You have your sales team screened, hired, and trained on the features and benefits of your product and now it's time to put their "feet on the street!" But what about their sales approach? Did you think through the possible sales techniques and make an informed choice about what would work most effectively for your product and market? If not, your team may not be off to the fast break you hope for. Take the time to think about what approach would work best for the sales environment your reps will be facing.
If you're in a consulting or service-oriented business you know that it's going to require a relationship building process, but a product sales environment may require the same thing. The art of selling is not as straight forward as you may think. If you haven't been out there and sold before (as many new business owners haven't) then you may benefit from going through this workshop and identifying what you think might work for your business. If you're a seasoned sales professional now in a sales management position there may also be a thing or two for you. In this article, we'll look at some of the more effective selling techniques out there.
Have you ever had someone convince you to buy something you knew you'd never use? How do they do that? Did you want to buy anything else from them? Did you have a good relationship with them? These are some of the questions that come up when you think about what types of techniques your sales team should use.
Early books about sales techniques (we're talking about the early 1900's) included key words like ethics, service, relationships, hard work, doing the best job possible, and loyalty to your company. These all led to the idea of building a friendship and relationship with your customers so they would keep coming back. (Sound familiar?) After about 10 years, other ideas began to surface. Door-to-door salesmen discovered that they could increase their sales by using specific words and specific persuasion methods. This led to the perfecting and proliferation of sales techniques that focused not on the customer's needs or building a relationship, but on closing techniques and methods that rated a one-time sale, which was their only interest.
In the next section we'll look at the different stages of a sale.
The foundations of most modern sales techniques lie in five stages of action. These began in the 1950's and include:
- Attention: You have to get the attention of your prospect through some advertising or prospecting method.
- Interest: Build their interest by using an emotional appeal such as how good they will look to their boss when they make this deal that will save the company thousands of dollars!
- Desire: Build their desire for your product by showing them its features and letting them sample or test-drive it.
- Conviction: Increase their desire for your product by statistically proving the worth of your product. Compare it to its competitors. Use testimonials from happy customers.
- Action: Encourage the prospect to act. This is your closing. Ask for the order. If they object, address their objections. There are then many variations of closing techniques that can help get the business.
There is a plethora of closing techniques that range from hard sell to soft sell and everything in-between. Some of these include:
- A Direct Close - Simply ask for the order when you are sure your prospect is ready.
- A Deal/Concession Close - Using this closing technique gives the prospect the feeling that they are making a smart choice and saving money (or getting more value). Use it with phrases like "Order today and I can add this other module for only 10 percent more."
- A Time-Driven Close - This one works well with statements like, "prices are going up next week, so you should go ahead a let me place your order today."
- Trial Offer - You can let the prospect use the product at no risk for a trial period. This works well if you're selling products that make people's lives easier. They aren't likely to want to give it back if it has saved them a lot of time and effort during the trial period. On the other hand, if they haven't had the experience with the product you told them they would then you probably won't get another chance.
Many more closing techniques exist, but we're going to focus on one of the more successful techniques for building a large and loyal customer base. That focus is, once again, Relationship Selling. Read on to learn some of the ways you can help your staff develop solid relationships with their clients that will build sales and benefit the client.
Did you know that it costs more than five times as much to get a new customer as it does to keep an existing customer? That in itself should help you understand the value of building a relationship with your customers and turning them into both repeat buyers and spokespeople for your company. Word of mouth referrals are still one of the best ways to make new sales. If Joe tells Ed he got a great deal from Joanna at XYZ company, then Ed is more likely to go to Joanna and also buy (or at least be receptive if Joanna calls him to set up an appointment.)
Relationship selling is all about building a friendship or relationship with your prospects and listening to their needs. Once you've built that relationship, shown you care, and earned their trust, you are on the road to making them a customer. Knowing their needs and finding out their secret fears (for example, your client may confide to you, "If I can't make this project work within budget, my boss will probably replace me!") can help you find solutions for them that are exactly on-target with their needs and build an even stronger relationship. With a relationship in place, working out details is a breeze. Those details become obstacles if you don't have the existing relationship.
As a client, some of my best experiences with sales people were with those who honestly listened to my needs, and showed an interest in more than just the business. They came in with a low pressure, open, and honest approach and won my business. I didn't mind setting up appointments for their visits. I looked forward to them. It was low pressure and friendly. My company received good service, good prices, and everyone was happy. I knew they would react quickly if I had problems or emergency needs. So, when competitors called, I quickly told them we were happy with our current vendor - even if they may have been able to give us a better price! That's part of the power of relationship selling!
