Sales is often considered an ugly word, especially when combined with the word person or job (as in salesperson or sales job). Few people look positively at such a role, and even less people actually try to be good at it. Sadly, this happens even when people are employed in roles (and there are many) where selling is an integral part.
First off, though, let’s make one thing clear. Sales is not cheating, it’s not begging, and it’s not thieving. Sales is a vital part of any industry and should be respected. In many ways, all of us need to be salespeople, practically every day. We just don’t call it that. Whenever we want something and have to persuade someone else to have it, we are selling, whether it’s what channel on the TV to switch to, or which restaurant to go to, or which holiday to book for next year. Instead of sales, we call it persuasion, same difference.
Like any other role, there are certain skills and techniques that would make a person good or excellent at selling. Hence, this article will analyse the sales process and provide you with the opportunity to ask yourself if you are doing a good job at each stage, and how to improve. Of course, sales can vary tremendously, from the sale of a pencil worth 15 cents to a multi-million euro contract. However, the sales process remains the same, just that certain steps from the 8 stages become very short or instantaneous in very small or easy sales, or stretched to days, weeks or months in sales related to huge amounts.
Before we start discovering each step of the 8-point process, let’s ponder on two statements of unclear origin, but of high importance:
- Treat every customer like a million bucks.
- Selling starts when the customer says ‘no’.
In the first case, as we will see, it is all about attitude, manners and expectations. The second statement is only telling us that if you just go and present your offering and the prospective customer says ‘yes’, you are not selling, you are just taking an order. Proving yourself as a professional and skilled sales person requires that you can deal with the first, mostly automatic ‘no’ and persuade the people to go beyond their first reflex action and actually consider whether the product is what they need. Again, this will be covered in more detail later.
Step 1 – Preparation
Like any scout will tell you; ‘Be prepared’! Here, preparation has different facets.
Prepare Yourself Physically
First, there is the self. Self-preparation for sales (or any job, really) involves physical, mental and emotional preparation. Physical preparation means being well dressed and having excellent hygiene. Well dressed can vary depending on the industry, but in general, the rule of thumb is to be as well dressed or better than your clientele. Over-dressed is always better than under-dressed. Being smartly dressed will always give a message of professionalism. Hygiene should be even more self-evident, yet you’d be amazed at how some people go to work with dirty or greasy hair, bad breath, or smelling of old sweat. Who would want to interact with someone like that, let alone buy from them? Being mentally and emotionally prepared is just as important, even if less visible. Having the right attitude and having good manners, making sure to be punctual and practicing positive thinking can make the difference between no sale and a good sale. A customer can immediately sense fear or discomfort, and is repelled by it, while customers are attracted to positiveness. That is why it is so important to practice positive thinking and a can-do attitude, because it makes you more attractive and that makes you sell more.
Prepare Your Tools
Secondly, your tools of the trade need to be prepared. Whether it is brochures or product material, business cards, order books, samples, catalogues etc., as well as making sure you have all that you need to be able to have the meeting. Pen? Correct address? Did you check how you are going to get there, and on time? Do you have enough fuel or charge in your car, bike, scooter?
Be a Product Expert
The third part of self-preparation is being a product expert. You need to be an expert in the features and benefits for the user. You do not necessarily need to be a technical expert, although that can help, sometimes. The most important information you need is what can be useful to the prospective customer.
Believing in what you are selling is integral to an ethical sales process. It is important that before you attempt to try your first sale, you have to be extremely comfortable with what you are selling. You have to believe in it. If you do not, then do not try to sell it. If you oversell the benefits, or you do not divulge some important disadvantage, then the customers may feel cheated afterwards, and you, your product and your company will get a bad reputation. All businesses need a good reputation to survive, since you need both repeat business, and recommendations, not to mention that in today’s internet and social media-driven world, a bad reputation spreads faster than wildfire. Plus, it’s just plain wrong to cheat your customers. Here, a word of caution for product experts: You may be very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about all the minute details of the product or service offering, but please do not unload all of it on the poor prospect. You will scare, bore or confuse them away. For them, the product or service does not have the same significance as it does for you. For them it is a solution to a problem, satisfying some need or want. More on this later.
Be an Industry Expert
Similar to the third part, the fourth is being an industry and market expert. Knowing what the competitors are doing, what are the price ranges for similar and related products, what are the advantages and disadvantages of buying yours compared to theirs and what trends there are in the industry and market can prove very useful for you when trying to sell. It will give you the edge, and you will not be blindsided when a prospective customer throws a curve ball at you by quoting some cheaper price or some better benefit of a competitor’s offering. Many salespersons nowadays have been given inflated titles such as consultants or advisors. This is completely frivolous and only a whitewashing exercise just to make the role sound better, if the role does not also come with the higher responsibilities of actual advice or counsel to the customer, and that can only be done if the salesperson is very knowledgeable about the industry and market. To inform yourself, you could refer to at least three different tools that have already been discussed previously in this article series: PESTEL Analysis, Industry Lifecycle, and Porter’s 5-Forces, among others.
Know your Customer
Finally, and depending very much on the stakes, one should consider doing some research about the prospective customer. If it is a large enough sale (and even more so if you have other competitors vying for the same order), or even if it is smaller but can be repeated (we consider the value of a customer by calculating the Customer Lifetime Value), then it may be worth doing some digging. The most obvious would be to get to know what exactly they need and how that relates to your particular offering. You may want to find out other aspects about your prospect, such as who they are (besides a name and address), whether they have any particular hobbies or interests, and whether they are passionate about something. Even a simple internet and social media search can reveal such details most times. These bits of information can be excellent ice-breakers, or even points of common interest. For the over-enthusiastic, please make sure you do not make it obvious that you did a search on them. You want them to trust you, not to see you as a stalker.
Step 2 – Introduction
Introducing oneself should be short and sweet, positive and provide credibility. This needs to be prepared and practiced beforehand, so that you can master this simple but not always easy step. Sometimes the company you work for can provide that credibility if it has a solid reputation, or sometimes the product itself can have that. However, you, your product and your company are all part of this sales chain, and you are as strong as your weakest link. So, make sure that you give a good impression with a strong, confident and credible introduction of yourself, your product and your company. Practice makes perfect. In our Sales Techniques Workshop we often do roleplay for this, and it is always amazing how difficult, even experienced salespeople find this step.
Now that you’ve got pointers as to how to execute Steps 1 and 2 effectively, it’s time to practice preparing and develop your unique way of introducing yourself. The other six points of your ideal sales process will be coming soon, so stay tuned for further editions of Empowerment Through Knowledge.