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It takes the right tactics to improve sales performance

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By John Graham
August 21, 2014
Filed under Features, Top Stories

In Lee Child’s Without Fail, a Secret Service official simplifies a disturbing problem. “If the Yankees come to town saying they’re going to beat the Orioles, does that mean it’s true?” And then he adds, “Boasting about it is not the same thing as actually doing it.”

It’s the same with sales where there’s often too much boasting and not enough doing. Here are seven tactics to improve sales performance.

1. Use stories that make a difference to customers. While facts help support a sales presentation, they can also be confusing, create doubt and turn people off. Yet, many salespeople fill their presentations with ‘facts and figures’ and so-called ‘hard information’ to build a solid, compelling case with customers.

A simple, quick story that grabs interest may be far more effective in moving a customer to action, however. While salespeople love to tell stories, too often they shoot themselves in the foot with stories about themselves or whatever comes to mind at the moment, failing to sense the effect on the customer.

Sales stories should be strategic, as marketer Jen Agustin suggests when she says, “If you think back to your favorite stories, the great ones are those that inform, educate and drive people to act.”

2. Forget about the ‘latest and the greatest’. “I’ve made a conscious choice to not spend all my time…looking down at a device,” says legendary motion picture director James Cameron of Avatar and Titanic fame in a recent USA Today interview. “I’m a Luddite. But a high-tech Luddite.” Referring to Twitter, “I hate it,” he says. “I hate everyone else’s tweets, too. They’re boring. What can you say in 140 characters? I can’t even clear my throat in 140 characters. Same goes for Facebook.”
As the most techie director of all time, Cameron’s outburst sends a message to salespeople. It wasn’t so long ago that ‘cutting edge’ gave salespeople an advantage with customers, as they longed for ‘the next great thing’. But not now. The times have changed. It’s clear what moves them to action now: they want what works, what solves a problem, what gives them an edge.

3. Don’t talk about what you do. It may sound crazy to suggest that salespeople should avoid talking about what they do. Even so, it’s good advice. It’s tempting to talk about what we know best — what we do. We’re excited about we do and want to share ‘the good news’. No matter what anyone says, to talk about what we do is a huge turn off for customers.

If you ask Sally what she does and she tells you she sells insurance, that’s all it takes — you shut down. However, when Sally recognizes that you’re ‘fiftyish’, you might feel different if she said, “I help people make sure they have enough money for a great retirement.” If you’re someone with a young family, Sally might say, “I help make the dream of going to college a reality.” It’s an approach that gives new meaning to ‘the customer comes first’.

4. Be careful when you make promises. There’s always a temptation to tell customers what they want to hear and it leads to trouble. “It will be here in about three weeks,” said the contractor, referring to the bathroom accessory selected by the customer. Well after the due date, the customer was upset because it still was unavailable, and was then told the expected delivery was several months later.

It’s a familiar story and it points how out salespeople disappoint customers by making promises they can’t keep. It’s a deadly scenario. Once disappointment sets in, satisfaction begins unraveling.

To maintain customer confidence if a problem may occur, tell them about it upfront, keep them informed, and have options ready if they’re needed.

5. Don’t overstate. In other words, don’t exaggerate. It’s the curse that many salespeople fall prey to time-and-again so that it becomes second nature — and it always causes trouble. They can’t have a conversation or make a presentation without ‘gilding the lily’, as they say. Salespeople want to look good to their customers so they stretch the truth, embellish the facts, and are even misleading.

It’s a dangerous practice. For today’s customers, it’s one strike and we’re out. No one understands this better than Amazon. And few companies do a better job communicating with customers, particularly when it comes to on time deliveries, accurate product descriptions, and reliable customer comments.

Unlike other retailers who try to lure customers with exaggerated claims, Amazon’s goal is to build trust so customers come back again and again, even when a competitor may have a lower price. It starts with a ‘no exaggeration’ policy. Salespeople can learn from companies like Amazon.

6. Explore vulnerabilities. Salespeople can perform a significant service to customers by showing them where they may be losing business, how they might improve a procedure, have a product or service weakness, or any other exposure.

Because business owners and managers can be so caught up in daily operations that they fail to see potential threats, salespeople can be the extra set of eyes to provide valuable feedback. The owner of a retail chain was ready to buy another store when a salesperson pointed out that significant changes in the area could have a negative impact on the business. The owner heeded the salesperson’s advice and avoided making a costly mistake.

7. Reinforce the customer’s buying decision. It’s just after the sale — when salespeople revel in their success — that the customer relationship is most vulnerable. This is when post-sale doubts set in and questions arise. Perhaps they are getting more familiar with a purchase, encounter an unexpected issue, or discover that what they bought isn’t what they expected. Whether it’s a beer or Lexus, customers want to feel good when they make a purchase.

The savvy salesperson, knowing what can occur, takes the initiative and contacts customers to understand how they are feeling about their purchase and to reinforce why their buying decision was prudent. The person who made the sale should make the contact, otherwise the value of the call is diminished in the customer’s mind. The customer wants to know that the salesperson cares.

When salespeople use the right tactics, they boast less, do more and improve their sales performance.

John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales strategist-consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales.” Contact him at jgraham@grahamcomm.com, 617-774-9759 or johnrgraham.com.

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