Sales can be a little like learning to drive. While learning, we do everything according to the book, but once we pass the driver’s test, we take short cuts and adopt bad habits.
When it comes to selling, these bad practices can have a profound effect on closing sales. Over the years, I have taught hundreds of sales and marketing courses. From time to time, while waxing lyrical on the basics of selling, it would occur to me that I was no longer practising what I was preaching.
Let’s take a look at the first five of 10 questions we need to ask ourselves to ensure we are selling professionally. I’ll discuss the second five in my July/August column.
1. How do I prepare for a sales call? Pre-call preparation is vital, whether you are calling on a prospect, they are coming to you, or it’s by telephone. The first thing you need to consider is the objective of the call. Do you expect it to result in a sale? Or is it an initial contact where you hope to learn more about the prospect’s needs or discover who the decision-maker is? This is important because, if you don’t know the objective, how do you know if you’ve achieved it? Remember: a successful sales call does not necessarily have to end in a sale.
Once you know your objective, you can complete your preparation. For instance, you could research the history of the company you’re selling to or how the organization is structured and what type of product or service they are likely to be interested in purchasing.
Finding out all you can about the decision-maker (their likes, dislikes, hobbies, etc.) and who they answer to can also be very useful. Consider which of your competitors is in play, try to discover what kind of relationship they have with the prospect, and compare their pricing, delivery, service, and quality to your own.
Being prepared for a sales call means you are less likely to be taken by surprise, and this will boost your confidence, which, in turn increases your chance of making a sale.
2. How do I build rapport? People say you have 30 seconds to make an impression when you meet someone, and I believe that to be true. How we interact with someone can create a sense of ease, or it can be uncomfortable. People buy from people they like and trust — people they are comfortable with. The method I use to create a connection with a prospect is to identify whether they exhibit one of these four social or behavioural styles:
Analytical – People who live in the world of facts and logic
Driver – A-type personalities who make quick decisions, know what they want, and want it now
Expressive – Talkers, who want to build a relationship with you and enjoy being flattered
Amiable – Quieter, more reflective people who need to trust and like you before they buy and also need a lot of assurances
I urge you to Google these four terms and learn more about how you can build rapport by developing a greater understanding of the people you sell to.
3. How do I qualify? If you are in sales, then you know the importance of qualifying your prospects. A great deal of time can be wasted when we try selling to someone who is not in a position to buy. Selling to the wrong person can also irreparably damage our chances of getting the sale; this is summed up well by the saying: “Never get a no from someone who can’t give you a yes.”
Try categorizing the players you come into contact with when selling to a company. In most cases there are initiators, influencers, buyers, decision-makers, evaluators, and users. Be careful not to confuse a buyer with a decision-maker: they can be the same person but not always. If you can’t clearly identify the decision-maker, then ask. It’s as simple as that.
Note that all the players listed above can assist you in getting the sale, so think about building a relationship with each of them — but don’t try to close the deal with anyone but the decision-maker.
The other thing you need to qualify is whether the prospect needs, wants, and can afford to buy what you are selling. If they don’t or can’t, then why are you wasting your time selling to them in the first place?
4. How do I probe and clarify? We all know that we should identify the needs of a prospect before switching to the sales pitch, but often we’re so eager to get to the sale that we only ask a perfunctory question or two before going in for the kill. Preparing the ground well before trying to close will increase your closing rate. Clarifying answers to questions can reap dividends. For example: if you ask “Do you like this product” and the prospect answers that they do, does this give you permission to close? Or should you be probing further with questions like “Will this product suit your current needs?” The latter question is a good trial close, but remember to probe and clarify further if you sense a verbalized or implied “but…” in their answer.
5. How do I establish an agreement? Getting your prospects into the habit of moving in a positive direction is a good strategy. Use questions as trial closes to see what level of interest a prospect has in what you are selling. Typical trial close questions can include “Do you prefer this model or that one?” or “If you decided to purchase, when would you need delivery by?”
These should come across as non-threatening, friendly inquiries and should not be seen by the prospect as you asking for the order. At this point, you are not closing, but rather, you are establishing what agreement level has been reached between you both and what level the negotiation has reached. The answers to these questions may lead you back to probing and clarifying and, of course, answering objections.
In my July/August column, we’ll discuss the final five questions, including “How do I handle objections?” and “Do I use a question to close?”