You have your sales team screened, hired, and
trained on the features and benefits of your product and now it's time
to put their "feet on the street!" But what about their sales approach?
Did you think through the possible sales techniques and make an
informed choice about what would work most effectively for your product
and market? If not, your team may not be off to the fast break you hope
for. Take the time to think about what approach would work best for the
sales environment your reps will be facing.
If you're in a consulting or service-oriented business you know
that it's going to require a relationship building process, but a
product sales environment may require the same thing. The art of
selling is not as straight forward as you may think. If you haven't
been out there and sold before (as many new business owners haven't)
then you may benefit from going through this workshop and identifying
what you think might work for your business. If you're a seasoned sales
professional now in a sales management position there may also be a
thing or two for you. In this article
we'll look at some of the more effective selling techniques out there.
We'll talk contact management software and CRM, as well as take a look
at some of the other technology available to this millennium's sales
professionals. Read on...
Smoke and Mirrors?: The foundations of sales techniques
Have you ever had
someone convince you to buy something you knew you'd never use? How do
they do that? Did you want to buy anything else from them? Did you have
a good relationship with them? These are some of the questions that
come up when you think about what types of techniques your sales team
Early books about sales techniques (we're talking about the
early 1900's) included key words like ethics, service, relationships,
hard work, doing the best job possible, and loyalty to your company.
These all led to the idea of building a friendship and relationship
with your customers so they would keep coming back. (Sound familiar?)
After about 10 years other ideas began to surface. Door-to-door
salesmen discovered that they could increase their sales by using
specific words and specific persuasion methods. This lead to the
perfecting and proliferation of sales techniques that focused not on
the customer's needs or building a relationship, but on closing
techniques and methods that rated a one-time sale, which was all they
were interested in.
The foundations of most modern sales techniques lie in five stages of action. These began in the 1950's and include:
- Attention: You have to get the attention of your prospect through some advertising or prospecting method.
- Interest: Build their interest by using an
emotional appeal such as how good they will look to their boss when
they make this deal that will save the company thousands of dollars!
- Desire: Build their desire for your product by showing them its features and letting them sample or test-drive it.
- Conviction: Increase their desire for your
product by statistically proving the worth of your product. Compare it
to its competitors. Use testimonials from happy customers.
- Action: Encourage the prospect to act. This is
your closing. Ask for the order. If they object, address their
objections. There are then many variations of closing techniques that
can help get the business.
There is a plethora of closing techniques that range from hard sell to
soft sell and everything in-between. Some of these include:
Many more closing techniques exist, but we're going to focus
on one of the more successful techniques for building a large and loyal
customer base. That focus is, once again, Relationship Selling.
Read on to learn some of the ways you can help your staff develop solid
relationships with their clients that will build sales andbenefit the client.
- A Direct Close: Simply asking for the order when you are sure your prospect is ready.
- A Deal/Concession Close: Using this closing technique
gives the prospect the feeling that they are making a smart choice and
saving money (or getting more value). Use it with phrases like "Order
today and I can add this other module for only 10% more."
- A Time-Driven Close: This one works well with
statements like, "prices are going up next week, so you should go ahead
a let me place your order today."
- Trial Offer: You can let the prospect use the product
at no risk for a trial period. This works well if you're selling
products that make people's lives easier. They aren't likely to want to
give it back if it has saved them a lot of time and effort during the
trial period. On the other hand, if they haven't had the experience
with the product you told them they would then you probably won't get
Did you know that it costs more than five times as much to get a new
customer as it does to keep an existing customer? That in itself should
help you understand the value of building a relationship with your
customers and turning them into both repeat buyers and
spokespeople for your company. Word of mouth referrals are still one of
the best ways to make new sales. If Joe tells Ed he got a great deal
from Joanna at XYZ company, then Ed is more likely to go to Joanna and
also buy (or at least be receptive if Joanna calls him to set up an
Building the Relationship
selling is all about building a friendship or relationship with your
prospects and listening to their needs. Once you've built that
relationship, shown you care, and earned their trust, you are on the
road to making them a customer. Knowing their needs and finding out
their secret fears (for example... your client may confide to you, "If
I can't make this project work within budget, my boss will probably
replace me!") can help you find solutions for them that are exactly
on-target with their needs and build an even stronger relationship.
With a relationship in place, working out details is a breeze. Those
details become obstacles if you don't have the existing relationship.
