Posted September 7, 2007 by John Spence
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Recently a young man I know, and have been a mentor to, decided to take a job in sales to help earn money for college. He is a bright kid, very talented and absolutely one of the nicest young people I know. So in an effort to give him a little help I decided to sit down and share a few key ideas I have on how to be successful in sales. Although this was written to someone brand new to the selling profession, I believe that ideas are applicable to any person who makes a living asking other people to buy what they are trying to sell. I hope you find some value in these suggestions.
Now, let’s get clear at the start, I am not the world’s leading expert on sales nor do I claim to be. However, I will admit I did spend about 10 years where the main focus of my career was delivering very high-level sales training to Fortune 500 companies around the world and I have also read well over 200 books on sales, have listened to hundreds of hours of sales training CDs and attended dozens of sales training seminars — as well as having been the main salesperson in my own company for more than 15 years. But there is still much to be learned!
So with all of that said, I wanted to send you along with some comments and ideas… some things to think about, as you start your sales career.
- Get used to rejection (at least for a while). When most people start off in sales, they typically get about ten “NO’s” for everyone “Yes.” There are many things that contribute to this dismal close rate, including a lack of sales skills, a lack of preparation, and a lack of confidence… but one of the biggest problems is trying to sell to the wrong people (folks who are simply not a good match for your product). Lots of salespeople will tell you it’s a “numbers game” that if you just knock on enough doors, see enough people, make enough cold calls – you’ll make your numbers. That may well be true – but it is a terrible way to go about it. Trying to sell like that takes a ton of time and makes you face loads of rejection from people that honestly have no reason in the world to buy for you. Trust me, that is no fun.A key idea that great salespeople know is this:
Highly focused targeting of potential clients + superior sales call preparation = much high close ratios/ bigger commissions/more referrals/ long-term customer relationships.
- All sales break down to three key questions:
- Do they have a real problem? (and do they even know it??)
- Do I have the right solution?
- Am I talking to the right people?If the person really does have a problem; and you truly do have a superior solution; and you believe you’ve done a completely thorough job of presenting your product and addressing all objections… and they still won’t buy… you are likely talking to the wrong person (no authority, no budget, not willing to take any risks) and need to either find someone else in the organization to talk to – or move on to a different customer who will buy from you!
- The ONLY way you will ever be successful in sales is to be completely HONEST and always try to do what is in the best interest of the customer. Period. Never worry about making a sale – worry about helping your customer. Do not worry about your commission – worry about the ROI for the customer. Do not worry about how well you are doing – worry like crazy about how you can help your customers do better. There is an old saying that I believe is 100% accurate: “If you just help enough other people get what they want, you can have everything you want.”
- In sales, even before they buy the product – they have to buy YOU first! This does NOT mean you should try to be a slick schmoozer – this is what crappy salespeople do – they rely on building a “relationship” to close deals. People do NOT buy from you just because they “like” you. They buy from you because they TRUST and RESPECT you and believe that your products and services will deliver the promises you make and give them the results they desire (financial return, fun, esteem, security, profit, sex appeal, market share, safety, peace of mind… whatever problem that is trying to solve by buying from you).
- The goal is to become a: TRUSTED ADVISOR
How do you do that? Here are just a few suggestions…
- You must be an absolute EXPERT on your products and services (and I do not use that term lightly – I seriously mean: expert).
- You must be extremely well-groomed (dress similar to, but just a little bit better than, your best target customers). Unless you are selling drum sets to rock stars, it is best to be clean-cut, polite, and exceedingly professional. This does not mean stiff and in a pressed uniform – it means you look and act like your customers – so they feel comfortable when you are around them.
- You must always be on time and ready for the meeting (even if they are not).
- You need to have a VERY solid grasp of the general business trends affecting your clients. Read the paper every day and a few business/trade magazines each month.
- You need to become as knowledgeable as possible about your client’s business. The more you know about how they do business, how they make money, who their customers and competitors are — the better job you can do of helping them. You cannot help someone you do not understand.
- You also need to become an expert on your competitors. What do they offer, what are their prices, where are they better / worse than you – how are you clearly differentiated?
- Make sure you always follow-up and do what you say you will do. You MUST be dependable.
- Always say “Please” and Thank You.” Ask for the business – and when you get it make sure the customer knows how much you appreciate their trust in you. What is the best way to do that? Deliver what you promised them. Make sure your products and services meet exceed their expectations. If you do this – you will never have to “sell” again because you’ll be covered up by happy customers that want to “buy” from you. (And refer you to all of their friends and associates). AND…
- When you make a mistake (and you will – we all do) do everything humanly possible to rectify the situation immediately and begin a massive campaign to regain the client’s trust.
- Read at least two sales books every month. Yes, I am dead serious here – or you can substitute audio CDs or seminars – but you must do this religiously. Much of your success will be tied directly to how well you embrace the idea of lifelong learning.
- Spend at least an hour every week studying your competition. What are their new products, services, offers, deals?
- Spend at least one hour every week working on creating better questions, figuring out how to handle objections, developing new ways to demonstrate/explain your products and services and why (specifically) they are superior.
- Be absolutely phenomenal in your time management and organizational skills. Become a master at planning your work and working your plan. Have a clear system to track your appointments, important projects, follow-up calls, emails, notes, and client information. This is the lifeblood of your business (after all – sales is basically “You Inc.” – you are the CEO of your own one-person sales corporation) do not neglect this or let it slip and get away from you – organization and time management are critical for success in sales. (By the way – when you get really good at sales and are generating serious cash-flow, you can simply hire an assistant to do all of this for you – so you can focus all of your time and energy on the other items on this list!).I could list another 250 – but this is a good start. I am going to tell you that VERY few salespeople are willing to do the things on the list I have just given you. Oh, they might admit it is a good idea to do these things, but only a very, very small fraction will ever take the time and effort to truly earn the position of Trusted Advisor to their customers. But I promise you the few who do handle all the things on that list are extremely well compensated and enjoy the fact that they get paid to help people.