Most people react negatively to high pressure sales. In relationship selling, high pressure is not typically part of the equation, simply because it's hard to have a friendly relationship with a client who feels pressured by you. In relationship selling, you become a form of support for your clients. Your services or products become something they depend on, and the more you can suit their needs and make their jobs easier, the better they will respond to additional sales offers. You'll also find that relationship selling benefits companies that offer products in very competitive markets - particularly if there isn't a lot of difference between products!
In the next section we'll learn about the importance of maintaining contact with the customer.
Maintaining Customer Contact
Part of relationship selling involves maintaining regular contact. If you neglect a client who has trust in your integrity as a person and as a salesperson, that client may finally be forced to turn to your competitor. (Who has probably been calling regularly to get their business.) So, make sure you not only build the relationship, but keep regular contact and keep all channels of communication open. Make available several methods of contact for any type of emergency need. Or you may find that, in an emergency, your client was forced to contact that persistent competitor and discovered that, "Hey, he/she's a nice person too! And their product is maybe even a little better! Hmmmm!" So, the lesson is, make sure you maintain contact and are always accessible to your clients, or you may find yourself having to replace them!
An important part of relationship selling is also having the technology available to manage and maintain those relationships. That often comes in the form of contact management software or a good Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. We'll talk about that a little later in this article.
A new sales technique that has recently surfaced involves spending significant sales time only with those prospects who offer the highest probability of a sale. Arriving at that determination involves asking pointed questions and letting the prospect do the majority of the talking. The approach is to focus only on prospects who need your product, want you product, and can afford your product. Rather than using the effort trying to turn a low probability prospect into a high probability prospect, you focus your efforts entirely on the high probability group.
Determining who is high probability is done through a series of questions that require positive answers. If at any point, you don't get the answer you need, you end the meeting, thank the person, and leave. You don't waste your time and/or your proposal department's time on putting together a proposal that you know won't be accepted. Now, just because the prospect states that they are not interested, doesn't mean you pack your bags and leave. If they've answered all other questions with the right answers then you can continue the line of questioning until you determine without doubt that they will buy. This means you never ask for the order. If you've done the questioning (interview) session right then when it is completed you and the prospect have come to a meeting of the minds and the logical next step is that they will place an order. Your series of questions has eliminated any objections (or else you have already said goodbye and left!).
Rather than trying to manipulate the prospect and get them to do something they don't want to do, you are letting them come to the decision that it is the right thing to do. You are laying the foundation for a mutually beneficial basis for doing business.
There is a lot more to be learned about high probability selling, as well as the many other sales techniques out there. Let's talk about some of the basic techniques, tips, sales styles, and closing sales.
Basic (but Effective) Sales Tips and Techniques
Today there are more types of sales styles and techniques than you can shake a stick at. So how do you know what works and what doesn't? It really boils down to what works for you and what works for your product. Think about your target market and their perceptions about your product type. Do they know they need it and simply have to choose from the various brands on the market? Or, do they have no idea how much the product would help them be more productive? Do they even know about your product? Will the sales call be an education for them - or you?
Think through these things before determining what methods might work for your product or service. It goes without saying that a sales method that works for office supplies won't work for management consulting services. Although they are both targeting a similar market, the knowledge and understanding of your prospects will be much different. They have to be educated about how much they can benefit from consulting services, whereas, they already know they have to have binders to put their reports in, or paper for their copiers.
So, even though there are many sales methods, the choices are narrowed as you think about your market and what their needs are, as well as what their expectations may be.
With that said, let's just go over some things that are beneficial in almost any market. These tips are basic guidelines that most any sales person can benefit from.
- Listen to the emotional side of your prospect or client: Emotions are tied into almost everything we do even if we don't realize it. Your client may mention off-hand that they are really stressed-out about a particular project they are working on (even if it doesn't relate to what you're selling them). Make a note of this and see if there is anything you can do to assist them. You may have another client who had a similar dilemma and found a good solution. Make those connections and help where ever you can. You'll be rewarded with loyalty from all of your clients.
- Focus on your prospect or client's needs: We've talked about it before, but it's worth mentioning again. You may be tempted to sell your client your top-of-the-line model gadget when they really only need the mid-line model. By selling them more than they need, you may be cutting off future relations with them. Once they realize (and they will eventually) that they don't need most of what you sold them, they'll feel bitter and resentful toward you for wasting their money and not looking out for their best interest. They'll see you as a "salesperson" and not as a resource.
