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Empowerment Through Knowledge
No.29: 8 Steps to Selling (Part 2)

For those of you who missed Part 1 in Edition 28 of Empowerment Through Knowledge, you can read it here.


Step 3 – Ask Questions!

This step is so important. When many of us think of a salesperson, we think of someone who is very talkative. In actual fact, the best salespeople are very sparing with their talk, but spend a lot of the time listening to the answers given by customers to the questions the salespeople would ask. Let’s clarify two things:

  1. You have one mouth and two ears, so you should listen twice as much as you should speak
  2. When you listen, you are in control of the conversation, not when you are talking. While you are listening, you can absorb information, and take decisions, including to think about other things, while when you are talking, your customer will be doing that.

Asking questions is also extremely important because it demonstrates that you are interested in your customer, and hence it is a good way of building rapport. And it gives you the opportunity to get to know more things about your customer, on which you can build a profile about their needs and wants, as well as about common interests etc. The technique of asking questions is best used by first asking open-ended questions, that is, questions that cannot be answered with a yes or no or a number. Questions that begin with ‘How’ or ‘Why’ are good examples, although you need to be careful in the latter case not to sound like an interrogator. Generally, open questions could be followed by some closed questions if you need to narrow down from some alternatives, or to confirm your understanding. Remember, you want the customer to open up and start trusting you. And in the end, you want the customer to buy the right solution to their problem.

One final word of advice: Although it is highly recommended that you prepare (see Step 1 in edition 28 of Empowerment Through Knowledge), no amount of planning will survive first contact with the customer, so also be prepared to improvise, because your customer’s answers may yield opportunities you had not thought of.

Step 4 – Analyse and Establish the Needs

Thanks to some skilful questions, you should be able to find out what they really need or want. You should be able to uncover what problems they are facing in this respect, and what solution you can find or create to scratch their itch. Having full knowledge of both their problem and requirements, and the features and benefits of your product/service, should make it easy to make a match.


Step 5 – Present Your Case

This should be a subtle ‘Aha!’ moment, where you show your prospective customer how your product or service fits their need. As with the introduction, it needs to be short and sweet. Please do not exhaust the customer by giving too much detail that was not asked for, and that the customer is probably not interested in). Just provide the information that shows the features and benefits that solve the customer’s problem, nothing more and nothing less.


Step 6 – Dealing with Objections

This is another step where only the best salespeople shine. As was mentioned in the beginning, selling starts when the customer says ‘no’. It often happens that customers say ‘no’ to your offer or are unsure and do not want to commit. Many times, they may not want to decide and say that they will think about it, but then you never see them again, or even see them with your competitor’s product (or service).

So, what happened? Ideally, you do not leave the situation to chance and try to uncover what is stopping them from choosing your product. There are two types of objections: overt and covert. Overt objections are simpler to deal with because the customer is more than happy to tell you, for example, that your product is more expensive than your competitor’s (or, to move away from the overused price issue, has lower quality, less lifespan, less features or a million other possibilities). In such cases, please do not argue with the customer. The temptation would be to get defensive (since you love your product). Embrace what they are saying and acknowledge their concerns. Make them feel that you are listening to them. Remember that they threw the criticism at you expecting that you fight back (as most unskilled salespeople will do), so they have their defences up. Instead, you take the wind out of their sails and offer no threat. You seem to be agreeing with them (just an illusion, you are not), you are understanding their objection. Once you reach that stage, you may even add that you have had similar objections from others in the past, and that the company felt it was such an important issue that they researched the matter and found out that…

And this is where you bring out your argument, without having argued. In most cases, their objection can be overcome with some good research, whether it is that your more expensive product lasts longer, or otherwise that it has more features even though it has a shorter lifespan, etc. This is where you use the information you had accumulated about their needs and use it to win the argument, after you have got your customers to lower their defences. In any negotiation situation, as we always teach in our negotiation skills courses, never show them that you are right and that they are wrong. Always make sure they feel good about their exchange with you.

The other type of objection is covert, which means that it is hidden. In most cases, this hidden objection is purposefully hidden because the salesperson has either not asked the right questions or because the customer is not yet trusting enough. In such cases, you need to probe nicely to eke them out, so that you can find out what you are up against. Asking the right questions is a huge help for this. One technique that can be helpful is to ask whether there is something stopping them from committing right now (make sure you ask this in a friendly way, since it can sound aggressive and turn the customers defensive). Their first answer to this question may be that they need to think about it, which should elicit an additional probe from your end on whether there is any concern that you can clarify so that they can take a more informed decision. Sometimes they may bring up that they need to discuss it with their parents/partner/boss etc. This may be true, and it may not be, and they are just using a negotiation technique to avoid committing. A good counter technique is to ask them if they would commit if it were entirely up to them, or whether they still have some concerns. Another effective question would be to ask them what they think will be their parents/partner/boss’s concerns would likely be. You could also offer to have a discussion with them together.

There are some cases where the hidden concerns are hidden even from the customers themselves since they may not yet know why they are feeling uncomfortable with taking the plunge. In such cases, asking good questions may clarify and uncover unknown concerns, but sometimes, you may not and that is also part of life. You did the best you could, and that’s that.

A very important aspect of stated objections is that sometimes they are actual buying signals. Certain objections are just disguises for customers wanting to know more because they are interested in buying but are feeling afraid and/or defensive, so they dress up their questions as objections. It is an issue of trust, that you still need to work on.

Finally, in some cases, the objection is valid and if you want to be an ethical, professional salesperson, you need to acknowledge that and accept that you cannot win them all.


Step 7 – Closing the Sale

You have not sold anything if you do not close the sale. Until the client commits, with the proverbial signing on the dotted line or handing over their money, you do not have a sale. Inexperienced or unskilled salespersons are afraid of this step, since it requires that they nudge the customer towards a commitment and they may have to experience a rejection (heaven forbid). Therefore they prefer to kick the can down the road and give the customer time to decide and get back to them. You do not need much guesswork to know that these salespersons are never going to win any sales awards. Yes, you may still need to deal with some last minute objection, and depending on the stakes involved, you would do well to repeat the benefits that the customer will be getting and reassure them that they took the right decision.


Step 8 – Follow-up

Many think that once the sale is done, the salesperson’s responsibility is over. Wrong! The best salespeople know that they depend on repeat sales (which are much easier than first-time sales) and recommendations (which again are much easier since credibility and trust is already partly built). Keep in mind that one of the most powerful forms of marketing is word of mouth. Therefore, a good salesperson will contact their customers once in a while to touch base with them and see how their experience with the product (and even more importantly in the case of a service) has been. It shows that you were not a fly-by-nighter and that you are interested in them. This ultimately builds strong rapport and trust and brings in more sales down the line. This is the way to turning these customers into your raving fans and brand ambassadors.


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