.

But boy, can I now see why I stopped doing it…

A better way to handle meetings to get more new business

Forget sales meeting, and think helping meeting.

You’re just there to help your customer, or prospect. The thing to do is to go, listen very carefully and very actively – and then ask really good questions.

You simply focus on what your customer actually needs and then give them as much advice, support and help as you can – anything that brings them closer to being able to solve their problem.

Connect with your clients in their world

By asking smart, relevant questions, you automatically position yourself as an expert that understands the problem they’ve got. You’ll be connecting with them in their world, using their language.

By listening carefully to the answers, you’ll be able to identify immediate gaps in their knowledge and their ability to fix it themselves.

This is where your company comes in. If these gaps are something your firm is really good at plugging, then you can move on to talk about ways you’ve solved these problems before, for companies similar to theirs.

The challenges you’ve tackled, approaches you’ve used, lessons you’ve learned.

So you’re busy giving away your knowledge for free – for two reasons.

  1. Because you think it’s the right thing to do.
  2. And because in doing the right thing, you will attract more new clients.

You can even lead them into the early stages of a briefing, so they begin to feel that they’ve invested time and energy into you – because you are being proactively helpful in getting them to think clearly about what the problem is.

And lo! – no longer do you need a PowerPoint. In fact, you need a lot less.

  • No ‘all about you’ creds deck
  • No big 60″ pitch
  • No name-dropping
  • No showing off
  • No persuading
  • No talking about all the different services you can provide if needed

What you do need to do in a sales meeting

You do, however, need to know your onions. And your business. And your topic. And your client. You do need to:

  • Research the client and the individual you’re meeting properly
    • Website, Google any PR, news stories
    • LinkedIn profile, previous job history, background and what they (claim to) care about
  • Research the client’s clients
    • This will help tell you what they really care about, which will be doing their job properly in order to deliver products and services that make their clients happy
  • Find out about other suppliers they use in your area
    • Just Googling ‘case studies [services] [client name]’ can bring up interesting results
  • Prepare questions for your meeting
    • Sounds obvious, but amazing how rarely I see this happen

Role of case studies in a client meeting

As you dig deeper with your (brilliantly considered, carefully articulated) questions, this is where case studies come in. Or if not at this meeting, then at the next one.

You can quickly demonstrate how, time and time again, you’ve successfully solved the same problems for similar clients, using an organised methodology or process – with tangible results and outcomes.

With testimonials and invitations to talk to satisfied clients, you can reassure your prospect that they would be in safe hands. That you’ve done this lots of times before.

And it’s worked every time.

A big but

So, this isn’t about selling. This is about helping your clients.

BUT. The only way you will be helping them is when you know in your heart of hearts that you are the right supplier for them – and they’re the right client for you. You know you can add value, and that what they need is what you really do.

If they’re asking for things you’ve never done before – but you’re sure you could if you try (how hard can it be?), or if you go and find a partner to hook up with, or call in some clever subcontractors – ask yourself this question.

Are you really helping them, or are you helping yourself?

You’re only helping when you’re being honest

By honestly telling prospects, when you’ve identified their problems clearly, that you’re not necessarily the right people to help – you are being helpful.

Even better, you might be able point them in the direction of someone who can.

And for that, you will be remembered.

Remembered for what you actually do best, and for helping them find the right supplier when it wasn’t you they were looking for.

Well, that’s what I believe – and it’s always worked for me.

If this sounds like the way you want your firm to go about winning new business, just give me a call and we can have a chat about how to make that happen. I’m a senior-level, freelance sales and marketing consultant based in Hampshire, UK.

Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Am I the right person to help?


Call me on 07827 297569.

It’s the quickest way to find out whether I can help you. And whether I’m the right fit for you. If I am, the next step is a face-to-face meeting.

Get in touch