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Professional Sales Skills

Professional Selling Skills

For new business start-ups the act of selling your company and selling yourself, should be your number one priority. Even the most introverted, quiet and nervous of business owners can use professional selling techniques effectively...

How do Buyers Perceive You?

All business owners have to sell to survive. For the less experienced or nervous, practicing face to face direct selling through trial and error is critical. Fear of cold calling, fear of asking for the order, fear of the unknown, is simply no excuse for avoiding selling. If you are in charge of your own destiny, then get out there and sell, sell sell! The most influential factor from a buyers perspective is how you earn their trust. They are entering into a relationship with you.

Buyers are looking to see how you behave during initial sales meeting, which will be taken as a reflection of the quality of the delivery of your products and service. Buyers want to see you have prepared adequately, by coming armed with basic facts about the buyer or their company (that should have easily been investigated using market research beforehand). Buyers love to be educated. So, first try and win their trust by being helpful and informative and creative from the outset.

During a sales meeting, always empathise with buyers concerns. If you know something they don't, never patronise or look adversarial. Instead, respect their opinions by involving them in your thinking process. Always listen before making any recommendations. You have to convince them the issue is weighty enough for them to be bothered with. Any interruptions from the buyers should be readily dealt with and welcomed, to avoid the ‘sales shpeel’ disposition of junior features and functions selling. Lastly, never rush into obvious closing techniques as most buyers, (whether experienced negotiators or not), will pick up on it and feel your more interested in the deal than their personal buying needs.

Using a Structured Sales Cycle

The process of selling can be organised into logical steps can help plan. The main steps are as follows:-

  1. Define a Single Sales Objective (SSO) - It should always be (SMART) i.e. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely.
  2. Define the buyer's Business Requirements. After your first 'sales call' (see below), write down a definition of buyer needs and wants.
  3. Establish the Basis Of Decision/ Management Considerations. These are the reasons why they want to buy.
  4. Discover The Background by understanding the facts behind the current situation. Simply ask lots of questions to qualify the opportunity.
  5. Submit a Business Proposal - A professional written short document outlining the various options and with a recommendation.
  6. Define The Detailed Costs of your solution. This should ideally include 3 options for the customer to choose from (as opposed to feeling boxed in with just one option).
  7. Clearly Establish the Business Benefits. Always be clear about the differences between features, advantages and business benefits. Junior salespeople with 'verbal diarrhoea', prefer to use the 'scatter gun' features and functions approach. Many do not listen or turn features into quantifiable business benefits in terms of pounds, shilling and pence. If you can't explain to your prospect how your solution will make or save them time or money, your probably talking more about features and not benefits.
  8. Identify The Buyers Personal Wins. Most buying decisions in large organisations tend to be dependent on the 'emotional wins' for the buyer, not business benefits. After all, its not their money they are spending - it's the companies. Business Benefits are product or service related; they describe the impact on the prospective customer business (lower total cost of ownership, increased efficiency, etc). Whereas 'Wins' are personal and describe how the prospective customer personally gains from the results i.e. (control of others/ subordinates, to be seen as the instrument of change, gain recognition, gets more leisure time). Wins are personal, non organisational, subjective and highly emotional). Remember that organisations achieve results, only people can win.
  9. Recommend an Implementation Plan by giving give the buyer some reassurance with a professional project proposal. Let them own the implementation plan before closing. You could do this by asking them to amend the draft project plan. Use a project manager to make it feasible, and include some contingency cost and time.
  10. Close the Deal by asking for an order. The customer is always waiting to be asked and may feel embarrassed asking how they go about placing an order. Its astonishing how many salespeople get tongue tied because they are scared of asking for the business.
Tips for The Sales Meeting

Always employ professional sales skills (even if it is just a meeting with your bank manager to discuss an overdraft). Most people fail to plan a sales call meeting. So, try and invest some precious time in the basics to make your sales meetings more productive;

Firstly, always prepare for all sales meetings with a written meeting plan. Keep your sales opportunity in perspective, by judging the potential impact on a client's business. To help prepare, obtain some background information to educate yourself on what the buyers company does. Analyse the prospects business in terms of its environmental threats and opportunities, discover their business objectives, products and services, competitors, financial performance, ownership, number of employees, structure, partners/ alliances. Next, check you will be meeting with the correct person. Do they have authority to raise a purchase order on the day? Confirm in writing a suggested agenda, so there are no surprises on either side. In the letter, always invite them to amend the agenda, so they ‘own it’ and feel they are in control of the proposed meeting. Your agenda must help to assist you in achieving your SMART sales objective.

