We’re all salespeople. Some of us sell products or services, but even if we are not compensated specifically for the sale per se, we are still involved every day in selling ideas or plans, both at work and in our personal lives.
During my working life I’ve been fortunate to meet several outstanding mentors from whom I’ve learned important selling principles. Here are a few I believe are critical.
- Think before you sell. Don’t overlook the research phase before presenting your product, service or idea; the thinking/planning stage in the sales process is fundamental to success. Your customer will know whether you have a thorough understanding that’s based on solid research. It’s likely we all have been involved with a salesperson whose sales plan is so weak that they have very little to say after their opening line. Your first question leaves them stumped.
On the contrary, I recently met with a very effective transportation salesperson who spends significant time cold-calling on the telephone. As you know, this is not easy work and at times it’s tough to carry on even a 30-second conversation before the phone is hung up. She discovered that thoroughly researching the person and the business she’s calling is essential. In fact, her personal guideline is one hour of research for each planned minute on the phone. The result? She’s very successful.
- Remember, you are selling to unique individuals and your approach needs to be tailored accordingly. The canned sales approach wears thin very quickly.
We’ve all walked into a car dealership and been accosted by a salesperson who spends no time assessing our individual needs and instead dives straight into a stale script. They’re unlikely to be successful with this gambit.
On the flipside? A salesperson who uses their emotional intelligence to pick up on who they are speaking with, how they would like to be introduced to the product and—most importantly—reads their verbal and nonverbal cues to govern what information is shared. As salespeople we will all find much greater success focusing on the person in front of us rather than being determined to push all available information to them as quickly as possible.
- Learning to wait for sales success is critical to winning in the long run. Nobody’s batting average in selling is 100 percent. There are times when our product, service or idea is not going to be bought. There are a multitude of reasons for this, and it’s important that we listen and understand exactly why the sale will not proceed. It’s critical to exit gracefully if you ever want a chance to sell something in the future.
Case in point: I recently purchased a new car and, like most people, visited several dealerships before making my selection. In so doing I interacted with a number of salespeople and treated each one respectfully, making it clear that I would keep them informed throughout the process, which wouldn’t take very long.
After buying the car, I reached out to four salespeople who did not secure my business and sadly not one of them took the time to return my call or send me an email. This is very short-term thinking on their part, with not much chance of future success. A simple call or email would have taken 30 seconds and could have kept them in the game for the next purchase or referral.
- Be brutally honest with yourself about the feedback you are receiving. If you find the sale of your product or idea just isn’t taking flight as often as it should, it’s time to carefully assess the feedback from your customers. What are their objections? Is there a pattern that’s developing? Is it your product, service or idea or is it your presentation?
Seeking honest feedback and making adjustments is critical. I recently met with several clients to present a business idea that I thought had great promise. I knew them well and I trusted them to be honest. As a result, after three separate presentations I went back to the drawing board to make significant adjustments to my plan. I’m thankful they were honest enough to speak the truth, and they know I’m persistent enough to be back soon with a refreshed idea.
One of the best sales mentors I’ve ever learned from has a simple question she routinely asks: “How can I help you?” It’s a very straightforward question and almost always produces a clear and honest answer from her customer. She’s ready for the response from her customer because she’s put significant thought into the process ahead of time, she remembers she’s selling to a unique individual, she understands timing is everything and finally, she’s willing to be totally honest with herself on the feedback she receives.