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If you’re in sales, chances are the mere mention of “Glengarry Glen Ross” makes you roll your eyes. Countless times you’ve heard someone try to joke with you that coffee’s for closers, or first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. 

It’s just not that simple any longer: Customers have far more control in their relationship with salespeople than they used to. And the job of a salesperson has changed as a result. Data insights are empowering salespeople to be more prepared during the sales cycle and conversations with potential customers are more often than not done digitally, across multiple channels. With these changes have come a deluge of expectations. From the usage of technology to personalization, productivity and engagement, there is no shortage of new demands on salespeople, both from internal management and from prospects and customers. With that comes an uneven usage of time. According to Salesforce Research, nearly two-thirds of salespeoples’ time has become taken up by administrative tasks that have little to do with actually doing what matters: closing the sale.

Crafting a compelling sales pitch is hard enough, but actually closing a deal is becoming more about science and less about art. Luckily, Salesforce has the good fortune of thousands of successful salespeople with experience across a wide range of industries. I decided to ask them what they thought — go right to the source, if you will. Here is what they had to say.


1. Find the right person at the right time

Every salesperson has had the horrible experience of cultivating and nurturing a relationship and feeling like you’re making headway toward a close… only to realize at the last minute the person with whom you’ve been conversing doesn’t have the final purchasing power. That’s a fatal flaw and it represents hours lost. For Salesforce Senior Commercial Account Executive Alex Cook, avoiding this pitfall is a process of going wide and leveling up.

“Find out all the individuals that will need to be a part of the process and leverage your team to connect with them,” he says. “Create strategic executive relationships along the way, as sometimes C-level execs only want to chat with leadership to get a deal done.”

But sometimes even this isn’t enough on its own. If you’re not aware of your potential customer’s corporate calendar and product cycle, you might be a victim of bad timing. E.J. Drust, a Senior Program Executive at Salesforce's Customer Success Group, recommends anticipating your potential customer’s calendar: Vacations, procurement processes, internal bookings, deadlines, and other corporate milestones could delay or even derail a potential sale. 

Being the salesperson who requests a meeting at these inappropriate times isn’t a good look — it shows you don’t care enough to realize it wasn’t a good time to request a meeting. Conversely, when you respect those guardrails, it shows you’re listening and empathetic to your client’s situation rather than pushing your own agenda. Often, says Drust, this is as straightforward as having an “insider” — if not someone with whom you have a previous relationship, someone who is comfortable enough with you to coach you through these pitfalls, as well as provide an idea of who potential champions and detractors might be.


2. Focus on the pain points

You might be selling the best cogs and sprockets in the world. But none of that matters if you haven’t figured out a way to connect those cogs and sprockets to your potential customer’s specific needs — especially where his or her pain points are. Every prospective lead is obviously aware you’re selling something, and figures you’re ready to describe in great detail every single feature of the product or service you’re peddling. But it's about understanding the capabilities of your product or service this specific customer cares most about, and how they'll help solve their problems and leverage their opportunities rather than wasting their time running through an exhaustive list. Obviously that’s key to knowing your own business. But finding out the right fit is about much more than that. And it even goes beyond just forming and cultivating those real relationships with customers. It’s about doing your research and really understanding where there is an opportunity to help solve their problems.

Maybe your prospect has a weakness in the supply chain. Maybe it’s something as simple as antiquated technology. Maybe it’s something more complicated that has a buyer worried, like an employee trust issue. It’s entirely possible the product or service you’re selling doesn’t have an immediate fit with your prospect, but one might emerge over the course of working on your relationship with him.

“The key is aligning on the problem to be solved between buyer and seller,” says Commercial Account Executive Patrick Steele. “Most often it’s because something is broken, but it can be aspirational.”

Sometimes it’s even simpler than that: Someone’s livelihood may be at stake if he or she doesn’t hit a particular number, and rocking the boat with a sale might be the biggest barrier to entry. According to Salesforce Executive Vice President of Sales Denise Dresser, that involves identifying “the most senior-level executive whose job is on the line if the revenue goal or growth of a line of business or product doesn’t happen, and what are the consequences if that objective is not met by [a certain] time frame.”