- Use language that focuses on your prospect or client: Simply changing the way you speak may also make a difference in how you are received by your prospect. Using "you" and "yours," or "you'll find..." rather than "I think" or "Let me tell you about," brings your message a little closer to home and may grab their attention more quickly.
- Help your prospect see the bottom line: If you know your product can help clients save money, or increase profitability, then make sure they understand that. Your product may have an edge in that it includes features that save time. Time is money as the saying goes, and if you can save time your can often sell your product.
- Find out your prospect's priorities: You can save yourself a lot of wasted time and effort by simply knowing how important your product and its benefits are to your prospect. If you've listened to them and determined the need, but still aren't getting anywhere, find out if there are other elements of their business that are taking priority and pushing your sale aside. If you know they have to implement a program before they can spend time considering (or funds purchasing) your product then you can schedule a call back at a later date that may stand a better chance of getting some attention. To do this you have to ask the questions because the information is not always volunteered. (Again, the key is focusing on the needs of your prospect, and having an open relationship already in place.)
Read on for even more sales tips and techniques.
More Sales Tips and Techniques
As we mentioned on the previous page, there are a plethora of sales styles and techniques. Here we continue a listing of some of those:
- Know your prospect: Find out as much as you possibly can about your prospect before your appointment. This will not only help you anticipate their needs ahead of time, but will also show them you've done your homework and have an interest in their business other than just selling your product. When talking with them, let them do most of the talking. People usually love talking about their businesses and its successes. For example, you might bring up the fact that you saw they won an award at a regional meeting then let them proceed to fill you in on the details. You might also compliment them on the efficiency of their production system or the quality of their products. This will also open the door to more conversation and the opportunity to learn more about their needs and how your product will fit those needs.
- Focus on why they should buy - not their objections: The idea here is that while you are building up the benefits associated with using your product, they will be minimizing their resistance to it. By focusing on what you know the prospect likes, you are building up the importance of the positive and reducing the importance of the negatives.
- Sell the benefits - not the product: You've heard this one before, but it is worth repeating. In most cases, you're not selling your product, you're selling the benefits the product will produce. In other words, you're not selling digital phones, you're selling the ability to communicate from anywhere. You are selling freedom to leave the confines of the office and still be accessible. You're selling the ability to have a more flexible work schedule. You're selling peace of mind for long trips. You're selling security. Get to the emotional or financial benefits and you're on to something!
- Never rush the sale or the customer: Remember the section about building a relationship with your customers? This is a very important step. It can help give the prospect the right perception of you and your company. Rushing them instead of letting them come to their own decision to buy can create hostilities that can't be overturned. It can make the difference between getting the sale and creating a loyal customer, and having to start over with another prospect. In the competitive climate of many markets, you definitely don't want to risk losing a qualified prospect who you know needs your product.
- Know your products, as well as the market - be a RESOURCE: In order to be seen as a valuable resource for your clients, you have to demonstrate that you not only know and understand your products and the market, but can assist them in making good decisions and provide them with tools to improve their business. If you don't have these skills and knowledge, get them. You'll be rewarded over and over by loyal clients who trust your opinions and advice, and buy from you frequently.
- Follow through with promises: If you do nothing else, do this. Always follow through with what you say you are going to do. If you say you'll send a quote by Friday - DO IT! If you say you'll check with someone else in your company about an issue that's come up - DO IT! Don't forget. Use the technology available to you (even if it's a sticky note on your dash board!) and make sure you follow through with your promises. There is no surer way to lose the faith of a prospect (or existing client) than to forget to do something you tell them you will do. If something comes up that forces you to have to delay, call them and give them a heads up. They may have a meeting arranged to present the information you're supplying them with, and if they don't have it you'll both look bad.
- Focus on your client's success: Not to beat a dead horse, but there is tremendous value in being a resource for your client. If you can help them to succeed then they are more likely to help you succeed. Be a coach for your clients (at least in your areas of expertise). You have the unique perspective of seeing how many different businesses operate. Gather this knowledge and share it with your clients or prospects. Make sure they understand that you want to see them succeed, not just sell your products.
