Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Essence of Sales

Sales help keep the economy going. If you work in sales and want to learn how to do things better, you may find something here helpful. If you want to know how the process works, you're welcome to read this, too.

The heartbeat of the sale is the buying sign. Learning to recognize them and maximizing their potential is what a salesman does. It begins with creating an environment in which these signs can emerge.

When I was at RadioShack they taught us about what they called the four stages of selling: greet, qualify, present, and close.

Greet
The sales process begins at the moment you begin the interaction with the customer. While some people put a lot of stock into first impressions, I think the most meaningful first impression is when the salesman begins to actively engage the customer.

One would hope that greeting a customer would be part of naturally being friendly with other people. If it is not as natural for you, here are a couple basic pointers: smile, and look people in the eye. Those two things can set you off on a good start. Handshakes are generally reserved for higher end transactions, or maybe at the end of lower end transactions.

Note: In retail, if you have people walking in the door, you begin with an advantage in that you know they are already thinking about your products. Cold calls or canvassing (door knocking, telemarketing) usually require some kind of sales pitch.

Qualify
Once the initial relationship is established, the first step is to ask the customer open-ended questions to figure out the customer's needs. An open question is one to which the responses can be anything. What are you looking for today? How can we help you? What brings you here today? What are you trying to accomplish? How are you trying to do your project? They usually begin with words like “What” and “How.”

You want to make sure you have established an understanding of the customer's purpose or intent in making a purchase. Build the customer's confidence that you are working on their behalf. Once you begin to get an idea of the product the customer is seeking, then you can begin to steer the conversation toward the products that you have available.

Present
Once you begin to offer your products to the customer, you have entered the presentation stage of the conversation, though there might still be more qualifying to come later. It is very important to thoroughly know your inventory, selection, menu, or whatever you have available to sell. This can also help you better qualify the customer, too.

It is worth noting at this point that integrity is very important. A quick story: One day during Hurricane Isabel I had some customers in town who were displaced from their home in Virginia Beach. They came in browsing around and one of them had a lot of questions about our products. I had a lot of answers. The conversation volleyed back and forth several times, and then they hit on a question to which I did not know the answer. At that point I simply said, “I don't know.” And then the customer said, “Now I trust you.” It was a very poignant moment in understanding not just the importance of integrity, but also of building trust with a customer.

Focus your presentation on what you have available to sell. SWAT. Sell What's Available Today. No one is particularly helped by discussing products past, present, future that are not available right now. When people are ready to move, it is best to move with them on that readiness to act. Strike while the iron is hot.

During your presentation, pay close attention to how your customer reacts. Specifically, you are looking for buying signs. These are indications that the customer is mentally engaging your product and thinking about how their life would be better after having purchased that product from you. This is the reason that sales people intentionally put a product into a customer's hand. It raises the level of engagement your customer has with your product and increases their potential willingness to buy. Buying signs often include statements like, “That would look good in my house,” or, “I could use one of those.”

One of the more interesting and important buying signs to recognize is the objection. Yes, objections are actually buying signs. This is counter-intuitive to many, but it's true. If you think about it, an objection actually shows that the customer is mentally engaging your product. An objection is not apathy, which is not a buying sign. An objection is an opportunity to better qualify the customer and overcome the objection, potentially leading to even greater sales. For instance, if a customer says, “That piece of furniture would not look good in my house,” you could build on that to find out what other kind of furniture they have and possibly sell him a complete set of new furniture items.

Once you are convinced you have seen a sufficient number of buying signs, then it is time to close the deal. A sales experience without a close is just a conversation.

Close
Asking the customer for the sale involves closed questions. These questions are different from the open questions used to qualify the customer, in that they are now aimed in a very specific direction: what you have available to sell today. A closed question contains within itself guidance toward that which you are trying to sell.

For instance, one type of closed question is the alternate choice close: “Would you like the red one or the blue one?” This is good because hopefully you've just shown them and put in their hands a red one or a blue one. The open version of this question would be “What color would you like?” If they say, “Green,” and you don't have a green one, you've just undermined a lot work you just did. There are other sales closing techniques, too.

What happens after you ask for the sale is especially important. The question now lobs the ball into the customer's court, and the salesperson stops talking. What's next? Silence. Painful silence. It doesn't feel natural. Nobody likes it. And that is exactly why silence is the salesman's friend.

An insecure salesman will fill the silence too soon and give the customer an out. “If you're not ready right now, here's my card…” That's a shortcut to losing the sale.

An effective salesman will leave the silence alone as long as it takes for the customer to say something. People don't like to say “No,” so they just may say “Yes” instead. Sometimes they just need more time to think, too. Remember, you've already identified buying signs. They just need time to work themselves out.

If a customer raises an objection after you attempt to close, this is a time to speak up.

If a customer has no further objections to the product, and you have made a move to close the deal, that is the time to keep quiet.

Closing a deal is all about knowing when to talk and knowing when to shut up.

Once the customer agrees to purchase, from there it should simply be a matter of finalizing the transaction, giving the customer the product, and sending them on their way. Problems at this stage can still derail a sale and are usually indicative of a training deficiency.

That's about how it works. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments.

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