A professional shares his formula for improved sales and customer relationships that last.
By Bill Foster
There is certainly no lack of advice on how to increase your sales success. Books and seminars can be counted by the hundreds, and many of these are quite good. Firsthand experience working for others in sales positions and managing my own business have helped me to formulate principles that can help to ensure sales success.
1 Invest in potential customers
Everyone would like to run a business where customers regularly call you up and place their orders. In the real world it’s not that easy, which makes it important to invest in your customers by seeking them out.
Investing in your customers relates not only to building relationships with existing accounts; it also applies to identifying new accounts. In the awning business, for example, finding qualified customers and converting them into sales was challenging, which led to developing a two-part strategy.
Thousands of consumers—and potential customers—attend home shows each year. If you exhibit, generate prospects by offering a discounted price good for one year to any visitor who fills out an information card. After the show, follow up on every one of them and convert prospects into customers by offering them value and building relationships.
2 Qualify prospects
Every business owner can share in the frustration and wasted time and expense of pursuing prospects who will not or cannot buy. This fact of life makes qualifying leads one of the most important keys to increase sales success.
The first step is identifying the characteristics of a qualified prospect. Take a few minutes to think about your most recent buying customers. Every business will be different, but the basic characteristics of a qualified prospect include a product or service need they are aware of; legitimate authority and ability to purchase; a sense of urgency about making the decision to buy; trust in you and your organization; and willingness to listen to what you have to say.
Many salespeople focus only on the last qualification—that someone is willing to listen to what they have to say, but listening to potential customers can be far more important than talking to them when it comes to qualifying prospects.
Of course, in qualifying prospects, avoid giving someone the bum’s rush. Carefully inject the essential questions into the natural flow of conversation and actively listen. The person in front of you might not be a prospect today, but you will want to make a good impression for future business and possible referrals.
3 Behavior style
Every person is unique, which is worth considering in boosting sales success. Nevertheless, sales training company The Brooks Group, for example, has identified four essential personality types: Doers, Talkers, Pacers and Controllers. Doers are direct, competitive, confident, demanding and results oriented, while Talkers are interactive, impulsive, emotional and expressive. A Pacer is steady, sincere, loyal and a good listener; a Controller is, cautious, analytical, technical, quality oriented, calculated, and “by the book.”
For sales success, approach each prospect with your own personality in neutral. Observe the prospect’s speech and body language, identify his or her style and adjust your own personality to sync with that. You will be amazed at how quickly you establish rapport.
See The Brooks Group information (“Style Analysis Audit,” pages 38-39) for details about the variety of personality types likely to be encountered in a sales environment. It could be helpful to assess where you may fit in and to learn more about the variety of personalities salespeople confront every day.
4 Positioning to sell authentically
Positioning is the ability to set yourself and your organization apart from the competition and to sell authentically based on your strengths. Positioning is how prospects and customers perceive differences and why they may want to do business with you.
This principle, more than any other, may teach you how to be comfortable in the sales process. Positioning your organization and yourself takes time and can be uncomfortable at first as you probe within to see who you really are, including an honest assessment of your weaknesses. The benefits are huge in terms of a distinct position in the marketplace and a competitive advantage.
After defining what sets you apart personally, it’s time to focus on what sets your company apart. Ask yourself why someone would choose to do business with your organization instead of a competitor’s, many of which may be less expensive. There is no substitute for a professional, polished approach in every aspect of your company, from website and business cards to sales presentations and how the phone is answered. Think classy and you’ll be classy.
5 Develop a system
Selling is a system and unless you have a systematic approach based on a solid understanding of your prospects and the marketplace, you are, as the saying goes, throwing spaghetti against the wall and hoping something will stick. Developing a selling system that is unique and effective to the situation is essential.
A selling system consists of repeatable, logical and visible steps that sales professionals can work within. The system provides specific actions, but is also flexible enough to accommodate the varied individual strengths of your sales team and the infinite variety of prospects. Research reinforces the importance of a selling system. Based on a study of 12,000 sales presentations, followed by interviews of the prospects/customers, The Brooks Group says, “If you follow a linked, sequential selling process, you have a 93 percent chance of making the sale. Without a system, your chances fall to 42 percent.”
When I began my awning sales business, I had no selling system and the results showed. We worked very hard, but with discouraging results. It finally dawned on me that we had to be more systematic and disciplined and learn from our early successes and failures. From this epiphany, a six-point selling system emerged for me, one that was elegant in its simplicity. It walked the prospect through the essential decisions, built rapport and dramatically increased closing rates.
