In his book Proactive Selling: Control the Process – Win the Sale, American sales management expert William “Skip” Miller says that successful salespeople “are proactive and always think one step ahead, and therefore they pull to control the buy/sell process.” Miller argues that proactive sales techniques provide the sales rep with the opportunity to see the deal from both points of view, giving them the power to control the transaction and close it more easily.
Being more proactive about the way companies deal with leads in the sales process could bring big rewards. Forrester found that the first viable vendor to reach a decision maker and to lay out a buying vision has a 74% average close rate. And sales teams have a 56% greater chance of hitting their sales quotas if they contact buyers before they approach sellers, according to the Sales Benchmark Index.
What is proactive selling?
Proactive selling is a method of sales where the rep takes the initiative in the deal, rather than waiting for the customer to approach them or respond to proposals. The salesperson holds control of the process and guides the customer accordingly, instead of settling into their rhythm and thought processes.
Sales professionals using proactive methods tend to inform potential customers that they have a solution to a problem that they may not have even yet realised they have. This is often achieved through such methods as:
Why proactive sales techniques matter
Being able to anticipate people’s needs, worries and pain points makes customers feel valued and understood. This can build a bond of trust that can lead to a higher closing rate of your sales process.
When you are proactive, you have the answers to their questions before they have asked them. This shows that you, as a salesperson, have a good knowledge of their niche and it’s beneficial when it comes to them deciding between vendors.
The benefits of proactive sales techniques include:
Taking control of the deal
When you lead the conversation, you have control. This allows you to dictate what happens and when. You don’t leave viable deals waiting and you make sure that you are always working with the lead to advance matters.
Shorter sales cycles
By taking control of the deal, you can move it through your sales pipeline more efficiently and cut your sales cycle. You get in front of decision makers more quickly and you don’t have to wait for the prospect to get back to you at each stage. You are in control of the speed.
A more strategic approach
Proactive selling requires extensive research on the prospect so that you can engage them with your insight into their industry and requirements. Understanding those micro factors that affect and inform their decision-making helps you work out more strategic methods of selling.
Reactive sales vs proactive sales
|Reactive sales||Proactive sales|
|Salesperson waits for the prospect to approach them with questions or requests.||Salesperson approaches the prospect directly and preempts the questions they need to know the answers to.|
|Work within the prospect’s timeline||Work to the sales team’s timeline|
|Rely on information given by the prospect||Utilise research and data uncovered before approaching the prospect|
|Wait for requests from prospects||Implement sales strategies using research|
|Lead opens the conversation||Sales rep opens the conversation|
Seven techniques for proactive selling
1. Do your research
Proactive selling is all about research, as you need to be able to preempt what the prospect is going to ask and request. If you are going to approach a prospect, you have to know as much about their industry, concerns and requirements as possible.
In addition, you can use sites like LinkedIn to find out more about the company and individual you are going to talk to. Any additional piece of knowledge you can add to your arsenal going into a pitch helps you to tailor your strategy to the particular customer and make them feel like you are selling just to them and addressing their problems, rather than churning out a generic script.
From this research, you can shape the conversation to move towards the point you would like to reach by the end of the meeting. Use the information you have uncovered to create a narrative that takes you closer to closing the deal.
2. Start conversations
Being proactive is all about taking the initiative and that means starting conversations with prospects. Many sales come from responding to enquiries from potential customers, that is true, but you can also close more deals by seeking out leads before they realise they are leads.
This means seeking out prospects with the right profile for your product or service and making the first move to tell them about how you understand their issue and how you can solve it. If you are around someone who faces a challenge that you can help with, tell them how and you are immediately on the journey towards turning them into a customer.
3. Ask open-ended questions
Open-ended questions allow prospects to share more about their requirements and give you the insight you need to be able to move the deal on at a quick pace. They are engaged in conversations that they can’t simply close down like they can if you ask reactive-selling questions which require just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. In reactive selling, you might ask “is there anything I can help you with?” If the answer is ‘no’, the deal is going nowhere until they change their mind.
Here are examples of the types of open-ended questions you could ask when selling proactively:
- How familiar are you with our product/service?
