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Permission-based selling: what is it and what makes it so effective?

FMG - Permission Based Selling
Forrest Marketing Group Blog blog

Permission-based selling: what is it and what makes it so effective?

I’m convinced that many people will have experienced what we call assumptive selling, which is where a salesperson calls you to introduce themselves, takes a deep breath and tells you what their service can do for you.

These salespeople must be born with unnaturally large lungs because they don’t take a breath for the first 5 minutes of the call, and you can’t get a word in edgeways to explain that you don’t have a need or can’t use their services. Does that sound familiar? Unfortunately, it is an all-too-common pushy sales approach and one we would seriously question. Is it truly enhancing a brand or making a positive impression with the prospect?

There is a better way – Permission-based Selling

Permission-based selling has been around for a long time and involves a two-way conversation in which the prospect is given every opportunity to opt-out of the conversation if they feel it is not worthwhile for them. It respects the prospect, it’s professional and we’ve found from experience that it is a very effective sales approach.

So why doesn’t everyone use it?

Permission-based selling requires a different approach and not everyone is ready or prepared to give it a try. Also, some salespeople are afraid their prospect will hang up on them if they don’t tell them everything about their service at once, so they try to do just that without giving the prospect the chance to opt-out of the call. Permission-based selling can therefore be seen as ‘risky’ or that opportunities might be missed with this type of approach but used correctly it is far more effective than the push approach. Interestingly we find that very few prospects hang up on us, simply because we’re using a more conversational approach that is full of two-way dialogue.

When to use it?

While permission-based selling can be used throughout the sales process, it is most relevant and valuable for your initial conversation with a prospect. It is at this point that they don’t know you, or what your services can do for them. Engaging them in a conversation, uncovering some of their frustrations and showing them how you have a solution that could help them with these, is a conversation that they will more readily participate in.

How do you construct a permission-based sales approach for your first conversation with a prospect?

We’re going to focus on how you do this when you are generating your own outbound sales leads, but you can use the same approach for an inbound sales enquiry.

There are four stages to an effective permission-based sales call.

1. The Positioning Statement

Introduce yourself, your company and what you do at a high level. Our preferred approach is to include words like “struggling” and “help”, so your introduction might look something like this:

“Hi, John, it’s Richard from (insert company name). We work with companies who are growing and are perhaps struggling with an increasing cost of processing their fortnightly or monthly payroll. We help them reduce their processing costs and error rate, while speeding up the processing time”. This example is quite a lengthy introduction and we wouldn’t recommend that you go any longer than this.

2. Asking permission

This is where the approach strongly differs from the assumptive push-style sales call. Instead of ploughing on and getting into your well-versed and often-used presentation, you pause and ask for permission to continue. Here at Forrest Contact our favourite way to do this is to say, “I don’t know enough about your situation to know if something like this would make sense for you, so would it be okay if I asked you a couple of quick questions?”

If they say “sure”, you continue to your presentation. If they say, “I’m too busy just now”, you accept this and organise a better time to call them back. Even if they say “no”, you can still ask a couple of clarifying questions (“so that I can understand why…..”) to make sure this is a “real” no, as opposed to a knee-jerk response.

3. Discovery

Once you have the prospect’s permission to continue, you move to the discovery phase. This consists of a series of questions that are designed to identify a prospect’s pain points. Because different prospects will have different issues, you may need a long list of questions in your script, but this is okay. You won’t use every question on every prospect, but you will have all the questions you could ask depending on each prospect’s individual situation. The key to using this effectively is to start with broad questions and then get more focused as the conversation goes on. In a “traditional” script you would be tempted to include a decision tree (If “Yes” go here; If “No”, go there) that covers every eventuality that could happen on the call. However, this is far too difficult to use and with good training and coaching it is not required. Your list of questions provides a guide for the conversation and intuitively you ask the next “right” question based on each prospect’s previous answers, rather than just moving to the next question in the series.

Based on the same payroll solution example, this is what I mean:

· So how many staff do you employ right now? Are they all employees, or are some contractors or paid through an agency?

· And how often do they get paid?

· So, do you process the payroll internally or do you use an outsourced provider to do this?

· Okay and how long does it take to process payroll each time?

· And how often do you find there are errors in the payroll?

· So, does that also cause trust issues with your staff?

· And how long does it take to fix the errors each time?

· How long have you been using the agency?

· And are you under contract with them? So when does this expire?

· How responsive are they to unusual requests, such as a new employee who missed out on a pay run and needs to be paid as a one-off item?

· And do they charge extra for this service?

· How easy is it to get hold of them if you have a question or if something has gone wrong?

You’ll note within this example that there are two different sets of questions and you would probably ask the first 4 in order every time. After this, the questions you ask will vary. You may jump back and forwards through this list depending on the prospect’s answers until you’ve gathered enough information to know whether the prospect is a valid opportunity to progress, and once you have verified whether you should meet with them today or in the future.

4. Wrap Up and Next Steps

By now both you and the prospect should know if it makes sense to move to the next stage. Bring the conversation to a natural close by setting up a meeting.

“If we could help you to (restate their needs – reduce your payroll processing costs, minimise errors), that sounds like it would be something that would be worth looking at, wouldn’t it? Okay it sounds like we could really help you in these areas so what I’d like to do is set up a meeting for…”

So what makes this process so much better?

Rather than talking “at” the prospect to give them all the information on what your services do, you are showing the prospect respect by asking for permission to talk with them and acknowledging their time is precious. The prospect is involved all the way through the call, which is a two-way conversation, which is very different to the traditional “push” style of prospecting call.

You are also doing much less of the talking and the prospect is doing far more. That means they enjoy it more and you are learning about the prospect’s actual needs and finding out if they are a valid sales opportunity, so you can guide the call accordingly. Equally, you could politely end the call if you realise they are not a good fit for your organisation. For example, if they said they only had 8 staff and this placed them outside your target market, you could (politely) end the call there and then. And if you have used the line “I don’t know enough about your situation to know if this would be something like this would be useful for you” when you ask for permission, then there’s no embarrassment to ending the call at this point.

Best of all, your calls become meaningful, two-way conversations which allow you to build trust, enhance your company’s reputation, while you and the prospect actually enjoy the exchange.

This blog has given you a little insight into just one of the techniques we use here at Forrest Contact to effectively sell your clients’ products/services to their target market. Find out more about our services or read our case study examples and if you’d like to have a chat, please get in touch by calling 1300 396 888 or drop us an email to

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