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Selling to Existing Customers Isn't As Easy As They Say (Or Is It?)

Selling the reality, not the dream takes a different approach to get deals across the line.

How do you feel about selling to existing clients? For most of my career it’s been a struggle and something I avoided.

Why? Can’t say I know for sure.

Is it some left over trauma from a part time telesales job I had pitching credit cards to strangers over the phone?

(the worst job I ever had).

Maybe I lack confidence? Or technique? Whatever the reason, it’s taken a long time to get over the hurdle of asking my clients to buy more.

How’d I do it?

Tips for selling to existing clients

Here’s my best advice (and thanks to Callum who suggested this topic for the podcast).

  • Change your mindset. I always felt like sales was convincing my clients to buy something they didn’t want, or need. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. When I started to look at sales as simply helping, things changed. Because everyone needs help. Our job is to find out what they need help with. That simple mindset shift was transformative. All I had to do was connect with the right people, ask the right questions, and find the right solutions.

  • Become a student. Sales is a well-documented profession. There are thousands of books, courses, podcasts, blog posts and videos on every aspect of selling. Why figure it out yourself when you can learn from the very best? Dedicate regular focused time to building your sales muscle. You can listen to podcasts on your commute or at the gym, or read a book during your lunch hour (if you don’t take one, that’s the first thing you need to change).

  • Prepare your message. Clients are not actively looking to spend more money. Quite the opposite. You need to build a compelling and differentiated message that stands out from a sea of sameness. It should be important to your clients success, convincing (especially for your key contact: what’s in it for them?), inspires change and leads them to buy (what is the upside opportunity or advantage they’ll gain?).

  • Know what you want. Asking for what you want is not the same as asking for what you think you will get or what the other side won’t mind giving you. You cannot get a precise result if you don’t know exactly what you want.

  • Ask for the business. Anyone that’s had an opportunity linger like a bad smell knows the purgatory it is to keep those opportunities alive forever and answer relentless questions from your boss for an update. Learn to close those deals as fast as you can. Which means asking for the business, and get an official agreement from my clients to buy whatever it is I pitched. An upsell, a cross-sell or renewal. Doesn’t matter - all roads lead to that final ask.

Here are a couple of my favourite closing techniques:

  • The Option close. This is where you don’t ask for the sale, you ask which option they prefer.

  • The If I – Will You Close. You give a client something they want in exchange for something in return.

  • The Take Away Close. Tell your client you can remove features to save time/money/hassle. People hate to lose things on their wish list. This technique can get you the deal or at least flush out objections.

For more closing techniques, check out this comprehensive blog post from SalesHandy.

And for anyone who thinks it’s a piece of cake to sell to existing clients, I’ve got news for you.

It’s harder than you think.

Here’s my theory on why, tell me if you agree?

It’s because (in my mind) we feel (and clients expect) that they should have everything they need from us to succeed.

In fact, isn’t that the promise from sales? Leave your incumbent, come to us and we’ll solve all your problems. And often times, the sales lead offers to do it cheaper than the current supplier, and waivers and favours their way to a signature. And here’s me, the key account manager, asking my clients to buy more and pay more.

But things change over time.

The world of business is unpredictable and as your clients grow, or they react to volatile market cycles, their needs evolve. Each change is an opportunity to strengthen your relationship, help your clients anticipate and address new problems and opportunities.

Timing is everything

No-one will buy from you if you haven't earned their trust and established your credibility and don't understand their business. You're wasting your time going for the hard sell if you haven't ticked a few things off the list first.

  • I know the problems and opportunities facing my client.

  • I know something my client doesn't know about their business.

  • I have capabilities to help my client execute their strategy.

  • I have achieved similar goals before and can do it again.

  • I have already delivered outstanding value.

  • I can articulate what we do and how we do it.

  • I have a strong relationship with my key stakeholders:

    • They've interacted with me.

    • They've asked questions.

    • They've been responsive.

    • They've taken advice I've offered.

Favourite book

While we're on the topic of selling to existing clients, my favourite book is The Expansion Sale: Four Must-Win Conversations to Keep and Grow Your Customers.

It offers clear, easy-to-apply messaging frameworks for creating and delivering winning conversations to ensure renewals, communicate price increases, increase upsells and apologize effectively.

I can't recommend it enough

In other news

  • Sales Success Stories Podcast. I've been listening to this show for years. It's expertly hosted by Scott Ingram and provides invaluable, in-depth insights from working sales professionals at the top of their game.

  • The Perfect Close. This book by James Muir is all about process. He outlines step by step how to prepare for the sale - from discovery to objection handling and so much more. And while I won't spoil what the perfect close actually is - it's beautiful in its simplicity.

  • SNAP Selling: Speed Up Sales and Win More Business with Today's Frazzled Customers. Jill Konrath is a sales guru and has amassed a huge following on LinkedIn. What I love about this book is it's designed for speed. It teaches you how to get results fast, and cut through the noise to get your client's attention.

  • Gartner for Sales Leaders. I love the Gartner sales research. It's always actionable and practical. Sign up for their monthly newsletter.

  • Enterprise Selling. A free course on edX offered by Queen's University. Learn essential concepts on how to find and qualify clients and conduct sales conversations with senior executives.

  • 6 Can't Miss Forecasting Metrics. What gets measured gets managed. Gong.io have come up with 6 fresh sales metrics to help you get extremely accurate with your numbers. Some innovative ideas in this list, like how often opportunity close dates change.

  • The KAM Club. Learn more about the world's most amazing community of key account managers and get access to training, like How to Sell More and Account Growth Strategies for Busy Key Account Managers.

You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.

Zig Ziglar


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