Selling is the world’s most personal profession –– but not in the way you might think. In fact, many salespeople are downright superstitious. For some, it’s the way they shake hands, others are fanatical about punctuality, wearing certain jewelry or using a favorite pen.
The list is almost endless. It may be the only time of day to call for an appointment, interpreting a customer’s body language, or what to order when having lunch with a prospect. Success is all about following a salesperson’s “personal rules.” Break the rules and something goes wrong.
While all such “personal preferences” are interesting and sometimes even helpful, there are certain “actions” that may reap far more robust sales results. Here are eight to think about:
• Every prospect isn’t a potential customer. Some may consider this a “negative thought” and want to be focused on the “positive.” Always looking at the “bright side,” however, can mean missing critical clues that are valuable in properly evaluating prospects.
“Reading” prospects correctly is essential to know how best to work with prospects, understand their needs and problems. The goal is not to “sell” the prospect, but to decide if, at some point, the prospect can or should become a customer. If the answer is no, then it’s time to move on.
A salesperson’s success depends on getting prospects right.
• Invest in prospects. While salespeople talk about “building relationships,” their performance can tell quite a different story. Cultivating prospects isn’t limited to spending time with them or even learning more about their goals and problems, both of which are necessary.
Salespeople often miss what is always clear to prospects: prospects know you want their money. Most are not willing to say yes easily, particularly today.
One way to help overcome what we call “the dollar doubt” is by investing in our prospects. And why not? We expect them to invest in us.
What should you do? It may be as basic as investing time in helping to solve a problem, conducting a test, creating a mock up or preparing a detailed report. If you do, you may pass the test.
Later, you can talk about the prospect investing in you.
• Get relationships right. There are many salespeople who seem to believe that becoming friends with their customers is the best way to solidify a business relationship. Some put more effort into the friend task than anything else.
Yet, there are indications that point in a different direction; namely, that customers want to be treated like customers. Whether it’s Apple, FedEx, Staples, Amazon or Southwest Airlines, it’s the combination of competence and performance that creates enduring customer relationships.
It’s the same for salespeople.
• Follow up faithfully. Salespeople seem to find it quite easy to make promises to customers and prospects, but their performance is something less than 100 percent.
“Not to worry, it will be here in a day or two,” the salesperson assured the customer. That was Monday and there was no word by Friday. The customer placed a call. “Oh, yes. It should have been here…I’ll check and call you back.” A week later, she had not called. “She’s out today. Let me see what I can find out.”
“Poor follow up” is near the top of everyone’s list of mistakes salespeople make. It may do more damage than just about anything else. Why? Because customers never forget. “Yes, Don is a great guy, but his follow through leaves much to be desired. Just be prepared to remind him what he said he would do.”
Success eludes salespeople who are follow up failures.
• Avoid the “hot potato” syndrome. If there’s a close second to not keeping promises, it’s gone missing after getting the order. Whether they’re conscious of it or not, customers are particularly sensitive to even infinitesimal changes in a salesperson’s behavior once the sale is made: “Will she be as attentive and responsive now that we’ve signed the contract?” or “Will he drop me like a hot potato now that I’m a customer?”
This is about just one thing: commitment. By making a purchase (the amount doesn’t really matter), customers make a concrete commitment, and they expect the salesperson to be equally committed. They’re on the look out for “moving on” indications, which translate into a feeling of being “dropped.”
When this occurs, customers begin to doubt a salesperson’s integrity by finding other ways to justify their belief that the person was only interested in getting the order.
• Shape the way you’re perceived. This has nothing to do with a salesperson’s wardrobe, car or favorite restaurant. But it has everything to do with the way an individual thinks, particularly a person’s knowledge and ability to identify and solve problems. In other words, it has everything to do with being authentic.
The objective is to avoid sending a prospect or customer mixed or misleading messages about you. Such confusion eventually leads to doubt.
First impressions are permanent impressions, which is why, at a first meeting, it’s important to clearly formulate the impression you want the customer to have by the time the meeting ends.
• Always make it right. Granted, there are some customers who deliberately make it their mission to take advantage of salespeople. Yet, the adept salesperson can help avoid allowing such situations to become disasters by putting themself in the customer’s situation.
For example, we all see what we want to see, which can be quite different from what was actually intended. Particularly when terms, descriptions, dates, and costs are involved. Written communications, including emails, are often so confusing that they open the door wide to misinterpretation. Voice mails are no exceptions, either. These can be huge problems.
To say that “issues” can arise is an understatement, so be prepared to make it right. The consultant sent an invoice to a new client, who called and said, “I thought it was going to be half of that.” A day later, the consultant responded, “I may not have made the price clear enough. What if we split the difference?”
Making it right is always a gain.
• Never get comfortable. A pervasive myth that circulates among salespeople (and others) suggests a time comes when we’ve “paid our dues” and we have a right to such rewards as more pay with less work, access to prestigious accounts, little or no prospecting, and, of course, “special treatment,” whatever that means.
Translated, this comes down to “the right to be comfortable.” Nothing is in writing and no one talks about it, officially. Even so, it’s what we expect, with each of us setting the timetable for when it should kick in.
It’s a career killer because, inevitably, we begin to act as if the time has come to be comfortable.
In spite of what we may say or think, it’s actions that determine the salesperson’s destiny.
John R. Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eNewsletter, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 617-774-9759 or johnrgraham.com.