Selling is about providing someone (a customer) with a product or service that they want or need, charging them money for it, and making a profit out of the transaction. The process by which this is achieved is known as The Sales Cycle.
What Does a Salesperson Do? The Sales Cycle comprises these parts:
Identification of prospective customers
Selling the product/service
Asking for referrals
In the case of a new business venture the questions ‘What does the market need?’ and ‘Where can I sell my product/service?’ are very closely linked. Do you start with a product/service and find a market for it, or define a
market and invent a product/service that the market wants? Usually it’s a bit of both.
In the case of working for an existing business, much of this will have already been done for you. The owners/directors of the business will have already decided upon their market strategy and are prepared to sink or swim on the basis of their decision.
As a sales person therefore, you will be told what it is you are required to sell, and to a greater or lesser extent where you’re supposed to sell it. Nevertheless, it is part of the job of the salesperson to assist the owners/directors of the business by gathering information about the market and its needs, to help them decide on the future direction of the business.
Initially however, it is sufficient to use existing data to decide exactly who to talk to about your products/service.
Sometimes you will be told exactly who to talk to, but usually it’s part of your job to do this yourself. Prior to any given period (day/week/month) you should make a list of all the people you want to talk to. You should list which organisation they work for, what title they hold, and how to get in touch with them. Almost all sales begin with a telephone call, which may or may not lead to arranging face to face visits.
You should also have access to records of past contacts with each prospective customer. Have they bought from us before? Are they a major customer? What problems, if any, have we encountered with them (or they with us) before?
Sales is commonly said to be a ‘numbers game’ i.e. the more people you get in touch with, the more sales you will make. Other factors come into play, such as the quality of the information you receive from your days’ work, and the skill with which you utilise that information. But at any skill level, it’s still true to say the more you talk to people, the more sales you will make.
Before you make your calls, you should have available information as listed above i.e. past contact with the customer.
You should also think about exactly what you are going to say. Write it down. Particularly the initial introduction, which will not vary much from call to call. If necessary, practise your introduction with a colleague until it sounds right.
Prepare for the most likely responses to your approach, and be aware that 80% of what happens will happen time after time. It’s only occasionally that something will happen to surprise you, when you’ll just have to think on your feet. The best response in those circumstances is to say ‘I’ll have to check this out. I will let you know by this afternoon/tomorrow/next week’
Depending on whether or not you have talked to the customer before, your approach should name your contact, introduce yourself by name, your company and the nature of its business, and the purpose of your call. This introduction should be no longer than 45 seconds, and should always end with an open-ended question that invites extended comment.
Example: ‘Good morning Mr Steed, my name is Emma Peel, from The Excellent Products Co. We specialise in providing customers in the scientific research field with laboratory supplies including the world famous Expanding Widget System. I’m calling you today to find out exactly what your requirements are and how we might be able to help you. Now I know that you are involved in the field of quantum physics, but tell me Mr Steed, exactly what sort of research are you currently engaged upon?’
It is futile to attempt to sell someone something until you know whether it would be of any use to them. Therefore, all successful sales begin with an in-depth questioning procedure that helps the salesperson assess what the
customer wants/needs, and enables them to decide whether or not the product/service you are promoting is likely to be of interest, and if so, how best to promote it.
From the initial question asked at the end of the introduction, you should ask a series of questions to establish this knowledge. If possible you should have prepared these questions before. They should be asked in a spirit of genuine interest and inquisitiveness, rather than in a mechanical form-filling-in style. Customers warm to people who seem genuinely interested in them, and are likely to open up more. You should take the attitude that it doesn’t matter too much if you don’t sell something on this particular occasion, but to have gained information about the customer and to have started or improved your relationship with them in a friendly positive manner is still a good ‘result’.
Questions you ask should as far as possible be open ended questions, beginning with the words Who, What, When, Where, How and Why. It is impossible to answer these questions with a blunt Yes or No, and the speaker has to give you some extended information. As you ask your questions, you might bear in mind that if you get stumped or caught on the hop, you can always prolong the conversation by asking ‘What else can you tell me?’