- Use explanations rather than excuses: If you do have to explain to a customer why there is a problem with their order, their repair, their service, etc. Explain why the problem is there in the first place, rather than using an excuse. For example, if you provide health care services and you're having difficulty meeting the scheduling needs of the customer, you might it explain it like this, "With this being a particularly bad allergy season we have had more emergency calls due to asthma (or whatever the case may be) and these patients can't wait for a scheduled appointment. Our staff is behind schedule, but we are addressing the problem now by bringing in temporary help for these critical need times. So we should be able to schedule your service on 'x' date." Understanding the problem may help alleviate some of their frustration. Verbalizing the cause may also keep you more aware of the potential problems so you can be more prepared the next time around.
So, there you have several sales tips to keep in mind when you're out there pounding the pavement. Stop, look and listen; it's good advice on the street, and it's good advice in sales. Next we'll talk about some of the cool technology you can use to manage your time and your clients more effectively.
Technology to Enhance Selling
The tools available to the sales professional are endless. If you had the mind to, you could have four or more electronic devices strapped to your body enabling you to be totally connected and available to anyone in the world at all times. Now that's dedication to keeping the lines of communication open!
- You would have your beeper on your belt for those people you want to hear from but not acknowledge.
- You would have your cell phone in your coat pocket for those people you want to hear from and/or be able to contact regardless of where you are or what you're doing.
- You would have your PDA (Personal Digital Assistant), BlackBerry or other smartphone in your shirt pocket to look up (while driving your rental car) the address of your next appointment. Or you could check your calendar to see where the heck that appointment is supposed to be, surf the net to MapQuest to get directions, check your e-mail, make notes to yourself, check your to-do list when you're bored, etc.
- You would carry your laptop in your black leather executive backpack to use in airports to document the meetings you're at, the sales you made, surf the net, check your e-mail, play Free-Cell, update your contact management software, and complete your expense report. You would then sync that info with your PDA and you're ready for the next day!
- You may even be carrying your digital projector to display those dazzling PowerPoint™ presentations you've put together.
Now there are even Web-based applications for sales that you can access from anywhere using your Web-enabled cell phone, PDA, or good old-fashioned laptop. Isn't technology great!?
In case you've been living in a cave for the past few years, you probably don't know all about CRM and its relationship to Contact Management Software. Basically, contact management software was the foundation for what is now Customer Relationship Management, or CRM. There are many software packages available to choose from that are either simply the contact manager portion, or the full-blown CRM version. You can also find programs that are Web-based to enable you to access your information from anywhere at any time. Regardless of which level your company uses, having some form of contact management software is necessary.
Let's take a closer look at CRM.
Customer Relationship Management
CRM is a strategy, process and technology that lets your company make the most of every sale by optimizing revenue and getting a better understanding of the customer's needs. The CRM universe rolls together sales (as a type of Sales Force Automation), marketing, and customer service into a single software-driven technology. In other words, it includes the areas of your company that affect the relationships with your customers. It puts this information into a single package which encompasses the meat of what every customer-centric business needs to know and keep track of. Every interaction with a customer is recorded in this single system. That information is then used to manage, measure and keep track of the processes of marketing, sales and customer service as they relate to that customer. Overall, it builds greater customer loyalty and a better customer experience.
No more will the Sales department blame Marketing for not communicating with them. No more will Customer Service blame Sales for disgruntled customers. No more will Marketing blame everyone else for not implementing their business solutions. Now everyone can live in one big happy, customer-focused universe that communicates and desegregates the internal workings of the company. Before, no one was accountable for why the customer wasn't happy. There was a lot of finger-pointing and buck-passing. With CRM everyone has access to what's going on with every customer and can access the information necessary to keep that customer happy.
Now, if we focus on the Sales portion of this we see that, with CRM, Sales can build that relationship (remember Relationship Selling) and that relationship can be extended deeper into the company to customer service. So, you have an even greater chance of keeping that customer happy and addressing his needs quickly and efficiently. Marketing can use the data gathered to develop new business solutions, directions, and more effectively communicate the offerings of the company.
Notes about Setting Up Your CRM System
As great as CRM is, it can't work without some up-front planning and forethought. For example, before you set up your sales team with a contact management or CRM system you have to first:
- Plan the details of the information you want to collect.
- Set up procedures and protocols for how the information will be entered.
- Standardize phrasing and abbreviations for company names or address information.
- Create drop-down lists for common terms and items that everyone would use.
- Agree on report formats and styles and set up templates.
Once you have the preliminary information identified and squared away, set up time to thoroughly train your sales team and have an accessible resource for future questions and suggestions. It's a process that has to be planned and managed in order to be effective.
CRM is definitely the way of the future. Companies that don't implement some form of CRM may have a hard time keeping their customers as happy as their competitors who have a CRM system do.