In his post for Inc., Jeff Haden says the following about sales, “Without This Skill, You Won’t Succeed.” While experts from other business disciplines might disagree with this statement, a large number believe that your greatest probability for success stems from learning how to sell.
Why so many avoid sales
If selling is such an important skill, why do (1) many of the smartest people avoid learning it and (2) some of the best colleges shun teaching it? One reason that our society too often disparages the sales profession is most of the portrayals of sales people in books, movies, and plays are decidedly negative – Death of a Salesman, Wall Street, Boiler Room, Glengarry Glen Ross. As a result, too many look at sales people as “slimy, sleazy” liars.
And, because so many that gravitate to sales jobs are not properly trained or qualified, the stereotypes about sales and sales people are reinforced by the negative experiences of numerous buyers.
Why is learning to sell so important?
Selling is a critical skill because, like it or not, everyone has to sell to become more successful. Famous author, Robert Louis Stevenson, recognized this when he said, “Everyone lives by selling something.” Whatever you do, sales skills will help you to...
- Secure the job you want;
- Convince your boss to assign the project you want;
- Influence your company to promote you quicker;
- Encourage your bank or utility to waive annoying fees;
- Convince money sources to invest in your business.
Of course, if you are in a sales position, learning to sell more effectively can put a lot more money and opportunities in your pocket.
Once you recognize the importance of sales, you should begin learning a framework for selling that I call the Sales Cycle. The way I teach it, it has five main steps.
Step One: Generating, Categorizing, and Collecting Intelligence on leads. The best sales people get leads from everywhere. Leads capture contact and other information on the people that have expressed an interest in buying what you are selling. They are typically recorded on physical or electronic versions of “lead cards,” and contain the following four types of information on the “front” of the card (or the electronic equivalent).
- Identification of the prospect. If you are selling to a business, much of the information you need is on your contact’s business card. For the additional information required, your lead card should be designed so you can add it with minimal effort.
- Product interest. The products you typically sell should be pre-listed on the lead card so that you can quickly check them off when a prospect expresses an interest in them.
- Degree of interest. This is your “guestimate” of how likely the prospect is to buy your product in the current period, which is usually the current month. Because the degree of interest relates to “buying temperature” the metaphor for “degree of interest” that is often is used is (1) Hot for the most interested leads, (2) Warm for a medium level of interest, and (3) Cool for the least interested. Since good sales people can move their prospects from Cool to Hot, Cool leads should not be discarded as many sales trainers suggest. In fact, many Cool leads that will never buy from you can still refer business to you so they need to be kept in your system.
- Lead source. Perhaps the hottest topic inmarketing is having a system to measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. As a result, all promotion that you do should have a unique code so that when the lead is captured, you can determine what marketing activity generated the lead.
The “back” of the lead card should contain your notes of every contact that include (1) details on what the prospect wants, (2) information on any competitors the prospect is considering, (3) the next step (approved by the prospect), and (4) answers to basic “intelligence” questions you should ask.
These “intelligence” questions typically include the following:
- What do you want or need? This question is critically important and will facilitate your handling of all subsequent phases of the sales cycle.
- When do you want it? This identifies the time frame for buying and helps you to categorize the lead as Hot, Warm or Cool.
- How are you satisfying that need now? This question is aimed at identifying the indirect competition.
- Are you considering other options and if so, which ones? This helps to identify the direct competition.
- Who is involved in the decision to buy? Novice sales people often waste their time selling “scouts” that do not make the final decision.
- What is your budget, or how much do you want to spend? This is necessary to match your product offering with the amount they are likely to pay.
Step Two: Giving presentations. To give effective presentations, sales people need to properly prepare for the presentation. This involves (1) investigating the prospect, (2) formulating questions to clarify the intelligence already collected or collecting the intelligence for the first time (if steps one and two occur together), (3) making sure presentation equipment works, (4) being ready to answer “nasty questions” such as what’s wrong with your product, and (5) handling disasters related to Murphy’s Law.
