I think success in sales depends upon some vital selling techniques that I believe are essential in any sales situation, no matter what sales position or type a person may have. Those selling techniques imply that for long-term success it is in the best interests of the salesperson and their company to identify customer needs and aid customer decision-making. This is done by selecting from the range of products or services those that best fit with the customer’s requirements. I can humbly share with you six selling techniques that will significantly improve your sales performance, retain your customers, and even help grow your business.
1. Have a powerful and interest-generating opening.
According to many image consultants, “first impressions are lasting impressions,” and a salesperson has only a few minutes to create a positive first impression. So it is critically important to consider the ways in which a favorable initial response can be achieved. Customers expect salespeople to be businesslike in their personal appearance and behavior. Untidy hair and a sloppy manner of dress can create a lack of confidence, for example. Furthermore, a salesperson who does not respect the fact that the customer is likely to be a busy person, with many demands on their time, may cause irritation on the part of the customer. Successful and effective salespeople should open with a smile, a handshake and, in situations where they are not well-known to the customer, introduce themselves and their company they represent. Common courtesies should be followed after all.
Opening remarks are important since they set the tone for the rest of the sales discussion. Normally, they should be business-related since this is the purpose of the visit. They should show the customer that the salesperson is not about to waste time. Where the customer is well-known and by their own remarks indicates a willingness to talk about a more social matter, the salesperson should obviously follow. This can generate close rapport with the customer, but the salesperson must be aware of the reason being there and not be excessively diverted from the main reason of the visit. A high-quality and professional approach is a powerful way to add value and differentiate yourself from the rest.
Building rapport should lead to credibility, which leads to trust. Once trust is established, the customer is likely to open up and share information that provides clues regarding ways to create value.
2. Be empathetic and sincere with people.
Too many salespeople are fake and pretend interest in their prospects. Nowadays people are smart and see right through such insincerity. If you are not sincere and honest with everyone you meet then you should not be in sales. Empathize with your customers and let them believe in you.
I call this the “Power of Identification”. Effective salespeople must understand and appreciate their customers’ needs and wants. They should care about their customers’ benefits, build long-term relationships with them, and link their products or services to their customers’ needs. Successful salespeople should also demonstrate genuine focus on their customers’ expressed needs and wants. They should exhibit genuine interest and concern of their customers’ business and buying situations; and they should have genuine appreciation and respect of their customers’ capabilities.
It has to be noted, unfortunately, that research indicates that this is one of the most commonly missed or forgotten selling techniques. Yet, it is a vital one.
3. The best salespeople ask questions and genuinely listen to the answers before speaking again.
If salespeople approach their prospects with solutions before understanding their problems, they are likely to be wrong about the whole process. One of the most important selling techniques is “Need and Problem Identification.” Successful Salespeople must identify the needs and wants of their customers. This needs analysis approach suggests that early in the sales process, the salesperson should adopt a question-and-listen posture. Additionally, questioning can also be useful in order to understand the customer’s situation. In order to encourage the customer to discuss their needs and problems, salespeople ought to use ‘open’ rather than ‘closed’ questions.
An ‘open’ question is mostly used at the beginning of the sales call and one that requires more than one-word or one-phrase answer, for example:
‘Why do you believe that a computer system is inappropriate for your business?’
‘What are the main reasons for buying the XYZ photocopier?’
‘In what ways did the ABC ointment fail to meet your expectations?’
A ‘closed’ question, on the other hand, invites a one-word or one-phrase answer. It can be used to obtain purely factual information and or to confirm understanding of what has been discussed throughout the conversation. However, excessive use of this type of questions can hinder rapport and lead to an abrupt type of conversation which lack flow. Following are examples of ‘closed’ questions:
‘Would you tell me the name of the equipment you currently use?’
‘Does your company manufacture 1000 cc marine engines?’
‘Do you agree that a cloud service payroll system is helpful for your business?’
It is now very critical that after the salesperson asks the question, becomes interested in the answer of the customer and genuinely listens to the response. This selling technique – listening – is mostly missed, unfortunately. It is all easy to start a sales presentation in a rigid one-way approach without appreciating the customer’s response; and this makes the sales discussion non-beneficial, time-consuming, and thus not successful. Maintaining proper eye contact and using effective body language techniques are two very useful – and easy – ways of showing interest in what the customer is saying.
Additionally, the salesperson may find it useful to paraphrase what the customer has said or summarize the points that have been raised. This confirms an understanding with the customer and demonstrates respect. In fact, the best salespeople listen much more than they talk. Remember, salespeople are problem solvers and solution providers. And they can’t be as such without being good and active listeners. Salespeople with high levels of customer orientation truly care about customers and act in ways that customers value, such as listening to customer feedback and solving customer problems.
Finally, when the needs and wants of the customers are identified, smart salespeople now determine whether or not they can deliver the product or services to meet those wants and needs. They find out what their customers want and only then they give it to them. However, if you cannot give your prospects what they want, tell them so and help them find what they are looking for elsewhere. And there is nothing wrong with that!
4. Sell benefits not features.
The best salespeople understand exactly what they are selling to their customers and what is important to them. A very wonderful quote I always use is the one by Frederick Smith, founder of FedEx, saying:
“I don’t think that we understood our real goal when we first started Federal Express. We thought that we were selling the transportation of goods; in fact, we were selling peace of mind.”
This is an effective example of selling benefits, not product features, to customers. A feature is data, facts, or characteristics of your product or service. It often relates to craftsmanship, design, durability of the product. It may reveal how the product was developed, processed, or manufactured. Product features are often described in the technical section of the written sales proposal and in literature provided by the manufacturer.