As a client, some of my best experiences with sales people were
with those who honestly listened to my needs, and showed an interest in
more than just the business. They came in with a low pressure, open,
and honest approach and won my business. I didn't mind setting up
appointments for their visits. I looked forward to them. It was low
pressure and friendly. My company received good service, good prices,
and everyone was happy. I knew they would react quickly if I had
problems or emergency needs. So, when competitors called, I quickly
told them we were happy with our current vendor - even if they may have
been able to give us a better price! That's part of the power of
Most people react negatively to high pressure sales. In
relationship selling, high pressure is not typically part of the
equation, simply because it's hard to have a friendly relationship with
a client who feels pressured by you. In relationship selling, you
become a form of support for your clients. Your services or products
become something they depend on, and the more you can suit their needs
and make their jobs easier, the better they will respond to additional
sales offers. You'll also find that relationship selling benefits
companies that offer products in very competitive markets -
particularly if there isn't a lot of difference between products!
Keeping Up Contact
relationship selling involves maintaining regular contact. If you
neglect a client who has trust in your integrity as a person and as a
salesperson, that client may finally be forced to turn to your
competitor. (Who has probably been calling regularly to get their
business.) So, make sure you not only build the relationship, but keep
regular contact and keep all channels of communication open. Make
available several methods of contact for any type of emergency need. Or
you may find that, in an emergency, your client was forced to contact
that persistent competitor and discovered that, "Hey, he/she's a nice
person too! And their product is maybe even a little better! Hmmmm!"
So, the lesson is, make sure you maintain contact and are always
accessible to your clients, or you may find yourself having to replace
An important part of relationship selling is also having the
technology available to manage and maintain those relationships. That
often comes in the form of contact management software or a good
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. We'll talk about that a
little later in this article.
Now let's talk about another newer sales technique called High Probability Selling.
High Probability Selling
sales technique that has recently surfaced involves spending
significant sales time only with those prospects who offer the highest
probability of a sale. Arriving at that determination involves asking
pointed questions and letting the prospect do the majority of the
talking. The approach is to focus only on prospects who need your
product, want you product, and can afford your product. Rather than
using the effort trying to turn a low probability prospect into a high
probability prospect, you focus your efforts entirely on the high
Determining who is high probability is done through a series of
questions that require positive answers. If at any point, you don't get
the answer you need, you end the meeting, thank the person, and leave.
You don't waste your time and/or your proposal department's time on
putting together a proposal that you know won't be accepted. Now, just
because the prospect states that they are not interested, doesn't mean
you pack your bags and leave. If they've answered all other questions
with the right answers then you can continue the line of questioning
until you determine without doubt that they will buy. This means you
never ask for the order. If you've done the questioning (interview)
session right then when it is completed you and the prospect have come
to a meeting of the minds and the logical next step is that they will
place an order. Your series of questions has eliminated any objections
(or else you have already said goodbye and left!).
Rather than trying to manipulate the prospect and get them to
do something they don't want to do, you are letting them come to the
decision that it is the right thing to do. You are laying the foundation for a mutually beneficial basis for doing business.
There is a lot more to be learned about high probability selling, as
well as the many other sales techniques out there. Let's talk about
some of the basic techniques, tips, sales styles, and closing sales.
Basic (but Effective) Sales Tips and Techniques
there are more types of sales styles and techniques than you can shake
a stick at. So how do you know what works and what doesn't? It really
boils down to what works for you and what works for your product. Think
about your target market and their perceptions about your product type.
Do they know they need it and simply have to choose from the various
brands on the market? Or, do they have no idea how much the product
would help them be more productive? Do they even know about your
product? Will the sales call be an education for them - or you?
Think through these things before determining what methods
might work for your product or service. It goes without saying that a
sales method that works for office supplies won't work for management
consulting services. Although they are both targeting a similar market,
the knowledge and understanding of your prospects will be much
different. They have to be educated about how much they can benefit
from consulting services, whereas, they already know they have to have
binders to put their reports in, or paper for their copiers.
So, even though there are many sales methods, the choices are
narrowed as you think about your market and what their needs are, as
well as what their expectations may be.
With that said, let's just go over some things that are
beneficial in almost any market. These tips are basic guidelines that
most any sales person can benefit from.
So, there you have some sales tips to keep in mind when
you're out there pounding the pavement. Stop, Look, and Listen. It's
good advice on the street, and it's good advice in sales. Next we'll
talk about some of the cool technology you can use to manage your time
and your clients more effectively. Read on...
- Listen to the emotional side of your prospect or client:
Emotions are tied into almost everything we do even if we don't realize
it. Your client may mention off-hand that they are really stressed-out
about a particular project they are working on (even if it doesn't
relate to what you're selling them). Make a note of this and see if
there is anything you can do to assist them. You may have another
client who had a similar dilemma and found a good solution. Make those
connections and help where ever you can. You'll be rewarded with
loyalty from all of your clients.
