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How to Build Better Sales

By Wayan Vota on May 6, 2009

Selling is defined in the dictionary as the exchange of goods/services for an agreed sum of money. We’ve all been involved in sales, either as a seller or a buyer. The success of your business depends on making sales. You can have the best products and marketing plan in the world, but without sales, you will not have a business. Many factors affect sales, including seasonal demand, current economic conditions, and the success of your marketing and promotional activities.

Basic Stages of Selling
Modern selling techniques are based on five basic stages or actions:

  • Attention: Get the attention of your prospect through advertising or promotions.
  • Interest: Build interest through an emotional appeal such as how good they will look.
  • Desire: Build desire by showing features or letting them sample the product.
  • Conviction: Increase the desire for your product by proving the worth of your product (compare to competitors, use testimonials from happy customers).
  • Action: Encourage the prospect to act. Ask for the sale; if they object, overcome the objections and ask for the sale again.

‘Closing’ a sale is defined as completing a business deal, negotiation or agreement. There are many closing techniques that range from soft sell to hard sell. Some of these include:

Direct close: asking for the order when you are sure the prospect is ready to buy.

  • Deal/concession close: letting the prospect feel as though they are making a smart choice and saving money or getting more value (phrases such as “order today and I can add this for only 10% more”).
  • Time-driven close: using statements like “prices are going up next week, so you should place your order today.”
  • Trial offer: letting the potential customer use the product at no risk for a trial period. This works well when selling products that make people’s lives easier; they aren’t likely to give it back if it saved them time or effort.

There are many sales techniques, but in this session we will concentrate on Relationship Selling, a successful technique for building a large and loyal customer base.

Relationship Selling
Did you know that it costs five times as much to get a new customer than to keep an existing one? That fact alone should help you understand the value of building relationships with customers and turning them into repeat buyers as well as spokespeople for your business.

As a buyer, think back to some of the most satisfying sales experiences you’ve had. Were they with people who honestly listened to you and showed an interest in your needs? Were they with people who took the time to make sure you were comfortable with their products or services? How would you feel doing business with a sales person who didn’t mind setting up an appointment to meet at your convenience, then came across as patient, low pressure, honest, and caring? What about a sales person that reacted quickly if you had an emergency? Would you be more loyal to this type of salesperson?

Relationship selling is about more than making one sale; it is about building long term relationships with your customers. The basis of relationship selling is that it is a win/win proposition. When a sale is made, both you and your customer walk away winners. Relationship selling is a way of conducting yourself that is professional, flexible, and cooperative. When selling while building healthy relationships you are living as an ethical, considerate, and helpful human being.

Knowing the needs and learning the fears of your potential customers can help you find solutions for them that will help you build a strong relationship. Once you have a relationship, working out the details is simple. But without a relationship, those details become obstacles to closing sales.

In relationship selling, high-pressure sales techniques are not appropriate After all, it’s hard to have a friendly relationship with someone who makes you feel pressured. In relationship selling, you become a support system for your customers. Your services or products become something they depend on. The more you can suit their needs and make their lives easier, the better they will respond when you make additional sales offers.

Relationship selling can also be your edge when you sell in a competitive market – especially if there isn’t much difference between your products or services and those of your competitors.

One of the best sources of new business are referrals from existing customers. This is another benefit of relationship selling; once you have a strong relationship with your customers, they will be comfortable sending their friends and acquaintances to you.

Mastering Relationship Selling
Here are some general concepts to remember about relationship selling:

