Seventeen ways to tip the sales scale in your favor
John R. Graham, GrahamComm
May 30, 2012
Filed under Guest Blog
Every salesperson knows the job is tougher than ever. It’s not for the faint hearted or those who feel the world owes them a living. At the same time, salespeople recognize the importance of having an extra edge, of standing out from the crowd.
Yet, even those with winning qualities can have other attributes that keep them from getting to the top. To help tip the sales scale, here are 17 ideas that can make a difference:
1. Start exciting customers and stop trying to entice them. Spending time figuring out a customer’s hot buttons is out of sync with the times. Excite them with your knowledge, helpful ideas and your willingness to be there after they sign the order.
2. Make the customer experience interactive. The primary sales task is to get customers talking. Most already have information and expect to participate and they’re turned off when they don’t have a chance to do so. Ask questions that engage the customer, that create a dialogue. There’s nothing a salesperson can say that’s more important than that.
3. Every sale involves a relationship. One salesperson couldn’t figure out why a prospect didn’t want to buy, until he said, “Frankly, I just don’t understand why we can’t seem to move forward.” It turned out that the customer was afraid the salesperson would disappear. “I like picking your brain,” he commented.
4. Use the “big question” to build a relationship with prospects. “What would you like to accomplish that you haven’t already?” This is the question that opens the windows wide so you can understand what’s hidden away in customers’ minds that dominates their thinking and what they care about passionately.
5. Be there at the right time. A printing sales executive locks the competition out with his electronic tickler system that tells him when jobs are coming up. His customers and prospects are impressed that he makes contact with them at just the right moment.
6. Using “Big data” for better results. There no reason for wasting time bird-dogging dead-end leads; yet, that’s what salespeople assume to be part of the job. Not any longer. And that’s the value of “big data,” information that exists outside your company, but is now available. Intuit (QuickBooks, Quicken and Turbo Tax) has transactional, behavioral, user-generated data (from its products) and social data drawn from social networks and Twitter. And it’s easily accessible for large or small companies.
7. Doubt yourself. Salespeople often take pride in their ability to “read” people and situations, relying on their “gut instincts” or intuition. They view it as “built-in” radar, guiding their decisions. Although experience can play a significant role, famed psychologist, Dr. Daniel Kahneman, points out the danger on depending on intuition. It can lead to what he calls “automatic thinking” that ignores relevant information, which can spell trouble in sales.
8. Stay with the facts. Using exaggerated claims and inaccurate information are “the kiss of death” for today’s salesperson. With better-informed customers, uncovering such information only takes a few seconds, thus damaging credibility. In today’s totally transparent world, “messing with the facts” can be fatal, whether business (over-sized claims) or personal (doctored resumes).
9. Think for a change. Those in sales tend to be “doers, not thinkers.” And most are burdened with too much activity that’s less than productive. Thinking makes the difference. That’s what middle school students have discovered in the poorest area of Brooklyn. Their school is a chess powerhouse, “a legend in the chess world,” states the New York Times. “You do a lot of thinking about how you think, especially about how you make decisions,” says Elizabeth Spiegel, the full-time chess teacher. Making good decisions is the backbone of sales and that takes thinking as well as doing.
10. Offer options. Scion gets it right with the way it sells its quirky cars. The colors are different but every xD, xB, tC and iQ on a dealer’s lot is identical: no accessories. Customers choose the color and then decide on the accessories, which are dealer installed. The process gets customers involved in making choices. In the end, it’s their car.
11. Present the proposal last. Too many salespeople rush to get a proposal in front of buyers. It’s a bad move because it detracts from getting the customer involved in a dialogue and halts a salesperson’s learning process. Make your proposal an extension of your conversation so that it becomes the result of your conversations. That way your proposal is really coming from the customer.
12. Embrace social media. View social media as a way to engage and cultivate customers, not as advertising or a way to make sales. Ask relevant questions, share ideas and offer helpful information. Be consistent: it’s the key for pulling customers closer to you. Twitter and LinkedIn can be good places to start.
13. If the story fits, use it. If it doesn’t, don’t. No one enjoys telling stories more than a salesperson. Those who are good at it know when to use a story, and when to keep quiet.
Before telling any story, remember that customers are interested in themselves, not you. A sales team was invited by the president of a regional restaurant franchise to meet with him regarding a project for the company’s 600 employees, but were cautioned that they had 45 minutes and no longer.
When the meeting began, the president started talking and didn’t stop for 40 minutes, much to the sale team’s dismay. At that point, the team leader asked the president if he would like to know more about their firm. “No,” came the reply. “I’ve been getting your materials for a year. I have everything I need to know. Let’s get to work.”
14. A better way to say “Thank you.” If you’re looking for something more personal than a vanilla email message to say to “Thank you” or an impersonal .pdf invitation to an event, a good solution is My Stationery Box, a $3.99 app for an iPad. It’s really slick, offering an array of templates for business and personal use. Take a few minutes to set it up and all the stationery is personalized and ready to go. It automatically imports your address book to make it even easier. No more excuses for failing to stay in touch with the right message.
15. Anticipate objections and get a leg up on the competition. Objections will kill a sale, unless you’re prepared to answer them. Most salespeople miss the mark by assuming they can respond to whatever a customer throws at them, so they wing it. That doesn’t work. Prepare yourself by building an objections file on your smartphone or iPad with thoughtful answers. Then, continue to refine them with your manager or sales team members until you can respond effectively to whatever is thrown at you.
16. Differentiate yourself. Line up 10 salespeople in your industry and chances are they’re clones –– to customers. If they look alike, talk alike, dress alike and sell similar products, they are alike and you’re one of them. If you want to stand out from the pack, do this: Admit that there similarities in products and pricing, for example. Then, talk about your differentiating factor: you keep your promises. Have testimonials and references ready to substantiate your claim. It’s a game changer.
17. Think customer, not sale. Successful salespeople know that this is what selling is all about. Buyers of all types have their antennae up and they can spot the salesperson whose sole motive is getting the order. Today’s customers look for the salesperson that understands them, not sells them. That changes the process from transaction to relationship, from no-sale to sale-closed.
There they are, 17 ideas for getting that extra edge in sales that makes a difference. Over time, it’s so easy to develop habits that kill sales, without even knowing it. While awareness of what we’re doing may not be everything, it’s a good way to make changes that will tip the scale in your favor.
John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales consultant and business writer. He publishes a monthly eNewsletter, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales.” Contact him at email@example.com, 617-774-9759 or johnrgraham.com