Once you are prepared, you should give the presentation by focusing only on what prospects told you they want your product to do. Novice sales people insist on telling the prospect everything in their presentation no matter what. This wastes sales and prospect time and is sure to “turn off” the prospect. During the presentation, the sales person should look for 3 signals - (1) Buying (upon getting this, the sales person should try to close the sale), (2) Rejection (the sales person has lost the sale and needs to do whatever is necessary to recover), and (3) Objections (upon getting an objection, which is an obstacle to the sale and a disguised request for more information, the sales person should go to the “Identifying and Answering Objections” procedure listed next).
Step 3: Identifying and Answering Objections. If the prospect is not pre-sold on buying the product, identifying and answering objections is the quickest way to close the sale. It involves the following steps.
- Lowering the barrier. Before you can answer an objection, you should try to lower the barrier by empathizing (but not necessarily agreeing) with the objection.
- Identifying the real objection. Since prospects often disguise the real objection for numerous reasons, sales people need to uncover what is really keeping them from buying. For example, “The price is too high” is not a real objection since a prospect could voice this if (1) they are negotiating, (2) they are comparing your product with one that is not comparable, or (3) they really perceive the price is too high. To answer this objection, the sales person needs to drill down deeper before formulating an effective answer.
- Breaking it down. Large obstacles need to be broken down into (1) tangible, answerable components (time and money – see the 4th column of the FAB Table below) and (2) bite-sized pieces (making them largely insignificant).
- Answering. Once the obstacle is broken into tiny pieces, it is usually easy to answer. For example, a $1,200 difference in price could be reduced to pennies per day over the useful life of the product. Those pennies per day in extra cost at the time of purchase could result in large returns or savings over a lifetime of using the product.
- Providing proof. To establish trust, a good sales person will provide independent, credible, third-party proof to support each answer.
- Looking for and reacting to signals. As you answer objections, you look for the same signals and react to them as you did during the presentation. If you receive a buying signal, close the sale
Step Four: Closing the sale. There are two basic categories of closes – Trial and Standard closes.
- Trial Closes. When you employ trial closes, you assume that there might be a sale, and you test that assumption. Good sales people use trial closes throughout the sales process to save the prospect’s and their time. There are many different trial closes. The following is an example of the “two positive choices” trial close: Mr. Jones, “we have this in blue and red, which would you prefer?” If Jones says, “Blue,” the sale is closed.
- Standard Closes. You employ a standard close when you have answered all known objections and ask for the order. For example, if the prospect has no other concerns, the sales person might ask, “When would you like us to deliver?”
Please notice that both closing technique categories involve questions that cannot be easily answered with a “No”. That’s because good sales people avoid such questions unless they are certain the answer will be “Yes”. They ask closing questions with confidence. And after asking, they do not say anything since it is the prospect’s turn to answer.
Step Five: Post-close follow-up. Once you close the sale, there is another phase of the sales cycle - the post-close follow up phase. In some cases, prospects get “buyers remorse,” and the “closed” sale becomes unclosed. To handle this situation, you need to go back to the offending objection and answer it again. In a percentage of these situations, you will not be able to revive the sale because of circumstances beyond your control. In most of them, good sales skills will close it back up. Even when there is no incidence of buyer’s remorse, there is another step. You need to make sure that your customers are happy, and once happy, you want to ask them if they know of others that you can help as you have helped them. That is, you should look at all prospects, whether they become a customer or not, as a referral source to additional leads.
Knowing how to sell
Successful people learn how to sell one way or the other. If they do not learn a formal process as outlined in this post, they are likely to make costly mistakes and develop bad habits. If you want to increase your chances of success in business and in life, it will greatly help you to learn the sales process and practice it so it becomes part of your marketing DNA. Some examples of successful sales people include: Bill Gates (yes, he did sales in the early days of Microsoft), Steve Jobs (not many are better than he was at selling during a presentation), and Ross Perot (after the Navy, he want to work for IBM as a salesman). When I went to school, I did not learn sales since many of my business professors looked down upon the sales profession. This cost me a lot in lost business and lost opportunities after I graduated. I wrote this post so that won’t happen to you. Best of luck.