Controlling sales conversations: 3 steps to keep your sales calls on track

by Crystal Williams

Imagine yourself telling a difficult prospect, “You've enlisted my expertise and you've rejected it to go on the way you've been going. I'm not interested in that.” Before you can walk away, the once reluctant prospect is now anxious to do business with you.

Don Draper effortlessly pulled off those killer lines on the hit show Mad Men. However, when faced with a difficult prospect in real life, what should you do?

The fact 80% of business is lost to no decision at all implies most salespeople aren’t good at leading conversations. In sales, you must guide the prospect to a clear decision. Yes or no is good; indecision will kill you.

The key to controlling any sales call is to have a clear goal beforehand, ask questions, use friendly strength and know how to deal with prospects who:

  • Refuse to answer questions
  • Have an endless amount of objections
  • Delay the sale by saying they’ll buy soon

Let’s break down how to lead every sales call with power.

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1. Start with a clear goal

Deals aren’t won or lost during the call. Before you even pick up the phone, your mindset determines the outcome.

Before any important call, ask yourself: Why am I calling? What do I want to accomplish? How am I going to accomplish this?

Your first response to “Why am I calling?” might be superficial: “I’m calling because the prospect is in my pipeline.” Go deeper. Ask yourself “why?” four more times to discover your higher purpose.

Next, determine, “What do I want to accomplish?” Visualize your goal in detail.

Finally, figure out “How am I going to accomplish this?” Vision without a plan is just a dream—outline the exact steps.

These questions will empower you to lead the sales call with clarity.

2. Ask your prospects questions and listen

Ask yourself questions to find your purpose. Ask your prospect questions to control the conversation.

When you ask questions during a call, you uncover your prospect’s needs and enable them to find their own solutions.

While the wrong questions will turn you into a passive listener, the right questions will allow you to direct the conversation. Here's how to ask powerful sales questions.

3. Use friendly strength

Finally, take charge of the call with friendly strength.

When you’re selling, don’t be a wolf or a lamb. While prospects don’t want to be strong-armed into a deal, neither do they want to work with unopinionated doormats.   

Instead, use friendly strength. Listen to your prospect’s needs. Use your expertise to lead the call. Challenge their thinking.   

In fact, challenging your prospect is good: "More than 53% of what drives B2B customers’ purchase decisions is the salesperson’s ability to teach the customers something new or challenge their thinking."

Create win-wins for you and your prospect with friendly strength.

How to take control of a call with difficult prospects

At this point, you have a clear goal and understand the importance of asking questions and using friendly strength. Now, we’ll cover the exact things you should say to a difficult prospect.

The prospect refuses to answer your questions

According to researchers, “The typical B2B customer is 57% along in the purchase decision before they engage directly with any supplier.” This can negatively shift the power dynamics in a sales conversation. In some cases, the prospect will refuse to answer any questions.

If you’re faced with this situation, here’s how to regain control of the call:

  1. Make a supporting statement: “In a typical vendor and buyer relationship, that’s a really good process, and it’s served you well.”
  2. Re-frame the issue: “But we like to be more than just a vendor. We actually want to be a partner.”
  3. Make your case: “In order to be a partner, it’s important we understand the needs of our software users.”
  4. Sell an additional benefit of green-lighting your questions: “I suggest we take just five minutes to explore how our product relates to your needs. This will either make the next 45 minutes more productive or save both of us a lot of time if we discover we’re not the right fit.”
  5. Transition into your first question (without waiting for permission): “Does that sound fair? I have three crucial questions that will influence the way I present our product.”

If the prospect still refuses to answer questions, either sell the way they want to buy or walk away.

The prospect has an endless amount of objections

What if you have the opposite problem—a prospect with a ton of objections?

First, let them talk themselves empty. Don’t argue—listen.

Once they’re finished, ask them, "Out of everything you mentioned, what's a deal-breaker, what's important, and what's nice-to-have?" Focus on managing the deal-breaking objections.

Follow up by asking, “If we could address these particular things, would you consider us the right solution?"

If they say no, ask, “What else do you need?”

Until you address their deal-breakers and important requirements, ignore the nice-to-haves. Concentrate on the main issues.

The prospect delays by saying they will buy soon

I’ll buy soon” is a hidden minefield. The conversation might’ve appeared successful but “unexpected” issues will keep popping up, delaying the deal indefinitely.

Be direct with the prospect: “Is there anything that could threaten our partnership or prevent this contract being signed?”

This will help you:

  • Identify obstacles to stopping the deal
  • Confirm the prospect’s commitment to buying
  • Close the deal faster

If the prospect still isn’t ready to buy, discover why. If you can solve the issue, solve it. If you can’t, end the call by restating your interest in making the deal happen and what the next steps should be.

Control the call, control the sale

Before any call, remember to ask yourself “Why? What? How?” Having a purpose and game plan will give you focus. Then, ask questions, listen, and use friendly strength to control the call.

Whether the prospect is tight-lipped, contentious, or delaying, the same principles apply. The only thing that will change is the type of questions you ask.

If the prospect still refuses to compromise, walk away. Find another prospect who appreciates your expertise and create win-wins.

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Recommended reading:

How to captivate your prospect's attention
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How to deal with hostile and aggressive prospects
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