- Focus on your prospect or client's needs:
We've talked about it before, but it's worth mentioning again. You may
be tempted to sell your client your top-of-the-line model gadget when
they really only need the mid-line model. By selling them more than
they need, you may be cutting off future relations with them. Once they
realize (and they will eventually) that they don't need most of what
you sold them, they'll feel bitter and resentful toward you for wasting
their money and not looking out for their best interest. They'll see
you as a "salesperson" and not as a resource.
- Use language that focuses on your prospect or client:
Simply changing the way you speak may also make a difference in how you
are received by your prospect. Using "you" and "yours," or "you'll
find..." rather than "I think" or "Let me tell you about," brings your
message a little closer to home and may grab their attention more
- Help your prospect see the bottom line:
know your product can help clients save money, or increase
profitability, then make sure they understand that. Your product may
have an edge in that it includes features that save time. Time is money
as the saying goes, and if you can save time your can often sell your
- Find out your prospect's priorities:
save yourself a lot of wasted time and effort by simply knowing how
important your product and its benefits are to your prospect. If you've
listened to them and determined the need, but still aren't getting
anywhere, find out if there are other elements of their business that
are taking priority and pushing your sale aside. If you know they have
to implement a program before they can spend time considering (or funds
purchasing) your product then you can schedule a call back at a later
date that may stand a better chance of getting some attention. To do
this you have to ask the questions because the information is not
always volunteered. (Again, the key is focusing on the needs of your
prospect, and having an open relationship already in place.)
- Know your prospect:
Find out as much as you
possibly can about your prospect before your appointment. This will not
only help you anticipate their needs ahead of time, but will also show
them you've done your homework and have an interest in their business
other than just selling your product. When talking with them, let them
do most of the talking. People usually love talking about their
businesses and its successes. For example, you might bring up the fact
that you saw they won an award at a regional meeting then let them
proceed to fill you in on the details. You might also compliment them
on the efficiency of their production system or the quality of their
products. This will also open the door to more conversation and the
opportunity to learn more about their needs and how your product will
fit those needs.
- Focus on why they should buy - not their objections:
The idea here is that while you are building up the benefits associated
with using your product, they will be minimizing their resistance to
it. By focusing on what you know the prospect likes, you are building
up the importance of the positive and reducing the importance of the
- Sell the benefits - not the product:
heard this one before, but it is worth repeating. In most cases, you're
not selling your product, you're selling the benefits the product will
produce. In other words, you're not selling digital phones, you're
selling the ability to communicate from anywhere. You are selling
freedom to leave the confines of the office and still be accessible.
You're selling the ability to have a more flexible work schedule.
You're selling peace of mind for long trips. You're selling security.
Get to the emotional or financial benefits and you're on to something!
- Never rush the sale or the customer:
the section about building a relationship with your customers? This is
a very important step. It can help give the prospect the right
perception of you and your company. Rushing them instead of letting
them come to their own decision to buy can create hostilities that
can't be overturned. It can make the difference between getting the
sale and creating a loyal customer, and having to start over with
another prospect. In the competitive climate of many markets, you
definitely don't want to risk losing a qualified prospect who you know
needs your product.
- Know your products, as well as the market - be a RESOURCE:
In order to be seen as a valuable resource for your clients, you have
to demonstrate that you not only know and understand your products and
the market, but can assist them in making good decisions and provide
them with tools to improve their business. If you don't have these
skills and knowledge, get them. You'll be rewarded over and over by
loyal clients who trust your opinions and advice, and buy from you
- Follow through with promises:
If you do nothing
else, do this. Always follow through with what you say you are going to
do. If you say you'll send a quote by Friday - DO IT! If you say you'll
check with someone else in your company about an issue that's come up -
DO IT! Don't forget. Use the technology available to you (even if it's
a sticky note on your dash board!) and make sure you follow through
with your promises. There is no surer way to lose the faith of a
prospect (or existing client) than to forget to do something you tell
them you will do. If something comes up that forces you to have to
delay, call them and give them a heads up. They may have a meeting
arranged to present the information you're supplying them with, and if
they don't have it you'll both look bad.
- Focus on your client's success:
Not to beat a dead horse, but there is tremendous
value in being a resource for your client. If you can help them to
succeed then they are more likely to help you succeed. Be a coach for
your clients (at least in your areas of expertise). You have the unique
perspective of seeing how many different businesses operate. Gather
this knowledge and share it with your clients or prospects. Make sure
they understand that you want to see them succeed, not just sell your
- Use explanations rather than excuses:
If you do
have to explain to a customer why there is a problem with their order,
their repair, their service, etc. Explain why the problem is there in
the first place, rather than using an excuse. For example, if you
provide health care services and you're having difficulty meeting the
scheduling needs of the customer, you might it explain it like this,
"With this being a particularly bad allergy season we have had more
emergency calls due to asthma (or whatever the case may be) and these
patients can't wait for a scheduled appointment. Our staff is behind
schedule, but we are addressing the problem now by bringing in
temporary help for these critical need times. So we should be able to
schedule your service on 'x' date." Understanding the problem may help
alleviate some of their frustration. Verbalizing the cause may also
keep you more aware of the potential problems so you can be more
prepared the next time around.
