Sales is a subject almost never taught formally in business schools. This is undoubtedly because it’s such a broad subject, and many industries and sectors have very specific sales processes and requirements.
Nonetheless, there are a few basic concepts which can help the effectiveness of any sales process. An easy definition of sales is in ‘helping customers to buy’. In a little more detail, it’s ‘getting customers to better explain their needs so that you can make the decision to buy easy for them’. It’s this critical aspect of two-way communication that’s sometimes missed.
The starting point of any sales campaign is the USP analysis. The USP analysis will have compared the competitors, their product features and their benefits, to your own. This understanding is the starting position for a sales dialogue.
However, skilled sales processes take this starting position but then ask open questions to better understand a customer’s needs and problems to solve, and having listened and synthesised these answers, will only then make a considered value proposal.
This is opposed to the all too common ‘fire hose selling’ or ‘spray & pray’ techniques of showering a customer with information in the hope that something sticks. When I’ve helped clients develop sales staff I sometimes see inexperienced or unconfident sales staff adopt this approach. In one visit I witnessed a new sales manager talking immediately at the start of the meeting, and didn’t stop, for 45 minutes. Not one pause allowed one word from the prospect. The body language across the table went from alert, to relaxed, to resigned/sleepy. Making the prospect regret the meeting is obviously not a good strategy!
An obvious but sometimes forgotten point is to ensure you are selling benefits over features. It’s easy to talk about what the product is, but more useful to describe what advantage it brings to that specific customer and their needs. If you don’t understand their specific needs then you are not ready to make an accurate pitch.
Another key aspect is the importance of establishing trust in the relationship. If you choose a tradesperson for your home, your sense of trust in that person will be one of the key decision factors, and perhaps more important than price. Similarly, a skilled salesperson will establish a relationship, building trust and confidence. This can be sometimes expressed as having become a trusted advisor to the client; able to provide solutions to problems as they are encountered. In a sense, you need to decide what you need to give away in terms of expertise to develop this trust.
Lastly, progressing sales is often about overcoming objections. There are only a handful of common objections. Often these are used as ‘brush offs’ rather than being genuine objections, but if you can delve deeper and find the root causes, they can be valuable sources of more profound understanding. It’s worth listing to the common objections your company faces and possible approaches to overcome them. Common objections include:
- Lack of budget/price too high
- Lack of sign-off authority
- No established need
- Wrong timeframe
- Capability/credibility issue
One needs to dig deeper, but possible approaches include:
- Establish value recognition. Can you save them money?
- Collaborate on delivering a solution. Get a forward referral to a colleague
- What features do they find useful? Case studies and fact based analysis
- Underline the payback timeframe. Start savings now
- Offer proof. And, of course, build the relationship.
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How to Sell Better was first published by Entrepreneur Country and has been reproduced with the editor’s permission.