Salespeople are often known for their “can do” attitude when it comes to getting an order. They don’t let anything get in their way. Yet, the road to closing sales is getting rougher, with more obstacles, hairpin turns and fewer straightaways. Customers are more discerning, demanding and cautious. They expect guarantees, free enhancements, incredible support and, of course, a “white knuckles” price and beyond. They’re not satisfied with reducing risk; they want to eliminate it.
All this drives salespeople to search for more inventive ways to get the job done –– everything from finding appropriate prospects to nailing down appointments to getting the order.
Because selling is a tough job (in spite of what some may think), it’s often necessary to go against the tide in order to move forward –– to do things differently to close sales. Here are some thoughts about how to go about it:
1. Forget about getting the order. Sounds harsh, almost subversive. But it may not be so crazy when you consider that closing rates are painfully low. And if that isn’t enough, the toughest lesson salespeople must learn if they want to survive is coping with constant rejection.
The real task is figuring out how to move past hearing “no,” “not interested,” “maybe” or “thanks, but we’re all set.” These are important comments because they almost always are heard when a salesperson’s focused on making the sale.
If a customer gets the feeling that a salesperson’s sole objective is getting the order, the chances that it will happen drop to near zero. It’s easy to forget that customers want to buy; they do not want to be sold –– even if they need what a salesperson is selling.
2. Skip “courting” customers. Salespeople are known to make a serious effort at “building a relationship” with prospects. They do those things that build goodwill and establish friendships, all of which they hope will lead to getting the account or coming away with a contract. While such efforts may produce short-term results, enduring relationship building can require a lot more today.
Initial contacts with prospects are of crucial importance, far beyond just getting acquainted or establishing common ground. It’s sizing up time, when first impressions become indelible. It’s when prospects decide whether or not to work with a salesperson, which is why being perceived as a knowledgeable, competent, and committed professional is essential. So, don’t derail the opportunity with distractions. This is the time to demonstrate your insights into the business including challenges and opportunities.
3. Push “getting” out of your mind. “Pay forward” is a core value of selling, although is mostly misunderstood. This has nothing to do with spending time and money “courting prospects” or “keeping customers happy” with tickets to sporting events, special excursions or even free dinners and the like.
It has to do with another type of “giving before you get.” Specifically, it’s about “funding an account” with your demonstrated value before prospects become customers. How to do it? Just begin by asking for an opportunity to demonstrate your value. Whether it’s a problem to solve, researching an issue, finding a needed resource, or offering insight from your experience, consider it a “mini-internship,” if you like.
Instead of talking about the value you bring to a prospect, demonstrate it. If you’re too busy to pay forward, then you may be too busy to get the account.
4. Make differentiating yourself a top priority. Many salespeople claim they don’t worry about the competition. Well, perhaps. Or, maybe they’re just “whistling’ Dixie.” While your company may work at differentiating itself from the competition, it’s equally important for salespeople to do it, too.
Start by analyzing the way other salespeople who serve your prospects and customers do their job. Get acquainted with what they do, how they perform and how they interact with your prospect. Develop an understanding of their modus operandi.
The goal is not to replicate what others in sales do. It’s to identify what you might do better that will set you apart. What will make you stand out? What will get the customer’s attention? What are your competitors’ salespeople missing?
With this information, you can fashion a sales role that surpasses the competition.
5. Anticipate customer needs to grow your sales. There are two negative behaviors that ill-serve salespeople: First, can be called the “when I get ready syndrome.” Customers hear from them when they want an order or the sales manager instructs everyone to get on the phones for two hours on Thursday. Both quickly become clearly transparent to customers.
These same customers learn to rely and trust those sales reps who take the time to create a “needs profile” so they can be in touch at the right time. They listen carefully and pick up on upcoming projects, new business opportunities, organizational changes, and problems that will, at some point, need attention.
The objective is to know when a customer faces a specific issue and to make contact at that moment. This is when a customer feels that a salesperson is an alter ego, a person who knows what a client is thinking.
It’s this level of attention and responsiveness that builds client trust and results in additional sales.
6. Educate customers to build trust. Even though it may seem futile today, there are salespeople who persist in acting as “information gatekeepers,” attempting to control customers by managing the information they give them. In answering a customer question, they’re “selective” in the answers they give them.
Ironically, it’s just the opposite that builds trust with customers. Confidence in a salesperson comes from making sure customers have accurate and reliable information, even when it may not reflect favorably on what a salesperson is selling. “Frankly, I don’t have exactly what you need, but these people do,” as she handed her customer the contact information.
Highly effective salespeople want to be regarded as reliable, forthright and competent resources. When they ask questions, their customers know they will receive straight, reliable answers.
Going against the tide isn’t really an ethical issue. It’s quite practical. What’s in the best interest of customers is good for salespeople, too. More satisfied customers and increased sales.
John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales.” Contact him at [email protected], 617-774-9759 or johnrgraham.com.