Jared Fuller is a Co-Founder of JobHive and is a 3x entrepreneur obsessed with sales, marketing and SaaS. Jared is currently Head of Partnerships at PandaDoc.
Sales doesn't have a textbook. You can't get "certified" as a sales professional. That poses a problem because there's lots of gems and lots of junk out there when it comes to training sales teams.
In my 10 years of sales experience as either a founder/CEO or VP, I've read, consumed, and implemented a ton of ideas. Some worked, though most didn't. I came to realize that the problem for growing and training my sales teams wasn't that we needed to have the latest idea, it was that we needed a framework to analyze each deal. This is what I call the "Six Gateways of Sales," and it applies to every deal in your funnel right now, for every sales rep. Simply put, the six gateways represent each step of a sale you must clear in order to advance to the next.
Gateway 1: Vision = Alignment
The first stage is about creating alignment with your prospect. If I were to try and sell you on an "innovative new group chat for teams," just a year ago, you'd call me crazy. Your team already uses Skype, Hipchat, Google Hangouts, etc. Why add another? We'd more than likely have zero alignment because my vision would not align with yours.
But if I were to set the vision of my product for "changing the way teams communicate" (like Stewart Butterfield of Slack most eloquently details), you might listen. I could create alignment between the two of us surrounding the vision of the product. It's not the features that create alignment, it's the vision. If you can't create a vision for your product that isn't based on "more features, better price," you'll create friction before ever moving to the next gateway.
Not everyone will see the vision of what you're selling. They shouldn't. Don't try to sell to them. They won't buy; they will muddy your pipeline, and your metrics and reporting will suffer as a result. If you can't create a vision alone that's worth selling first, the problem isn't with your prospect -- it's with you. Go back to the marketing board and work out what is the "why" that you're starting with.
Gateway 2: Validation = Trust
I will say this boldly and without reservation: salespeople aren't the best at gaining trust. I've seen this gateway kill more deals than any other. Navigating it requires an intelligent approach, a delicate balance of marketing, customer success and sales all working together. Your prospect needs to see case studies, testimonials and proven validation from others before they will trust what you're selling.
When you listen intently, you also gain trust. Mark Roberge, the CRO of HubSpot says, "Gain trust with your prospects like your doctor does with you." Because doctors provide solutions only after listening to problems and asking questions, you inherently have more trust in their solutions.
Are you gaining trust on every single call and email? Be respectful, be on time, show that you have their best interest at heart - even going so far, especially going so far, as to tell people what you can't do for them.
Lastly, people need to know they can trust you after they buy. Paint your prospects a very clear picture for customer happiness and emphasize that their continued success is the most important thing to you, because it sure as heck is the most important thing to them.
Gateway 3: Pain = Value
I get it, you're passionate about what you sell. That's why so many entrepreneurs and salespeople "show up and throw up."
But great sales strategy is steeped in the truth that you have to identify specific, real pain points and correspond them directly to the value of your product. And to get even more sophisticated, you will gain more trust by identifying pain points your product does not solve and recommending solutions (paid or free) that might help.
It's far too easy to get stuck in the third gateway when you're solely focused on the supposed value you provide. If your prospect cannot clearly, both quantitatively and qualitatively, articulate the value of your product, the pain it solves, and the cost of not adopting your solution, you're probably stuck in the third gateway indefinitely.
At the end of the day, if you can't correlate your prospect's pain to your product's value, or they just don't see it, move on; it's a dead deal.
Gateway 4: Decision Makers
So you finally get past the discovery call, the demo or office visit, and you send out your proposal in hope of closing the deal. A typical response you get is: "We just need a little time to review pricing."
My first question always is: "Who?" Who is reviewing your pricing? Are you selling to an internal advocate, or the decision maker (DM)? Ask intelligent questions early on in the deal cycle to identify who the decision makers are so you don't waste time talking to people who can't sign the dotted line. Don't get me wrong, I think internal advocates are great, but good salespeople sell to decision makers. Period.
Gateway 5: Price
This is the gateway where far too many salespeople think their deal is stuck. And they're wrong, almost every time.
Recently, near the beginning of a presentation at an AA-ISP conference in Boston, I asked how many sales professionals thought their deals got stuck regularly when they came to price. The response? About 75 percent thought price was the most common sales objection.
This is hard to believe because, if you've successfully navigated your prospect through each prior gateway, price is almost always not the real objection. Just because price is the easiest reason for a prospect to say "no" doesn't make it the real reason. It's the objection people use who aren't aligned with your vision, who don't trust you, and who don't see that it can solve their pain points.
Once the sales professionals at AA-ISP presentation learned about the first four gateways, that 75 percent figure dropped to zero, literally. And it's probably true for you as well. If you actually traverse the first four gateways, price is the rarest (if ever) a legitimate objection. If you think you're stuck here, go back to the first four gateways because you probably aren't.
Gateway 6: Time
The time to buy is always now. That is, of course, only once you've traversed the first five gateways.
If a prospect tells you that they "need more time to look over price," it's not because time itself is the objection, it's because they are stuck in a different gateway. For instance, I once walked a solid opportunity through the six gateways a total of six times and they still weren't buying. Only after walking through the gateways a seventh time with them did I discover that they actually needed to loop in another person from finance! You see, time wasn't the real objection; they were hiding the actual decision maker and the deal was stuck in Gateway No. 4.
Time is like price: it informs you of whether or not your opportunity is ready to close. Because if they aren't buying now, you need to ask intelligent questions, walk the prospect back through the six gateways, and find out where the deal is actually stuck.