3. Fix that pain point with empathy

This brings customer satisfaction into the equation. A global study from Salesforce Research shows that two-thirds of salespeople say this is now their key metric in the sales cycle, edging out meeting quotas. By realigning your goals and putting an emphasis on making the customer happy, you open yourself up to more meaningful interactions. 

“Empathy for their situation and perspective lead to authentic conversations,” says Director of Enterprise Agility Sangeeta Sastry. Once you’ve crossed into that territory, you’re not focused so much on selling them something useful — you’re focused on providing them a tool to fix a problem that is potentially threatening their business.


4. Tell a compelling story

How would William Shakespeare fare as a salesman? Maybe not as badly as you’d think. “Like a three-act play, a compelling pitch has a hook, an arc, and a close,” says Vice President for Strategic Research Peter Coffee. Of course a former journalist would provide a tip that focuses on the narrative — and is poetically phrased. But this is a fantastic way to frame the art of the pitch.


Up Next: How to Make a Good Sales Pitch: 8 Tips to Give You an Edge

Using case studies to sway a potential sale is a time-honored tradition, but not every salesperson is trained in how to tell a story in a way that relates to a potential customer. And the issue they often find is that a successful sales story doesn’t necessarily translate to your audience. Part of telling the right story is understanding who your audience is and what will resonate with them. In other words, isolate the hook — the pain point you’re solving with the product or service you’re selling them — and make sure it’s relatable. Put your customer in the hero role of being able to see herself in the story, and make her understand that your product can have that same effect.


5. Know when it’s a “no”

Obviously the best outcome you can hear in a sales pitch is “yes.” A “no” is painful, but it’s nowhere near as bad as a long “maybe,” which is almost always code for an eventual “no.” It’s usually easy to see the signs when they’re coming, and putting the dots together will save you a lot of time wasted in chasing an answer when the potential customer’s actions — like ignoring your emails, for instance — are already giving you one. 

But that gray area is often the best opportunity to rethink your approach and figure out what exactly is giving your client pause. And that’s where you can be most effective in swaying them back toward your pitch, says Cook.

“In every deal I do, I focus on the reasons they wouldn't do business with us and attack those,” he explains. “I don't lose sight of the value we're bringing, but I want to defuse any possible landmines and competitor fodder with well-placed value statements based on what I know about the prospect.”

Often this involves having a playbook of potential objections a customer might raise, which could range from a lack of knowledge to preference for a legacy product. There are ways around all of these. You can collaborate with your sales team on this tactic and lean on your experience of what you’ve heard in previous sales, as well as what you already know about your potential customers.


6. Put on your listening hat

If you’re doing most of the talking, chances are you aren’t going to close the deal — and you’re not doing enough listening to understand your opportunity. According to Salesforce’s State of Sales report, “listening” is the top-cited factor that has a substantial or extreme impact in converting a prospect into a customer, according to sales reps and executives. Other factors that might be considered “traditional” KPIs — such as showing industry knowledge or demonstrating ROI — rank much further down the list. Preparation is great, but listening to your prospective customer will give you a much better understanding of the opportunity, as opposed to making a better pitch. It’s why we have two ears and just one mouth.

“Be real,” says Commercial Account Executive Alvin Hossana. “Being genuine will showcase your passion for wanting to solve [buyers’] issues — i.e. rather than being there selling to them — that you care about solving their pain for more than a commission check.”

Obviously, every sales opportunity is unique and has its own nuances. But utilizing some of these tips will make you better at understanding how to close the deal. For more tips and information from Salesforce experts, there’s loads of resources on Trailhead in the Build Your Sales Career section. I often say, “If you aren’t willing to invest in yourself and hone your craft, how can you expect others to?” You can never arm yourself with too much knowledge.

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