Sales can be a tricky side of business for many people. Our Business and Innovation Advisors support business founders through every step of starting up: from having an idea for a business (a hunch); researching possible markets; identifying potential customers; designing a business model and making their first sales. Tom McGuire, SIE Business Advisor for the East, shares his tips for having a successful sales conversation with potential customers.
- “Nobody likes to be sold-to but everybody likes to buy” – Earl Taylor.
If you haven’t had an experience of selling yet, we all know what it’s like to buy. Have you ever said to a sales assistant “I’m just browsing” when actually you knew exactly what you wanted? Or, let someone give their sales pitch for half an hour when you had no need or intention to buy but didn’t want to hurt their feelings? When buying we tend to hide our true intentions, especially when we feel like we are being “sold to “.
Tip: We need a sales system that’s built around an understanding of how people buy.
- “Selling to people who actually want to hear from you is more effective than interrupting strangers who don’t” – Seth Godin.
The most common mistake I have seen in sales conversations is pitching (presenting) too early. Yes it’s great to be passionate about our product but don’t let that excitement boil over! There could be many reasons why our prospect has agreed to meet. It’s crucial to find out what these are before pitching. Use a structure to the sales conversation that helps both parties honestly explore if there are compelling reasons to do business.
Tip: When setting the meeting agenda get permission from your prospect that if you feel you can’t help them then its ok to say so and end the meeting. Give them permission to do the same.
- “Ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no lies.” – Oliver Goldsmith
Asking great questions encourages our prospects to think more deeply about their needs. They also help build personal connection. So, be wary about making them feel like they are on a witness stand! Keep it conversational and two-way. Broad, open questions work best.
Tip: Ask questions that help build rapport first before moving on to more searching enquiries.
- “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”―Stephen R. Covey
The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Put all your own distractions out of your mind, put the other person at ease and listen to the words, the tone and observe non-verbal communication such as body language. Engage all your senses and empathise! Do this well and you have a deeper understand of your prospects real needs and wants.
Tip: Connect up the bits and pieces and get a whole picture of what is being said.
- “A wise man speaks because has something to say, a fool speaks because he has to say something” – Plato
Now we have the opportunity to pitch! However, only if we believe we can offer a solution. Whatever we pitch it has to be delivered to what we have just heard. It must not sound like it was pre-prepared and scripted.
Tip: Know your stuff! Be prepared for anything and be flexible.
- “You don’t close a sale, you open up a relationship if you want to build a long term successful enterprise” – Patricia Fripp
Many traditional sales books still emphasise the importance of “the close” and techniques for overcoming objections. Trouble is we can see this coming. See Tip 1! If we have an agreed agenda and a structure that allows us to mutually explore if we should work together, then closing is simply about checking in at each step in the process that we are doing the right thing and should carry on to the next step.
Tip: Any negotiations should take place after there is agreement in principle to work together….and of course we still need to get an order !
Selling can be daunting, achieving a successful outcome can be important for a new venture. Practising these 6 tips can make a big difference, allowing us to be confident and relaxed when under pressure. Plan the conversation, and of course, rehearse in advance with an advisor!
This article first appeared in Ignite Magazine in September 2014.