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Sales suck.

Or at least I used to think that.

Like many soulful, mindful entrepreneurs, for the first several years I was in business I looked at sales as wholly repugnant, and would do anything in my power to avoid a sales call.

And by “do anything” I mean anything from washing every piece of laundry in the house (even if it wasn’t dirty) to actually referring people to other service providers.

I. Hated. It.

It felt gross and icky, and I’m sure that’s something you — as a soulful entrepreneur — can relate to.

I started working as a freelance web designer in 1999. I was in a small town, and then a small city, and web designers were in short supply back then. I didn’t have to market myself. I didn’t have to do any advertising, and I sure as hell never had to do a discovery call. By the time I was talking to someone they already knew they had a website problem and they already knew I was the person to fix it.

When I started working as an “online entrepreneur” sales became part of the process, part of the system, and I hated it. I would have a discovery call only when it was absolutely necessary, and my revulsion for the whole process was pretty obvious.

To be honest, I sucked. A lot. And people could tell.

And it came down to this:

I was afraid of putting myself out there, of being vulnerable.

Because let’s be honest, a discovery call is a vulnerable process. You’re putting yourself out there…you know, there, where rejection, and disapproval, and confrontation live. It was completely paralysing.

I did what most entrepreneurs do when they realise they need to improve in an area of their business: I sought out help. I started reading about sales, I started studying sales, taking sales workshops, and most of the advice I received was pretty awful.

Things like…

“Sales are only uncomfortable if you don’t believe in your product.”

“You only feel this way because your offer isn’t good.”

“You’re just shy.”

No, no, and no.

I believed in my product with my whole being. I knew I am a kickass web designer. I knew my offer was solid. I deliver good websites for a really reasonable price. And I am the farthest thing from shy. I’m so extroverted it’s almost a problem because I’ll talk to anybody about anything.

I wasted so much money on sales books and workshops that only made me feel worse about myself, worse about my business, and like I’m doomed to be a failure.

But then in the shower (where I do my best thinking) I realised the key to selling that nobody ever told me:

Making sales is simply listening.


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A lot of sales experts say selling is talking, but it’s not.

Selling is listening first and foremost.

Ask questions, listen thoughtfully to the answers, and then use the answers to shape your next question. When you listen to what your prospect is telling you, you immediately know if they’re a good fit, if your program is what they need, what their resistance is going to be, and what’s going to hold them back from getting success with your program.

The trick is knowing what to ask, and how to structure your discovery call.

First, start your call by saying thank you for joining you on a call, and give a quick introduction about who you are. Highlight your expertise.

Thank you so much for joining me on the call today _____. My name is pronounced Es-may, but don’t worry if you mess it up; it’s not a big deal. I first got started in business as a freelance web designer back in 1999. But that’s not where my interest has always stayed, and I have battled a chronic illness for most of my life. While I’ve always maintained some clients I’ve also made a living as a professional artist, by managing a coffee shop when my doctors told me I needed to move about more after my heart surgery, as the Director of Digital Strategy for a London-based startup, and as a yoga teacher. 

Second, remind your prospect about how much time you have.

Today we have about twenty-minutes together, but I have padded for thirty-minutes just in case we run over our time. I have your discovery call application here in front of me, but I would like to start by asking you to briefly introducing yourself in your own words in case there’s anything else I need to know.

Third, begin to ask your prospect pertinent questions, and listen very carefully to her answers. I find it helpful to take notes for my own personal reference. I use the notes only in-house, but it does help me to have something to refer back to as I go.

Some of the questions I ask:

  • What does your day normally look like?
  • Are you pleased with how you spend your time?
  • What is the biggest problem you encounter in your business?
  • What recurring struggles do you keep facing?
  • Why do you think you continue to face these struggles?
  • Have you tried to eliminate these struggles before? What happened?
  • Pause for a minute, and think about what your day would be like if these struggles were eliminated. What would that feel like to you?
  • How would your family life be effected by eliminating these struggles?

Fourth, I like to reflect back to them some of the keywords they keep referencing. If I notice any patterns in their answers, this is the time I share that with them.

What I’m hearing from you is _______. Is that a fair assessment?

Fifth, I either tell them why working with me is a good idea or why it’s not a good idea. If I do believe working together would be beneficial for both of us, then I explain more about the offer, how I work, and what they can expect. If I believe working together is not in our best interest, I explain (very politely), and then I share resources that they may find useful.

There are many reasons why someone may not be a good fit. Time, money, family struggles, other work or business obligations, or simply we don’t jive. While I strive to maintain a professional relationship with all of my clients, I do prefer to work with people with whom I can envision a friendship. It’s easier for me as a coach and service provider to deliver my highest level of service for someone I like and get along with.

Do you have a formula for your discovery calls or do you just wing it? I’d love to hear what you do. Let me know in the comments.

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