  • Retailers: Step out from behind the counter. This is one of the biggest mistakes retailers make. Staying safely hidden behind the counter greatly lessens your chances for developing a relationship with your customers. Let the customer know that you see them and care about them by getting out from behind the counter, greeting them warmly, and asking how you can help. If they want space (“I’m just looking”), give it to them, but remain available and accessible.
  • Be honest and consistent. Deliver what you promised, when you promised it. Your word should be worth gold, to you and to everyone you deal with. If you say you will do something, do it. If you cannot follow through because of an unforeseen event, then contact the prospect, explain why you cannot, and find out what you can do to lessen the inconvenience.
  • Get to know your prospects and let them to get to know you. Let them know why you started your business, and why you believe in your products or services. Other ways to build trust: Get involved in your community or neighborhood; let people meet and get to know you in a setting outside your business environment.
  • Focus on your customer’s needs. When customers know you truly care about what they need and want, they will feel confident buying from you. By focusing on what your customer needs (not on what you want to sell), you will find the best fit between what you have to offer and their requirements.
  • Lead prospects to what they really want if they don’t know or have trouble defining their needs. Sometimes the prospect isn’t sure what it is that they need or want; you may need to ‘talk it out’ before you discover what their true needs are. By explaining the benefits they can get from your products or services, you can show them how you can solve their problems. For example, say you own an electronics store and a prospect comes in to buy an MP3 player. In conversation, you learn that she hates watching television because of all the commercials. You show her how digital video recorders can eliminate the need to watch commercials. She was not in the market for a DVR before coming to your store because she didn’t know what a DVR was or how it could solve her problem until you led her to this solution.
  • Be organized. In order to serve your customers well, you must have a system that allows you to follow up when you are supposed to, to deliver what you should when you said you would, and to be a resource for your customer. The best way to do this is to be well organized.
  • Ask open-ended questions. A good way to learn the details about what your customer needs is to ask questions that cannot be answered with a simple, one word answer, such as yes or no. Ask questions that begin with Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. Get your customer talking, and then listen to what they say.  Remember, your immediate goal is not to close a sale; it is to learn what your customers need and want and how you can meet those needs and wants.  
  • Listen more than you talk. A powerful way to build rapport is to listen. Give customers your undivided attention and resist the urge to interrupt; hear what the prospect is saying and you may be surprised at how pleased and grateful the prospect will be to learn that you truly care.
  • Be aware of body language. This applies to both your body language and theirs. If you don’t make eye contact, it will be hard for others to trust you. Likewise, if the prospect has ‘closed’ body language, something may be making them uncomfortable. Understanding body language will help you to express your concern and enthusiasm, as well as ‘read’ when the prospect is ready to be sold.
  • Know when not to sell. There will be times when you absolutely won’t be able to meet your customer’s needs. When this happens, don’t be afraid to refer them to someone who can meet their needs. The prospect will respect your honesty and helpfulness, and so will the business you referred them to. You may not make a sale today, but you may establish some long term relationships that will pay off in the end.

These are some general concepts that will help relationship selling become second nature to you. However, you are running a business, and at the end of the day, you still need to make sales in order to stay in business.

The Sales Process
Understanding the sales process is critical to building a relationship with potential customers.  Below are steps in the sales process, whether you are selling a product or a service.

  • Know your product or service. Know your products or services inside and out, so that you can honestly help your customer find the best fit. 
  • Make the initial contact with your prospect. Whether they have just walked into your retail store or you are making a cold call on a prospect, the initial contact is where you begin the conversation to find out what your prospect’s needs are and how you might be able to meet them.
  • Find out your clients’ priorities. Before you spend a lot of time selling a client on your product or service, find out if they are ready to make a purchase or a commitment, or if there are other priorities they have to meet before they are ready to buy from you. It may be wise to schedule a call back when they are ready to make a decision about what you are selling. On the other hand, if they are ready to commit, then the time is right to move on to the next step.
  • Propose a solution. Once you know your prospect’s needs and wants, suggest the product or service that will best meet them.
  • Focus on why they should buy. Emphasize the benefits of your products or services. Remember, people buy benefits, not features. Customers buy softer skin, not lotion made with imported lanolin; they buy a restful night’s sleep, not mattresses made of foam used by astronauts. Focus on the physical, emotional, or financial benefits the customer is looking for.
  • Help your prospect see the bottom line. If you know your product or service will save the prospect money or time, or provide a better value than the competition, then point this out to the client, and support it with facts.
  • Ask for the sale. Once you understand the customer’s needs and are confident that you can meet them, and you’ve presented all the benefits and reasons why the customer should buy, then ask for the sale.
  • Deliver. Although you may not think of delivery as part of the sales process, it is actually the most important part of any sale; without delivery there is no sale. A delivery that is made as expected (or better yet, exceeds the customer’s expectations) will ensure that a trusting relationship continues to build.

Follow up. Find out if your customer is pleased with the product or service. If not, find out why and whether there is anything you can do to make them happy. The follow up stage is an excellent opportunity to create repeat business or get a referral.

Filed Under: Sales

Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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