I’ve been in sales for a very long time. While my job has not always been defined by a traditional sales title, I’ve come to the realization that many people in their chosen profession, especially those working as entrepreneurs and freelancers, are all in sales. Just because they don’t have, as I have had, a title that has been determined by their company as a sales representative, that doesn’t mean they should ignore the fine intricacies of selling.
Here are some useful pointers that have been important to me as I’ve become a seasoned sales professional. These are not all tips that I’ve created, but rather a perspective that is in step with most highly successful sales professionals.
This is probably the biggest difference between great sellers and poor ones. We all have something important to say. We have facts, figures, messages and solutions. In the sales process, or any business interaction for that matter, it’s important to remember one thing: you are not them. When you are selling something- a product, a service or an idea- you must first take very serious consideration to what you customer or counterpart has to say. If you’re not clear on something, ask a question and listen some more. What you will say will be important only after it is determined why it will be. Sales people fail when its made obvious that their agenda is obvious and self-serving. Interview the buyer and shut up for a while, it’ll mean a lot.
2. Sell the endgame. Sell results.
Features and benefits are great, but if they don’t solve a problem, they’re useless. Why would someone buy what you’re selling? Find out what that is, and sell that. All that nitty gritty detail should be used for supporting arguments and to help your buyer feel that they are making the right decision.
3. Keep it professional, don’t force buddy talk.
I see it all the time, sales reps that come across as big phonies because they think that if their customers likes them, they’ll buy. I’ve had customers that I considered friends that didn’t buy from me and I’ve had customers that I’ve had cold relationships with buy from me. Relationships are important, but they can’t be forced. Trying to force a relationship on a customer is the same as forcing your product down their throat. Remember, when they’re ready to act, on a relationship or a sale they will. Until then, keep it professional and keep the process moving in a respectful manner.
4. First things first. Don’t waste your time.
Would you sell a fur coat to a member of PETA? Would you sell an expensive car to someone on food stamps? Of course not. Cut down on wasting your time and energy by asking the important questions up front. Find out if there is a need for what you are selling and if there is a budget for it. Otherwise, you are just wasting your time that could be spent moving real sales and solutions forward.
5. Don’t put the onus on the buyer to keep things going.
Be proactive. Decide if you and you’re buyer are going to move forward and then move forward. If you’re waiting for your customer to get the ball rolling, you’ll sell a lot less. Close every conversation with the next step, whether it is following up or finalizing a sale. If the buyer is not ready to buy, decide if they will ever be and either commit stay in touch or move on. Either way, keep some control of the conversation.
Also, don’t write a proposal until your customer has made a serious verbal commitment. Time is a very valuable resource.
6. Make individual To-Do lists.
Throughout my career, many times I’d make little checklists associated with specific accounts. This would ensure that I’d follow through with my commitments and gave my customer faith in my competency. Even if there were only one or two items, I’d make sure I’d follow through with the things I committed to and get back to my customer sooner than later. This is a top marketing tool for you as an individual, because you are showing your customer that they and their needs are important to you. It also makes the next item on this list easier to attain.
7. Referrals follow happy times.
If you’re customer is happy with what you are providing them, that is the time to ask for referrals. I’ve seen many sales people ask for referrals right off the bat, before the buyer could determine anything about the person’s quality as a professional. It’s like asking for a raise after working at a company for a week- not advisable. Have patience and wait until you know you’re buyer will be willing to back you up when they refer you.
8. Closing is an ugly word.
I hate the term “close” in a sales call. I understand it is important, but to me someone who insists on a hard close has decided to end the call with a forced call to action. Asking your customer “will you buy this now?” puts pressure on the customer to act and puts them on their heels. My career has been successful by preaching the mantra:
I am an expert in what I am selling. I want to find out what you need in your business and see if my expertise can help you. If we can share with each other what your needs and my offerings are and there’s a fit, we’ll work together. If there isn’t, we won’t.
Take the pressure off the buyer and allow them to decide that they want to buy. Often times a pressurized sale will fall apart through further reflection. Confident, well-informed buyers are great customers and selling to them is much simpler.