Technology to Enhance Selling
tools available to the sales professional are endless. If you had the
mind to, you could have four or more electronic devices strapped to
your body enabling you to be totally connected and available to anyone
in the world at all times. Now that's dedication to keeping the lines
of communication open!
Now there are even web-based applications for sales
that you can access from anywhere using your web-enabled cell phone,
PDA, or good old-fashioned laptop. Isn't technology great!?
- You would have your beeper on your belt for those people you wanted to hear from but not acknowledge.
- You would have your cell phone
in your coat pocket for those people you wanted to hear from and/or be
able to contact regardless of where you were or what you were doing, or
for surfing the net, checking e-mail, buying a soft drink from a
vending machine, etc.
- You would have your PDA (Personal Digital Assistant)
in your shirt pocket to look up (while driving your rental car) the
address of your next appointment. Or you could check your calendar to
see where the heck that appointment is supposed to be, surf the net to
MapQuest to get directions, check your e-mail, make notes to yourself,
check your to-do list when you were bored, etc.
- You would carry your laptop
in your black leather executive backpack to use in airports to document
the meetings you were at, the sales you made, surf the net, check your
e-mail, play Free-Cell, update your contact management software, and
complete your expense report. You would then sync that info with your
PDA and you're ready for the next day!
- You may even be carrying your digital projector to display those dazzling PowerPoint™ presentations you've put together.
What's all the Hubbub about CRM?
case you've been living in a cave for the past few years, you probably
know all about CRM and its relationship to Contact Management Software.
Basically, contact management software was the foundation for what is
now Customer Relationship Management, or CRM. There are many software
packages available to choose from that are either simply the contact
manager portion, or the full-blown CRM version. You can also find
programs that are web-based to enable you to access your information
from anywhere at any time. Regardless of which level your company uses,
having some form of contact management software is necessary.
CRM is a strategy, process, and technology that let's your
company make the most of every sale by optimizing revenue and getting a
better understanding of the customer's needs. The CRM universe rolls
together sales (as a type of Sales Force Automation), marketing, and
customer service into a single software-driven technology. In other
words, it includes the areas of your company that affect the
relationships with your customers. It puts this information into a
single package which encompasses the meat of what every
customer-centric business needs to know and keep track of. Every
interaction with a customer is recorded in this single system. That
information is then used to manage, measure, and keep track of the
processes of marketing, sales and customer service as they relate to
that customer. Overall, it builds greater customer loyalty and a better
No more will the Sales department blame Marketing for not
communicating to them. No more will Customer Service blame Sales for
disgruntled customers. No more will Marketing blame everyone else for
not implementing their business solutions. Now everyone can live in one
big happy, customer-focused universe that communicates and desegregates
the internal workings of the company. Before, no one was accountable
for why the customer wasn't happy. There was a lot of finger-pointing
and buck-passing. With CRM everyone has access to what's going on with
every customer and can access the information necessary to keep that
Now, if we focus on the Sales portion of this we see that, with
CRM, Sales can build that relationship (remember Relationship Selling)
and that relationship can be extended deeper into the company to
customer service. So, you have an ever greater chance of keeping that
customer happy and addressing their needs quickly and efficiently.
Marketing can use the data gathered to develop new business solutions,
directions, and more effectively communicate the offerings of the
Notes about Setting Up Your CRM System
great as CRM is, it can't work without some up-front planning and
forethought. For example, before you set up your sales team with a
contact management or CRM system you have to first:
Once you have the preliminary information identified and squared away,
set up time to thoroughly train your sales team and have an accessible
resource for future questions and suggestions. It's a process that has
to be planned and managed in order to be effective.
- Plan the details of the information you want to collect.
- Set up procedures and protocols for how the information will be entered.
- Standardize phrasing and abbreviations for company names or address information.
- Create drop-down lists for common terms and items that everyone would use.
- Agree on report formats and styles and set up templates.
CRM is definitely the way of the future. Companies that don't
implement some form of CRM may have a hard time keeping their customers
as happy as their competitors who have a CRM system do.
Some Final Tips for Managing a Successful Sales Team
- Support your sales team's efforts.
- Give them the tools and technology they need to succeed and beat the competition.
- Foster good relationships between your sales team, production and administration.
- Communicate regularly with your team.
- Mediate internal conflicts before they drive good sales reps away.
- Take action to fix problems as they arise, not after you've lost your team.
Lots More Information
General Sales Info Links
Sales Assessment Testing
Contact Management Software:
Other Technology Links: