If you are running a small business, you may have come across the hard truth that to keep your business solvent – you need to learn to sell. If you can’t sell what you offer and your unique way of doing it, your business could be in serious trouble.
For people who aren’t natural extroverts, the whole idea of selling may seem distasteful. In our laid-back Aussie culture, we have pretty ‘loaded’ image of salespeople – think of the common terms ‘snake-oil salesman’ or ‘second hand car dealer’. I know that in my career as a marketer I have always drawn a clear distinction between what I do and sales.
Now, running a small business, I understand the importance of knowing how to sell what you do best to the people you can help the most. After speaking to a few ‘natural salespeople’ (those crazy dudes who love nothing more than chatting to customers and always come away with a win), attending seminars such as The Entourage’s 8 Steps to Entrepreneurial and Sales Mastery, and reading a LOT of advice on and offline, I’m starting to get the hang of what it’s all about. It starts with understanding that sell is not a four letter word, and that there are certain approaches to selling that can make it much more palatable.
Here are some tips I have picked up.
Listen before talking
A lot of the bad press that sales has received can be put down to the idea of pushy salespeople trying to force a product or service on customers who don’t want or need it. There is nothing that will make me less inclined to buy than a telemarketer or network seller who runs a canned sales spiel past me
When it comes down to it, good sales technique is simply about having honest conversations with your prospective customers. It’s not submitting them to a pre-prepared ‘spiel’. As the salesperson, your role in the initial stages of the conversation is to draw out enough information to find out if you can help them.
Questions you can ask your customers to help them explain what they are after include:
- What is the problem they are seeking a solution to?
- What has motivated them to act now?
- What do they think they need*?
- What their ultimate goal or number one priority is? If you work with businesses, this could be the top priority for their business rather than a personal one.
- How urgently do they need to have their problem fixed?
*What they think they need and what they actually need may be different.
Try not to jump into the conversation too early and start offering solutions – the more information you can gather about what the problem really is, the more effective you will be at offering a solution that will appeal.
Understand what outcomes your client really wants
When a client comes to us for a website, we understand that the tangible outcome of a website is usually just a way of expressing what they really want:
- I want to look like a serious, established business so that my clients respect me and feel confident that I can deliver.
- I want a way of getting more sales or business without having to do it all in person.
- I don’t want to lose business to competitor who have a better online presence than I do.
It’s important to drill down to find out what is really motivating them so you can see if your solution can deliver.
Be generous with your knowledge (or ‘givers gain’)
Many business people are very concerned about giving away too much information in conversations with customers. They fear that if their intellectual property is not protected, they will be risking losing business. Unfortunately, if you’re too cagey about how you deliver your solutions or what your products are, you can’t effectively build trust with your customers.
A sales meeting is a bit like a blind date – you’re as much seeing if a customer is a good fit for you, as whether you are a good fit for the customer. By generously sharing information (by giving an insight into your business processes, how you find your products, or freely offering advice before they have signed on as a client) you:
- establish your authority as someone who knows what they are on about
- establish trust
- demonstrate you are not just there for the mercenary sale
- put into play the Rule of Reciprocity
Remember where we said ‘what customers think they need and what they actually need may be different’? This is the part of the conversation where you can offer advice on a variety of ways to help your customers achieve what they want – not all of which may involve your product or service.
Now of course you should have reasonable limits – you don’t want to get into a cycle of endlessly meeting with people who ‘pick your brain’ and take up your time with no intent to bring business your way. Most genuine prospects will appreciate the something extra you have offered before any commitment to a sale and value your time. If they chose to buy what you are selling you’ve set your relationship off on the best footing.
When you’re not a natural salesperson, you can sometimes feel that following up is bothering your prospective customer or haranguing them for a sale. But following up is an important aspect of closing a sale. Unless your prospect has handed over a deposit or signed on the dotted line at your meeting, you’ll need to do it. Otherwise, you’re basically throwing away all the time you’ve invested with the customer to that point.
Here’s how to make the follow up process feel less awkward:
- Make it clear at your initial meeting that you will follow up and give them a time-frame in which you’ll contact them – check what suits them best. This way you’ll feel more awkward if you don’t follow up than if you do! Get all the relevant contact details from them. When people give out their phone number or email address they are basically giving you permission to follow up and expect to hear from you.
- There may be a number of steps involved in your follow up, for example sending a proposal then issuing an estimate. Outline the process they can expect. Try to implement these steps as quickly as practical after your meeting.
- Contact the customer with a reason other than just ‘checking up’; for example, to see if they have any further questions or to update them on available timeslots for you to commence the work they need.
- Don’t be scared of the phone. Sometimes it seems easier and less intrusive to send a follow-up email – but it takes more effort to respond to emails that to have a quick chat, and it’s easier for emails to get ‘buried’ in the inbox. By phoning the customer – ideally at a pre-agreed time, for example 3 days after meeting or sending a proposal – you could be saving them a lot of effort.
Follow-ups show that you want to build a relationship with your customers – and people are much more motivated to deal with people they have a good relationship with, not a faceless business. Making an effort to follow up shows that you value the time you BOTH put into your initial meeting.
The simple process of following up potential prospects is more cost-effective than trying to gain new leads all the time. Research says that only 20% of sales leads are ever followed up – which means 80% of opportunities can go fallow simply due to lack of follow-up.
Change your thinking about selling
Turn that frown upside down and stop thinking of sales as a dirty but necessary part of doing business. Instead, think of selling as an opportunity to build a relationship with your customers and see how you can help them get what they need. Keeping in mind that people buy from people that they like. The sales process is a great opportunity to build a relationship with mutual benefits for you and your client – not just a way to make money.
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