When you feel you understand the customer’s position, and hopefully ascertained their wants/needs, you should confirm that you have understood what they have told you. By doing this you are ensuring that you do indeed have all the facts right, and also reassuring the customer that they are talking to a professional businessperson who has their best interests at heart.
If in doing this you find you have ‘got the wrong end of the stick’ in some respect or other, you must retreat a stage and continue with your questioning until you have got it right.
Once you feel you understand what the customer wants/needs, and you have confirmed with them that this is so, you must decide whether or not your company has something that will help the customer.
If you feel you have not got anything that will help the customer, you would be doing entirely the right thing by explaining that, and possibly offering some advice as to how the customer could find help, if it is within your power to do so. You will be much more highly regarded by the customer than if you attempt to sell them something they do not want or need, just for the sake of making a sale.
If you do feel that your company has got something to offer, then you should explain exactly what it is that you can offer that satisfies the customer’s want/need as discovered and agreed above. Create the desire! Be succinct but not at the expense of being informative. Describe your company’s product/service that relate to the customers’ requirements, by talking not just about the features of the product/services, but also (most importantly)
the benefits to the customer that will accrue from using the product/service.
The benefits that are of greatest value to customers are saving time and money, which amounts to the same thing really. Other highly regarded benefits are that life is made easier, that prestige/kudos can be gained, and that personal advancement might be brought about.
If you can show that your product/service will bring about some or all of these things, your customer is quite likely to want to buy!
When you feel you have aroused your customer’s interest in your product/service, you should test the strength of their willingness to buy.
‘So if we can demonstrate that our machine really can test widgets under extremes of temperature and pressure as you described earlier, then you’d be interested in buying such a machine would you, Mr Steed?’
It may be that no further discussion is needed and the customer immediately places a large order with you. Alternatively, they might have a few questions.
At this point you may well be faced with any number of objections. The customer will want to know how much your products/services cost, and they may well have problems with that, either in principle or for some tangible reason (they haven’t got enough money). They may well be locked into exclusive supplier contracts with someone else. They may feel that your product/service isn’t quite what they want after all.
You have to address each of these objections, firstly by questioning until you understand exactly what the customer means. It helps to empathise with their point of view, to demonstrate that you are ‘on their side’, anxious to find a solution to the dilemma.
Then you must attempt to explain carefully your own perspective, and how the customer might look at your ‘solution’ more positively.
Finally you must apply your trial close again, to find out if you have persuaded the customer satisfactorily. If not, you could try again.
Ultimately, you can’t make someone do something they don’t want to do, even if their reasoning is unsound. But you should still maximise your information gathering, and obtain something useful for the future.
For most sales companies, overcoming customers’ objections is a topic of constant debate and training, and the ability you develop in winning people over will be directly proportional to your success in sales.
It’s commonly said that a good salesperson should try four times to overcome an objection. After that, you’re probably wasting your time. Just remember that you’ll never win every sale, but you can use every conversation to gather information, and build a rapport with your customers.
If you feel you have overcome the objections it is still wise to find out if the customer has any other concerns (‘obtaining the whole shopping list’). Only if you are sure that they have no other worries can you proceed to the
If you have successfully overcome any objections that have been put up, and the customer appears to want to buy from you, then you must ‘close the sale’.
Again, this is a subject about which entire books have been written, but you can simply ask the customer when they would like the Expanded Widget System delivered, whether they would like one or two, or whether they
would like ten, in which case they would qualify for some discount.
Basically you are required to gain the customer’s commitment to accept your product or service on the terms you have stipulated, or otherwise agreed with the customer.
If at this point the customer throws up more objections, you must retreat a stage, and deal with the matter accordingly.
Once the sale has been agreed, tie up all the necessary details regarding delivery, price, and payment, in accordance with your company’s procedures.
After you have successfully closed the sale, you should maximise your good fortune by asking ‘What else can we help you with?’, and probing for future opportunities.
You should also ask who else the customer knows that could benefit from your service. If necessary prompt a bit and suggest – other departments, colleagues, suppliers, customers?
Use the opportunity also to promote other areas of your own business – ‘Did you know we also supply training? Would this be of interest to you?’
Make careful notes of all conversations and agreements.
Send letters confirming everything. Keep copies.
Make another call!