A benefit, on the other hand, is whatever provides the customer with a personal advantage or gain. It answers the questions, “How will I benefit from owning or using the product?”, “So what?”, & “What is in it for me?” If you mention to a prospect that a certain tire has a four-ply rating, you are talking about a product feature. If you point out that this tire provides greater safety, lasts longer, and improves gas mileage, you are pointing out benefits.
Successful salespeople focus on delivering specific benefits that relate to explicit customer needs. Less successful salespeople take the position that the best way to create value is to present as many benefits as possible. Today’s customer measures value by how well your product benefits his specific needs. High-performance salespeople work hard to discover which benefits are truly the most important to the customer.
So you know now that customers buy benefits, not features. So how can successful salespeople do that? One of the best ways to present benefits is to use a bridge statement. A bridge statement is a transitional phrase that connects or links a statement of features with a statement of benefits. This method lets customers connect the features of your product to the benefits they receive. A careful analysis of the product helps identify both product features and buyer benefits. Knowing your product has always been essential to good selling, but focusing on product alone can be a serious mistake. Salespeople who love their products and have vast product knowledge should avoid overloading their customers with product data that the customers don’t need or want. Example of bridge statements include: “Which means…,” “Therefore,” “So”, “because”. Look at the following feature-benefit statements:
“This car consumes 30 miles per gallon, which means you can save money and drive long distances without the burden of stopping at gas stations frequently.”
“You will experience faster turnover and increased profits because the first order includes an attractive display rack”
Therefore, always sell benefits not features because this technique is one of the most effective selling techniques to be used by the best salespeople.
5. Your customers are all different so you should treat them differently.
This is what is called “Adaptive Selling” defined by Weitz, Sujan, & Sujan (1986) as “… the altering of sales behaviors during a customer interaction or across customer interactions based on perceived information about the nature of the selling situation.” Adaptive selling takes into account the situation in which the product or service is presented, the characteristics of the customer, and the feedback that has been received about the product or service. It occurs when a you adapt, change, and customize your selling style based on the situation and the behavior your customer.
Selecting the appropriate selling approach for a sales situation and making adjustments during sales interactions with customers are crucial to successful selling. A lot of research and practice support this concept. Jaramillo et al. (2007), for example, showed that adaptive selling was associated with salespeople’s performance (as measured by their attainment of sales quotas). Here are some tips on how to enhance your adaptive selling skills:
- Gain domain-specific knowledge of your product / service: You should acquire expertise and specific knowledge about the product or service that you are selling. You should be an information powerhouse and have the skills to effectively answer any question or concern addressed by the customers.
- Gain specific knowledge of the customer: Personalize your interactions and have a good understanding of the customer. You will become more effective than if you do not.
- Categorize the customer: Quickly and accurately categorize the customer type and adapt your sales approach to fit the specific need of the customer.
- Adapt to the customer’s communication style: Adapting to a customer’s social and communication style will facilitate trust and the building of a relationship.
- Personalize the interaction: build a personalized relationship and tailor your conversation to the needs of the customer. This will increase the comfort level of the customer and will facilitate trust. You should also use the information you have about the customer to customize the interaction and sell the most appropriate product or service.
- Match your behavior to the situation: You should adapt your sales behaviors to the characteristics of the customer and specific situation. For example, if the customer is in a rush, you should notice that and change your sales pitch to be more concise and immediately effective.
- Effectively identify sales situations: You should use good observation skills to recognize a specific sales situation. You should accomplish this by noting tone of voice, rate of speech, types of questions asked, and body language exhibited by the customer.
6. It is vitally important to constantly sharpen your knowledge and sales and communications skills.
This is one of the most important selling techniques, yet the most forgotten. Continuous growth and training in formal professional selling techniques is also very important. Take training classes, listen to podcasts, attend webinars, and read all the professional development material you can get your hands on. Start a program of self-study and development in sales today if you haven’t already. After all, customers rely on knowledgeable and skilled salespeople. One key characteristic of salespeople desired by customers is the expertise in products / service and in the industry / market. To develop this evolving salespeople always develop their skills and knowledge around there four dimensions:
- Becoming a product expert. By knowing major areas of product information such as: (a) Product development and quality improvement processes, (b) Performance data and specifications, (c) Maintenance and service contracts, and (d) Price and delivery.
- Knowing your company. Never underestimate the power and impact of information about your own company during the sales presentation. This is especially true when the customer is considering a strategic alliance. Before teaming with another company, the strategic alliance customer wants to learn a great deal about the firm that the salesperson represents. In many cases, you are selling your company as much as, or more than, you are selling a product or service. Awareness of your customer’s organizational culture – its beliefs, behaviors, and work patterns – gives you a competitive advantage as well. It also helps to know your potential client’s past performance to better asses current products and services
- Knowing your competition. Acquiring knowledge of your competition is an important step toward developing complete product knowledge. Salespeople who have knowledge of their competitor’s strengths and weaknesses are better able to emphasize the benefits they offer and to add value to the customer relationship. Customers often raise specific questions concerning competing firms. You might lose the sale if you cannot provide answers or if your answers are vague.
- Being an industry expert: Salespeople need to become experts in the industry they represent. In many cases, this means moving beyond the role of product specialist and becoming a business analyst. Staying current and developing an understanding of business processes takes time and may require additional education.
So I believe, these six essential selling techniques will significantly improve your sales performance, retain your customers, and even help grow your business. What do you think? Use them, and you will experience the difference.
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