6 Build value
There is no future in selling cheap. When you emphasize the quality of the products and services you are selling, you are also building a path to customer satisfaction and referrals. When you sell based only on the lowest price, you will always be looking for ways to cut corners. It’s a race to the bottom.
Many salespeople get caught up in the trap of the lowest price and fail to understand the benefits of selling value. When you build value around your product and services, your price will reflect the quality that you’re offering.
For success in value selling, there is no substitute for believing that the value you provide your customers is greater than the price of your products or services. Your challenge is to ensure that the customer experience also convinces your customers that value exceeds price. Welcome to value-oriented selling.
Value selling occurs when you approach your prospect not with product features, but with solutions and benefits. When you approach first with price and features, you instantly set yourself up for comparisons with the competition. By focusing on benefits and solutions, you can secure a higher estimation in the customers’ eyes, frame the conversation in your own terms and build sales success.
7 Close the sale naturally
If you are reading your prospects’ personalities correctly, following a proven sales process and selling value, closing should be the simplest and most straightforward part of the process; it should appear to be what must happen next.
For example, in my awning business, after completing the steps in the sales process I would begin to write up a proposal. If the customers started feeling a little pressure, they would let me know they were not ready to buy. My reply was that I write a proposal on every sales call, and leave a copy for their review. If they should decide to purchase later, they could call me and I’d have all of the necessary details. I would then go back outside to check measurements. With this little break, most customers were ready to sign after I stepped back inside.
Seven steps to sales success sounds so easy. In some ways it is and in some ways it isn’t. But without discipline and a methodical approach, and without an open mind to change, how will you improve your sales success? With these proven principles and a belief in your products, services, company and yourself, improved results are ensured.
Bill Foster, sales training manager with Trivantage, is a former prison chaplain, member of the National Speakers Association and a certified sales trainer.
|General Characteristics of each style||Doer||Talker||Pacer||Controller|
|Factors that improve communication||Minimize features-maximize benefits
* Help them with details * Listen * Ask specific questions * Keep the pace fast enough * Give them the “bottom line” * Stress fast and efficient, new and innovative * Give direct answers
|Be friendly, not dominating * Ask for their ideas and opinions * Use testimonials * Explain how others will benefit * Control your impatience * Use emotion * Don’t dwell on details * Provide chances for them to verbalize * Use gestures and body language||Listen patiently * Take time to explain * Develop more empathy and patience * Exhibit friendly attitudes * Slow down * Control body language * Speak with sincere tone of voice * Give direct answers * Present in logical order||Be diplomatic and courteous * Avoid criticism of their work * Give assurances of correct answers * Don’t ask too many personal questions * Avoid sudden, abrupt changes * Slow down and LISTEN * Explain details * Answer questions precisely * Minimize risks * Be conservative in assertions * Be sincere * Lower your tone of voice|
|General characteristics of each style||Fast-paced speech * Strong personality * Impatient; makes decisions quickly * Direct * Tries to control the situation * Buys new and unique products * Loves change * Drives fast and is always in a hurry * Office: status conscious, big desk, designed for efficiency * Dresses formally to convey status * Has many goals, usually high risk and not written down * Posture: forward leaning,
hand in pocket * Walk: fast and always going somewhere
|Friendly and talkative * Impulsive * Uses many hand gestures while speaking * Shows much emotion * Imprecise about use of time * Buys trendy or showy products impulsively * May not notice change * Drives visually, looking around, with radio on * Office is decorated with memorabilia of experiences * Dress is contemporary and stylish * Not good at goal setting; good intentions but fails to plan * Posture: feet apart, both hands in pockets * Walk: meandering, easily distracted to other destinations||Patient and easy-going * Unemotional voice * Reserved * Deliberate and methodical * Buys traditional products and is a slow decision maker * Does not like change * Drives at a relaxed pace; no hurry * Office: family snapshots, homey * atmosphere, team photos * Dresses casually in comfortable, old favorites * Sets
short-term, low-risk goals * Posture: leans back with hands in pockets *
Walk: steady, easy pace
|Speaks slowly * Asks many questions about facts and data * Deliberates * Uses few hand gestures * Skeptical * Suspicious * Buys proven products; very slow decision maker * Concerned about the effects of change * Drives carefully, following rules * Office: graphs, charts, functional information * Dresses meticulously * Good at setting goals in many areas * One hand on chin * Walk: in a straight line|