It's the small-but-hard things that count: Successful Selling
By Sam Allman
Most people believe that selling is easy, and, by extension, that the job of a salesperson is easy. This may explain why many salespeople think they are better at sales than they really are and why so few ever stop to consider how they could improve their selling skills. In almost all of my training classes, a large number of attendees are angry that their manager required them to attend. They walk in displaying the mindset, “What are you going to teach me?” They exhibit the signs of a know-it-all. A Cornell University study found that a person who believes he or she knows all there is to know about a subject demonstrates absolute, sure signs of incompetence. And Dr. Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University, has found that know-it-alls have actually stopped learning.
In my 20 years of conducting sales training, I have found that most of the selling in this industry, and most industries, is really order taking. Order taking is not selling. Among retail sales associates (RSA) and territory managers (TM), order taking is commonplace.
A customer walks into a retail store and asks, “Do you have any of that soft carpet?”
An RSA responds, “Absolutely. Come over here, and let me show you the soft carpet we have on special.”
A TM enters a flooring store, heads for the owner or manager and says, “I’m so excited. I have a new product that I think you’ll love, and it’s priced right. Let me show it to you.”
In these instances, both the RSA and the TM are order-takers.
It’s no wonder customers run from salespeople trying to cram products down their throats. Selling is about helping a customer fulfill a function, eliminate a pain or satisfy a want—it’s not about finding a need for a product; it’s about finding a product for a need. In fact, a great salesperson will walk away from a sale if they feel that the customer wants to buy the wrong product.
Professional selling should be perceived as an ethical profession. However, the image of the profession has been damaged by order-takers. The research is clear: those who earn the most money in sales are ethical and use their skills to serve and care for customers. Doing that well can make a professional wealthy and earn them customers for life—and everything is easier when you sell a customer a second time.
Some salespeople are naturally born. But selling is a skill, and it can be learned. Oftentimes, top-performing salespeople have difficulty identifying what makes them effective because much of what they do is unconscious. However, research has identified some of the unconscious strategies and tactics of peak performers, which can be learned, duplicated and mastered by average performers to provide them with the same results peak performers attain.
Studying this research, I find that order-takers follow the road of least resistance. They let the customer direct the sale, instead of leading the customer through a specific decision-making process. Peak-performing salespeople do what order-takers won’t do, are afraid to do, or don’t know how to do. Many of these actions are perceived by average performers to be hard, appearing aggressive or pushy. No one wants to be perceived as an aggressive or pushy salesperson; that selling model was proven ineffective years ago. We all want to be liked by our customers, and that is why so many salespeople have become passive by turning the responsibility of the sale over to the customer. They reason, the customers have done their research on the Internet and know exactly what they want and need. All they have to do is take them to the product they already know they want. Letting the customer direct the sale makes one an order-taker!
Taking control of a sale isn’t hard, though what has to be done is paradoxical. A salesperson takes control by asking the customer for permission to proceed with the selling process. Let’s return to our previous example: a customer walks into a retail store and asks, “Do you have any of that soft carpet?
A RSA responds, “Absolutely, we have a great selection of those carpets. In order for me to better understand what you want, would it be okay if I asked you a few questions before I showed them to you? I just want to make sure that we find exactly what you are looking for.” Ironic isn’t it? The RSA simply asks the customer’s permission to follow the selling process.
So what else separates the order-taker from the professional salesperson? What are the other small-but-hard things that professionals do? Good salesmanship requires some measure of patience, assertiveness and persistence. Many order-takers have patience. For example, depending on the specific research consulted, 76% to 90% of all sales presentations end without the customer being asked for the order. Why weren’t they asked? It’s because order-takers don’t close sales. They patiently wait and hope, lacking the assertiveness and persistence to follow through with closing.
However, to ask for the order in the absence of buying signals makes the salesperson seem aggressive or pushy. Professionals know that a salesperson doesn’t ask for the sale unless the customer exhibits buying signals. Yes, in some cases the customer will give you the order without being asked, but most must be asked—and asked multiple times. A Yale University study found that most of the successful closings came on the fifth attempt. Now that’s persistence.
Professional salespeople do the small-but-hard task of asking for what they need to make the sale and to please the customer without making the customer feel pushed, badgered or manipulated. Here are some other patterns that successful salespeople follow.
• What do you call a customer who walks into a flooring store? A qualified lead. A successful salesperson asks for the contact information of every customer who comes in the store and of every potential customer they meet. In many industries, salespeople will pay big money for a qualified lead. Without a customer’s information, a salesperson cannot create a strategy to get them to return; they cannot call, email or send a thank you note or promotional material. The customer is in total control. To gather the information, all a salesperson has to say is, “If after you leave I find something that would be perfect for you, would it be okay if I called to let you know? Could I get your name and contact information?” By the way, if the customer says no, you have to work on your rapport building skills.
• According to some sales experts, a customer must object at least once during the sales process in order to assert control. They say, “I want to think it over,” “This is the first place I’ve been to,” or “I need to talk it over with my husband.” This is usually when order-takers quit, hand out their cards and say, “I understand how you feel; here’s my card. Call if you have any other questions.” A professional would say, “I understand how you feel; it’s a big decision. Obviously you have a reason for feeling that way. May I ask what it is?” Order-takers quit; professionals keep selling by finding out the real reason for the concern. How can you handle an objection or concern if you don’t know its basis? A professional will move the sale forward without making the customer feel uncomfortable.
• Referred customers are more likely to buy. Acquiring referrals is a tactic professionals use. Of course, they don’t use the word referral. Instead they might say, “Do you have any friends or family that I can help, like I helped you?” Easy, a small thing, but perceived hard by order-takers.
• A sale with a longer selling cycle sometimes requires two, three or more meetings. Professionals, wherever possible, schedule the next meeting. An order-taker will say, “I will contact you sometime next week.” A professional will say, “I’m available next week on Thursday or Friday. Which will work best for you?” You must give customers a choice to maintain their feeling of control. In outside sales or with products that have a longer selling cycle, this is a critical tactic. The ability to schedule the next meeting is a master selling skill.
• Finally, though this list is not all-inclusive, the professional builds value instead of lowering the price. When the customer uses some sort of negotiating strategy for a price concession, the order-taker takes the road of least resistance and lowers the price. Remember, matching or beating a price is something that does not require a salesperson; that can be done over the Internet. The professional, however, will ask more questions to understand the customers’ motives and use those questions to build the value.
“All things are difficult before they are easy,” said Thomas Fuller. In sales, the small-but-hard things count. When salespeople force themselves to do these small-but-hard things, they become easier. Which of these small things is hardest for you?
Copyright 2014 Floor Focus