At the sales meeting always make an opening statement i.e. ““I am here to talk to you about your business needs, discuss possible solutions, provide an indication of how XYZ would tackle the problems as well as agree a way forward”. (choose your own words). This may feel scripted and unnatural. However, it avoids meetings that lack business clarity and purpose. You are not there just for a ‘comfortable chat’. If you are naturally shy or quiet, stating your objective helps boosts self confidence. Anticipate possible objections and prepare counters for them. A useful tool is to prepare some matching case studies that resonate with the prospects situation. From this point, follow your agenda and use questioning techniques to find out the specific business requirements. Establish the facts of the situation, by turning implied problems into explicit ones and gaining commitment through 'pay off' questioning.

It should be even more pertinent to you to find out the 'emotional wins' of the prospect, by building real trust and rapport. When people are like each other they tend to like each other. If there is no rapport, a sales order is unlikely to follow. We all use non verbal communications: tonalities, facial expressions, body postures, and physical actions to get our message across. To gain essential rapport, observe and listen to identify your clients preferred type of communication norms and then communicate in those norms back to them.

So (without trying to appear unnatural or overtly weird) subtly match and mirror the buyers tonality, keywords, language, tone, tempo and pace. In addition, matching their sitting position and breathing all helps to build rapport. In addition, we all speak in different ways; we talk about how we picture, say, and feel about ourselves. For a fantastic in depth analysis on this area try reading Unlimited Power from Anthony Robbins. It is vital you understand the form of language most commonly used by the prospect, in order to communicate back in their style of language. To establish this, ask questions and listen to how your prospects:-

  • Communicate Orally - "I saw this product at a trade show", or “I heard this product is the best", or “I just feel this product is best for me";
  • View Situations - they will either being naturally 'moving away from' or 'going towards' people. Simply ask them: "What's most important to you about this project?";
  • Reasons with Possibilities - they will choose to act out of either necessity or possibility. Ask: "what made you choose your last supplier?";
  • Judge Their Effectiveness - ask: "How do you know when you've achieved the result you want?" - they will answer that they either seek assurance form others (external frame) or just made the decision themselves without any help (internal frame);
  • Become Convinced - do they point out what's the same now as before or do they point out what's different. Ask: “How do you compare this situation with that similar situation?"

Lastly, make it personal by taking an active interest in the buyers own personal interests. Find out what their hot buttons are i.e. family names and ages, education, interests, where they live, come from, hobbies, political and moral attitudes, holidays, health, ambitions and so on. Take a genuine interest and remember the answers and write them down after the meeting. Don’t be afraid to impart your personal interest to become a 'real person' not just a salesperson. Smile (and mean it). Be polite. Avoid highly divisive topics like politics as you may come unstuck remarkably quickly. Use first names if he or she asks, but start with Mr/ Miss to be safe.

Telephone Objection Handling

Of course, not all professional selling is face to face. Many businesses run telemarketing campaigns. However, we all hate unsolicited cold calls! So if your running the telemarketing campaign yourself, make sure you identify the right person to call. Prepare your opening line carefully before you make the call to introduce yourself and your company.

The general rule is to state the purpose of the call as soon as possible. Dispense with meaningless and time wasting small talk; buyer’s attention span is limited. Always confirm you heard and understand any possible objection they throw up to put you off. Do this by pausing, (to allow both of you to think and take a breath), then clarify and handle their objection with a valid explanation. Always include a confirmation question at the end of the sentence. For instance, some common ones are:-

  • I’m Not Interested - Mr Bloggs, I can understand you not being interested in something you have not had a chance to hear about. However, so you can judge this for yourself. WOULD YOU…
  • I appreciate that you are a busy man; that is precisely why I am telephoning you for an appointment rather than calling on you on the off chance. WOULD YOU…
  • Just Send Me Details - Certainly I will send you details Mr Bloggs, However, they won’t be of much value unless they are put into the context of your situation, that’s why this idea might be of value to you. WOULD YOU...

Lastly, Some 'Old Sales Gems of Wisdom'
  • "Selling is about risk minimising"
  • "Never confuse a sale with the facts"
  • "Selling is about meeting people's expectations"
  • "Never guess, ask"
  • "Why be complicated when you can be obvious"
  • "Procedures and processes complicate business"
  • "The listener is always in control"
  • "People do not buy from companies they buy from me"
  • "Keep it simple - sell the Dream not the Product"

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