How to Improve your Sales Skills

I spent some time earlier today working my way through a seminar on sales and negotiation skills. I thought I’d use my time wisely alongside doing my usual client and prospect work. We are in a unprecedented climate and it’s important to ensure that we all keep occupied and add value in some way. So, I thought I’d write an article about what I learned.

It’s Partly Common Sense

I’m pleased to say that the bulk of the seminar was straightforward and basic stuff to me. I graduated a million years ago in International Marketing and have spend 30+ years in sales and marketing roles and many of those being senior positions in large brands such as Cover Girl Cosmetics, Alfred Dunhill, Montblanc and Porsche Cars GB.

I’ve run retail operations (Dunhill and Montblanc), sold to retail (Harrods, Boots, Delhaize and Albert Heijn) and worked selling to distributors (Cover Girl and Dunhill). I’ve also sold through upmarket car dealers and run my own business for 20 years where I have had to undertake B2B sales to prospective clients.

I’d like to think, therefore, that I have learned a thing or two on the front-line. Yet, I’ve never seen myself as a salesperson per se. I like to build relationships, and, in many ways, that was the theme of the seminar. It’s about people. It’s always about people. Certainly, when it comes to parting with hard-earned funds in a B2B setting, it’s unlikely that prospects will buy from you if there’s no relationship. So, it makes sense to use your people skills to their fullest extent. That’s just common sense. The best salespeople do this effectively.

8 Core Elements for Sales Success

So, what were the key learnings regarding sales and in terms of persuasion and negotiation. My main takeaways were as follows:

There are broadly 8 elements that support an effective sales process. These are:

1.      Remember reciprocity – this is the principle of mutual benefit. In other words, it’s not about you. It’s about what you can do for the customer and, in turn, they will pay you for the privilege. Help them and they will help you.

2.      They need to like you – it’s simple but people buy from people they like. If you haven’t built rapport, you will struggle. So, find common ground.

3.      Social Proof is key – name drop to show credibility. If you’ve done work for companies like theirs, all your sales communication needs to demonstrate that. It helps support and validate their decisions.

4.      Be an expert – you need to showcase your expertise in some way. Trust is a key driver of purchasing decisions. How can you elevate yourself above your competitors so customers will entrust their projects to you?

5.      Asking intelligent questions – this achieves several objectives. It supports your proposal as you can tailor it better. It also ensures you come across as less salesy. And, it allows you to use consistency to you advantage since you can play their responses back to them to demonstrate you’ve delivered what they ask for.

6.       Scarcity – Pain is more potent than gain. Showing customers what they stand to lose by NOT using your products or services is a compelling method to encourage them to select your business.

7.      Compare and Contrast – everything is relative so it’s important to select the best comparisons. Decisions are never made in isolation. So, make sure you show your products and services in the best light compared to what they do today.

8.      Emphasis – Facts without back-up are insufficient. The use of a word such as ‘because’ validates and emphasises your point. In our world, we might say that

‘clients used our service because they struggle to resource the sales efforts adequately internally’.

Key Learning

Each of the above is a large subject. Therefore, I thought I’d flag up a few of my favourite concepts. These can be used effectively during the selling process.

Scarcity

Do you have something they can’t get anywhere else? That’s great. It creates demand. But most customers have something they use now that does a similar or the same job. It might not do it as well as what you offer. However, change can be painful, and it takes time, effort and money. Inertia is easier. It may not be one thing in isolation that illustrates scarcity in your business sales approach. It may be a collection of things or it could be that you offer a one-stop shop to avoid the hassle of multiple suppliers. According to the renowned psychologist, Daniel Kahneman:

‘loss aversion says that the pain of loss is stronger than the joy of gain. Human beings feel loss 2 to 2.5 times more than the pleasure of gaining the same thing’.

Take-away thought: Try to find a way to showcase what you offer to demonstrate what they’d lose by not using your products or services. If you want to sell them a higher priced product or service, explain what they forego if they don’t go for the higher price.

Presentation

It doesn’t matter how much time it takes to make a first impression. We all know it’s quick. And, that impression lasts. We make instant judgements. Therefore, if you’re meeting someone face to face or over web conference, you need to dress for success. It isn’t about wearing the most expensive suit. Sometimes a smart jacket, sharp shirt and smart jeans will do the trick in the right circumstances. There are a few key factors here. Be clear though, these components are 100% part of your sales technique and the first element of your closing technique down the line in the negotiation phase. So, pay attention to each aspect and you’ll deliver better results.