- What do you know about our brand?
- If you make these changes, what do you believe the outcomes will be?
Research shows that sales conversions increase when the prospect talks for at least 30% of the meeting, so make sure you add in some open-ended questions to spark the conversation. These also help you gain a better understanding of the value of the prospect.
4. Analyse your data
Sales managers and their teams have access to vast amounts of data in their CRM but do not always make use of this. It could be that you are sitting on important information that you could use in your sales.
For example, you might find that one lead magnet produces more leads than all of the others. If this is the case, take a look at it and work out what makes it stand out. Is it the format – video versus blog post versus white paper – or is there some key information contained that doesn’t appear in your other lead magnets? If it is the former, add that into your approaches to prospective customers. If the latter, make sure you use that information in your pitches, as it obviously resonates with leads.
5. Add value for your customers
It is essential for proactive selling that you are able to show potential customers that you:
- Understand their industry and sector, as well as the problems and challenges that they face
- Can provide tangible solutions to those challenges.
These two elements add real value to your prospects and show them that you are engaged with them and offer a credible and trustworthy route to making their lives easier.
Before you approach the prospect, consider how you can add value to them and their organisation. Work out your plan for communicating that clearly.
6. Anticipate objections
In addition to planning how to persuade the prospect to buy your product or service using your knowledge of their sector, you should also prepare yourself for their likely concerns or objections about buying. Being proactive means anticipating these concerns and settling their mind before they even bring them up.
The ideal time to address these potential objections is during your pitch presentation. Show that you understand the full 360 degrees in sales pitches, rather than just concentrating on the traditional selling points. The very act of anticipating these concerns also helps you to think more holistically about your product, which will make it easier to close this deal and others in the future.
Perhaps you provide an online tool that a company’s employees will use to carry out their duties. You might anticipate that the client might be concerned about how to train staff to use the tool. In your pitch, you can show them the best practices for doing just that. Perhaps, you can also offer email or intranet page templates that they can customise and utilise.
7. Ask for feedback
Proactive sales techniques require refining, and there is no better way to do that than by seeking out feedback from clients. What was it that persuaded them to buy from you and not your rival? Why did a prospect not take your offer? The answers to these questions can help you finetune your approach to increase your conversion rate.
Is proactive selling better than reactive selling?
There is a balance to strike between proactive and reactive selling for your sales team. This article outlines many benefits of proactive sales techniques, and being able to control the process helps you take the initiative to push the deal over the line. However, there are times when customers do not want to be rushed and need to come to their decisions in their own time. As long as you do not have too many deals languishing in your pipeline with no momentum, there is space for reactive sales, too.
What is a ‘prescription’ in proactive selling?
When you preempt concerns from clients, you need to provide solutions. Prescription in proactive selling is where you guide the client with specific advice on how to overcome issues you have noted in the past.
You can take a prescriptive approach to talk them through the most simple route to a deal based on your insights. Tell them something like, “with some customers, we have noticed that they find resistance to change when they implement our service. However, we have found that by running it alongside your old system, employees pick it up quickly and soon buy into it.”
What are some characteristics of a proactive person?
Proactive people are creative thinkers and problem solvers. They look beyond the short term and are always actively looking to affect the course of events. It also takes focus and discipline to remain positive and committed to affecting change in the way that they would like it to happen. Such a mindset helps a proactive sales expert make those unsolicited sales calls to their target audience with success.
Proactive selling is a positive method of moving deals forwards, which is perfect for salespeople who want their pipeline to run smoothly with higher sales velocity. It also frames how clients see them, as researching, understanding and empathising with prospects is essential to proactive sales techniques and helps reps gain trust.
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References and Further Reading
- How Do You Research Prospects Before a Call or Meeting?
- The 10 Best Cold Email Examples For Sales Reps
- The 16 Must-Try Prospecting Techniques For Sales
- Master These Proven Sales Closing Techniques to Boost Your Results
- Here Are The Most Common Sales Objections + Rebuttals
- Importance of being proactive
- Be more proactive at work
- Reactive v proactive selling podcast
- Proactive selling video
- Interpret sales velocity