Without sales - many, profitable sales - your business is a hobby, not a business. Whether or not your business is a mom & pop stationery shop or a high-tech IT support business, good selling skills are fundamental to your success.
Most people claim that they cannot sell or they are uncomfortable in the sales role. While we all know someone who seems to be a born salesman, that person often embodies the very behaviours that make us uncomfortable: pushy, loud, thick-skinned, with a poor sense of personal space – the proverbial second-hand car salesman. (Apologies to the second-hand car industry!). The good news is that the best salespeople are quite ‘normal’, even ‘nice’ people. They are professional and hardworking, just like you!
The first step to improving your sales skills is to change your attitude toward selling. Everyone buys a product or service every day, from the ubiquitous coffee-on-the-go to tickets for a game. To meet everyday needs, at some point, we are all buyers and we are all sellers. It's the job of the salesperson to help the customer fulfill their needs by offering them the best-suited choices. If helping a customer is the objective of a salesperson, then many of our negative paradigms about selling fall away. 'How can I help?' should be more than just a slogan.
I am technologically challenged. I'm also impatient. If the salesperson launches into a discussion of the fabulous features of a fan, I will most likely smile politely and drift away. Most customers do not care if this is the latest, greatest ‘X’ with 6 new features. Customers are people and people care about ‘’what’s in it for me?” How will this help me? How will it save me time or money? How will it make me look good? How will it protect me and mine? How will it make me feel better? Focusing on what is important to the customer (their needs) opens up the opportunity for a meaningful discussion that shows how the product or service will meet their needs.
A recent experience I had while buying a washing machine was a textbook example of a salesperson who focused on me, the customer, and not the product. I was in the appliance section of the shop, looking at a washing machine… no prizes for guessing that my need was for clean clothes. Note, I did not say a washing machine. Nobody needs a washing machine, a bathtub will do, but everyone needs clean clothes. This distinction is crucial to being able to focus on the customer and not on simply flogging a product.
The salesperson, Simon, understood this and instead of only talking about the machine in front of me, he started to ask me questions, such as:
Is your current machine broken or are you not happy with it for some reason? “Well, it’s old and giving me trouble, but I’m also concerned about its use of water and power.”
How many loads a week do you normally do? “Too many! I’ve got sporty kids. The cycle also seems to take too long.”
By asking questions, Simon had deftly armed himself with the useful information that while I needed clean clothes, I wanted to achieve this economically (water and power) and that time was a factor for me. He also established that I have sporty children and so my weekly wash load is high.
He then asked if he could show me another machine, pointing out that it was eco-friendly, and economical with power and water, while also having one-touch technology, which automatically adjusts the wash cycle to the load.
I was sold! Or rather, I was helped to buy the right product for me. It also cost more than the model I was looking at, but I didn’t mind. I felt heard; I felt valued and I felt safe giving him my business. Simon benefitted from a higher commission, but more importantly, guess who I will go back to when I’m next in need of an appliance? By taking the time to listen to me, the-person-behind-the wallet, he built rapport and trust. The sale was effectively a by-product of Simon trying to assist me.
Good salespeople establish the customer's needs and wants by using effective questioning and listening skills. Then they simply try to provide a solution (a product or service) that will best match those needs.
Author: Janet Askew
Janet is a trainer, coach, speaker and writer who is passionate about promoting women in business and SMME development. In addition to her consulting work, she is a director of Essentially Natural and serves on the board of the Wot-If? Trust.