- The goal is to become a: TRUSTED ADVISOR
- For the past 10 years, I have been asking people in my sales classes to describe the “typical’ salesperson. Here is what they say:
- Rude, pushy, manipulative, lies!
- Does not understand or care about me
- Does not understand their own products or services
- Wastes my time
- Pressures me
- Talks too much – and does not listen
- Only cares about making the sale – not what is best for me. So, you want to be a great salesman? Just do the complete opposite of that list. I am totally serious. Be the complete opposite of what most people think a salesperson is and you will do wonderfully.
- Never lie to a customer – NEVER.
- Be polite, kind, and genuinely caring.
- Take the time to truly understand your customer and their unique needs/concerns.
- Be an expert on all of your products and services (and those of your top competitors too). And I absolutely mean EXPERT.
- Never waste even a minute of your customer’s time. Always be extremely well prepared.
- Do not pressure or manipulate your customers in any way (they can smell a stupid sales “technique” from a mile off). Focus all of your energy and talent on helping them. Remember: Technique is NOTHING – the intent is EVERYTHING.
- Ask very good, well planned, and highly focused questions – then be an extraordinary listener (and take great notes). Here is the mantra: If you want to sell — ask, don’t tell.
- Do ONLY what is in the best interest of the customer – even if that means sending them to the competition.If you do these things with every customer, in every sales call, you will do just fine, I promise.
- How to handle objections (it is too expensive, I do not think it will work for me, I don’t use services like yours). The first thing to do is ask several good questions and try to uncover the “real” objection – what is actually the issue? Once you discover the true objection you have two choices:
- If it is valid (they really do NOT need your product – or a competitor’s product would honestly be much better for them) then help them make the right choice. Even if that means picking up the phone and calling your number one competitor and setting up an appointment for them to meet.
- If the objection is not solid then you should have an absolutely wonderful, honest, and logical way to clearly explain to the customer why they should reconsider their concern. You need to sit down and look at the top five objections you will likely get over and over – and you must develop superior answers for those concerns that are so elegant and well-thought-out that after you have gone through it with a customer they look at you and say: “Wow, now that you explain it that way it completely makes sense, that is not a problem for me at all, thank you.”
You cannot do this on the fly. You can’t make something like this up. It takes lots and lots of time, thought, effort, and refinement. You know what the main objections you are going to get almost every time – and you should have a 100% solid “home run’ answer in your back pocket that you can trot out and run past the customer to show them you are extremely capable, confident and prepared. That is what a Trusted Advisor is supposed to do.
Okay, I am going to stop here. I could go on for another 20 pages, but I think this is a good start, especially for someone who is just getting into sales.
Now, let me make a prediction. If you show this list to some salespeople, even some who have been doing it for a while, they will likely admit that these ideas are sound —- but that they do NOT do them.
They will say they don’t have time to do all of this (as they are too busy trying to “make their numbers”), they’ll say it is different for their products or services, they’ll claim they are much better at building relationships than all of this sales stuff – they will have lots of excuses.
All I will say is to judge them by their results. If they have a very high close ratio, huge income, happy clients, and lots of referrals – and do not do these things — then please sit down and talk with them and learn everything you can from them. But I doubt you’ll find many truly successful salespeople who ignore the things I’ve just shared with you.
Ahh, and to live up to my own challenge here are my stats.
- I have been in sales for about 17 years.
- I have owned/run five companies where I was the only salesperson – and thereby responsible for brining in all sales and new accounts – for the entire organization.
- I do not read two business books every month – I read three to five… a week and listen to 3 or more on CD every month — and I also read 12-20 business and trade magazines every month.
- I am absolutely terrible at organization – but I have two full-time assistants that set all of my appointments, calls, conferences, and travel schedule – I have not signed a check; made a plane, car or hotel reservation; or filled in my own calendar in five years. They handle all of those things so I can spend all of my time reading, studying, meeting with clients, working on solutions, sharpening my sales skills…
- I am currently running at about a 95% close ratio – and the only time I do not close an opportunity is when I feel that I cannot deliver a truly superior product, or rarely when the customer can simply not find enough money in the budget to afford our work.
- The reason my close ration is so high is that 99% of all of my business comes from referrals. My current customers send me new customers – who typically do not ask any questions other than: When can we get started? Believe me, that is a wonderful place to be, but it has taken 10 years of hard work — and always delivering superb results — to get to a place where my clients sell for me.
- And lastly, to commissions. Just like all professional salespeople I work on 100% commission. I earn only what I sell. I would not be so brash as to put down a specific number, but let’s just say the personal income from all of my sales (products, services, speeches, books, consulting, training, advertising design work…) is quite significant and probably puts me in the top 10% or 15% income bracket in America.
I sure hope that helps, but I also recommend you go out and ask every other good salesperson what they think. The more you listen and learn – watch what works well and what does not – the sooner you will come up with your own sales style. Something that fits you and your customers and is in line with the way you want to do business. That is when sales will really get fun – when you create your own way to sell and you build a strong base of customers that like you, trust you, depend on you and are happy and willing to buy from you and strongly recommend to their friends that they buy from you too. That is truly the position of Trusted Advisor – and the foundation of a wonderful and rewarding profession in sales!
I wish you great success in your selling efforts — John
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