  • Value their time – don’t be late and don’t outstay your welcome
  • How you dress
  • Grooming
  • Personal hygiene
  • Your opening line/intro
  • A firm handshake
  • A smile
  • Eye contact

Uncover Needs with Good Questions

I’ve written a lot about this in the past and you can find more detailed blogs on this subject on our website. Ultimately, asking the right questions achieves many objectives:

  • It shows you’re interested in the customer
  • It prevents you over-talking and helps you come across as a better listener
  • It unearths needs that can be used later
  • It primes you for your sales presentation
  • It enables you to identify what sets you apart from competition
  • It allows you to replay back to clients what they said they need which helps your close since if they said it, they’re less likely to disagree down the line when you show you’ve met their needs (consistency)

If you structure good qualification questions from the outset, you’ll be better prepared. A good one that I like is

‘What exactly would it take for you to select us?’

Once you’ve unearthed the key needs, another one that I favour Is

‘If I can meet those requirements, is there any reason why you might not go ahead?’

Less is More

In some ways, it’s less risky to bid low to avoid being priced out of the game. But as I mentioned earlier, it’s about showing the value in what you offer and demonstrating what the client would lose (scarcity) if they didn’t select your solution or the higher priced solution.

Psychology suggests that we often go for the middle ground and that our brain can’t process too many options. Traditional selling therefore tends to suggest 3 options works well where buyers often go for the centre ground. So, keep the choices simple. Differentiate them clearly and show why the highest price option is the best by emphasising what they’ll lose by not going for this selection.

Get Comfortable with Objections

You’re going to get them. That’s a fact of sales life. Once again, I’ve done quite a few videos and articles on this subject that are available for free on our blog. Good salespeople embrace objections. They plan for them. It’s fair to say that they enjoy them. They address them early. If cost is an issue, hit it up-front. Use adaptations of techniques such as feel, felt, found. This is a well-known and over-used technique, but the principle is good e.g.

‘I know how you feel, Bob. Budgets are always tight. A lot of our clients felt that way. What they found was that the effectiveness of using our solution meant that they got better results, so they allocated budget from things they felt were less of a priority.’

Walk away with a Deal

This is interesting. We do it, on holiday, in foreign markets where we haggle and somehow come to a deal. Perhaps, in a less obtrusive way, we can do this in our negotiations. If the rest of the process above has gone to plan, we can make concessions and come to an agreement. If they like you and like what you’re offering and price is the last remaining issue, a challenge at this point is a condition of sale. Also, if you’ve started high in terms of price as opposed to starting low (see above), then a concession is easier to achieve especially if they’ve indicated a propensity to use your firm. Make sure you ask the right questions at this point. For example,

‘If I can do something for you towards what you’re looking for, are you okay to get things moving?’

The key thing is to win the deal, but you need to know your stopping point. If it’s unprofitable, walk away.

Closing

If you’ve done your job well, this should be smoother than if you haven’t built rapport, unearthed needs and managed their objections effectively. You should start closing early in the discussion. If asking for the deal comes as a bolt out of the blue, you’re in trouble. In our world, doing lead generation in-house is a consideration either with current staff or through recruitment. A good, early question might be

‘what would you need from us for you to not approach this by doing the work in house?’

Then, once you’ve demonstrated that you’ve offered what they asked for, or close to it, they will find it harder to go back on what they, themselves said at the outset. Human nature doesn’t like contradictions.

If they use the standard line ‘I need to think about it’ or ‘I need to discuss this internally’, you can perhaps use a line such as

‘I realise this is an important decision and I imagine you’ve already discussed it at length internally so I’d really appreciate it if you could help me understand whether something has changed since our original discussion where you said that you were struggling with lead generation and didn’t want to do the activity in-house?’

Summary

There are many sales techniques, and some have been outlined in this article. They aren’t the only ones and you may prefer others. However, for me, the core of effective selling is common sense. If you build rapport, ask the right questions to unearth needs and meet those needs, you will convert more than you lose.

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