How to Make Prospect Conversations Easier (and Land More Clients) with the ‘Selling Staircase’

This post originally appeared on High Income Business Writing, and it is republished with permission.

Many writers dread having discovery calls with new prospects.

Discovery calls are those first conversations you have with prospects where you discuss their need, their specific project … and hopefully, your fee.

Writers dread these conversations for two big reasons:

First, they don’t know what to say, and they worry they’ll say the wrong thing.

Second, they don’t know how to lead the conversation and increase the chances that the prospect will say yes.

In today’s podcast episode, I’m joined by Nikki Rausch. Nikki is a sales coach, author, speaker and founder of Sales Maven.

After 25 years of selling to such prestigious organizations as The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Hewlett-Packard, and NASA, Nikki traded in her road warrior status to help entrepreneurs sell in a way that creates true connections and results in more closed deals.

Nikki’s approach to this discovery call is well aligned with my own, and I learned a lot from her ideas and insights.

Tell us about yourself and your business 

Nikki is founder and CEO of Sales Maven. She teaches people how to get comfortable with the sales conversation. Nikki has over 25 years of sales experience and a background in neuro-linguistic programming.

You say the selling process is often misunderstood. What do people get wrong about it? 

People often think that selling is something you do TO someone. It’s actually something you do WITH someone.

When you sell WITH someone, it doesn’t feel manipulative. It’s to their benefit.

When you sell WITH someone, instead of TO someone, the process doesn’t feel manipulative.

You don’t need to be pushy, aggressive or push on people’s pain points to make the sale. Trying to shame or convince people to buy is a waste of time and degrades the relationship.

You don’t have to be a charming, quick-witted extrovert to sell. Everyone can find a way to sell that works for them.

Many of my listeners are introverted or shy. How can they get comfortable with selling?

It helps if you have a pre-defined process that you can follow.

Nikki’s five-step framework for sales:

  1. Introduction
  2. Curiosity
  3. Discovery or consultation
  4. Proposal
  5. Close

Let’s look at a typical scenario: You get an inbound lead over email, and they ask for your rate for an ebook.

When a lead comes to you, you’re in the discovery phase of the process. Because they reached to you, you have their permission to get more information.

If all of your inbound leads start with the question, “What is your price…?” then it can help to put some pricing on your website.

Sales conversations should have a balance of power. The person who asks the questions has the power, so neither you nor the prospect should ask all the questions.

At the start of the call, you should pre-frame what is going to happen during that call.

It can go something like this:

“Thanks so much for your interest…. The goal of our call today is to find out what’s going on for you and see if we have a solution…. These calls usually take xx minutes, does that work with your schedule…? Is it okay if I ask you a couple of questions?”

Have your questions prepared so you can see if this would be a good client for you and if you have a solution that would work for them.

If someone asks for your price straight away, you can give a range. To give a more precise price, ask for a phone call.

“Ebooks can range from $xx to $xx. In order to give a custom quote, we’ll need to have a quick conversation. Would you be open to setting a time to chat?”

Nikki recommends giving three possible meeting times.

“If you like this idea, I’ve listed a few possible times below. Please pick one that works best with your schedule.

Monday, anytime between xx and xxx.

Tuesday, anytime between xx and xxx.

Thursday, anytime between xx and xxx.

If you prefer something else, please let me know what works for you and I’ll do my best to be available.”

Nikki prefers this method over having a calendar scheduling link because the language around scheduling links often make it all about you and your availability — and not the prospective client.

Once they select a time, you do the work of sending them a calendar link.

A lot of writers shy away from talking about money during the discovery call. What questions can they ask to get the information they need?

It’s hard to put together a proposal if you don’t have the money conversation.

You can ask in different ways:

“What is your budget?”

“What have you budgeted?”

“Ebooks tend to range between $xx and $xx. Do you already have an idea of what you’re looking to spend?”

You need to have this conversation before you put a lot of time into developing a quote.

Talk money with prospective clients before you put time into developing a proposal.

What can you do to make the close feel more organic?

Once you’ve completed the discovery phase, you can ask permission to move to the proposal step.

“Based on what you’ve shared, I have an idea of a project that would give you what you need. Are you interested in learning more about it?”

If they say yes, you can lay out the offer. You’ve gotten their permission.

When you put together the proposal, you can give them several options. As the expert, you need to recommend what you think they NEED, not what you think they can afford.

Present the most expensive package first, but recommend the one that fits the best.

People don’t want to be upsold to a more expensive option. But at the same time, they need to understand what they’re giving up with less expensive options.

When you get permission to send them a proposal, you HAVE to say:

“Great! I’ll have that proposal to you by xxxx. Let’s schedule a circle-back call to review the proposal and answer any additional questions you may have.”

Attempt to get that call on their calendar before you get off the phone. If you don’t, they may never make a decision.

What do we need to say during that circle back call?

  1. “Have you looked over the proposal?”
  1. “What questions do you have?”
  1. “Are you ready to move forward with this?” or “Should we move forward with this?”

Stop talking once you’ve asked that last question.

Where can listeners learn more about you? 

Nikki’s website: www.yoursalesmaven.com

Nikki’s book and ebook:

Nikki’s book The Selling Staircase teaches the five steps of the sales process. You can find it anywhere books are sold.

Nikki also has an ebook, Closing the Sale, which focuses on the last step of the selling process.

Listeners of this podcast can get a copy of the ebook for free at https://yoursalesmaven.com/HIBW

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