The true measure of the success of any business is the bottom line—sales minus cost of sales. That’s about as bare-bones as you can get when looking at it. Managing the cost of sales is an analytical process. It’s pretty much black and white. Managing sales, however, is a different matter.
Although certain aspects of the selling process can be analyzed, there is always one factor in every selling situation that can cause you to toss your statistics out the window. That one factor is people. Selling is a people business and you need people skills in order to succeed. People skills include:
- How to make a positive initial contact with potential clients
- What to say to peak their interest in your product or service
- The right words to say to get a confirmed appointment to demonstrate your product or service
- Putting people at ease, getting them to trust you, like you and want to listen to you
- Asking the right questions to learn whether clients truly need and will benefit from your offering
- The words and actions necessary to present your product or service in the best manner for each client
- What to say and do to answer any concerns raised by potential clients
- How to ask for the sale
- How to ask for referrals from every sale (and non-sale)
- The implementation of strategies to gain loyalty and future business
Don’t let this list of ten overwhelm you. They flow together so naturally in most selling situations that, if you were watching someone who knows them well, you might only pick up on two or three. In fact, you might want to review this list and keep it in mind the next time you find yourself on the client end of a selling situation. See if you can figure out which area the salesperson handles best.
With each of these skill areas, there are right and wrong approaches. The fun aspect of selling is that sometimes changing just a word or two can make a huge difference in your success rate.
Make Selling Your Hobby
As with any hobby, such as gardening, building model aircraft or collecting, you find yourself attracted to information about that area. As you get involved with your own business, make selling your hobby. Pay attention to how others in your type of business work with people. Consider how you feel about each selling transaction you encounter throughout your day. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn just by observation.
Perhaps a store clerk does or says something that makes you feel good about shopping there again. What was it? Was it the way they held the product? Did they hand it to you to get you involved with it? Did they compliment you on your selections? Is it something you can use in your business? Consider carrying a small notebook to jot down thoughts or ideas that come your way through such observations. You might be surprised to find out how much you already know about people skills. You just didn’t know it was a skill.
Dispelling the “Natural Born Salesperson Myth”
Read this section carefully. Read it more than once if you must. There is no such thing as a natural born salesperson. No woman in the delivery room looked at her newborn child and said, “We’ve got a champion sales-person here!” Everyone starts out with pretty much the same abilities. Where you go from there depends on a lot of factors. However, what you become in life boils down to what skills you master along the way.
Selling has been called both an art and a science. The title doesn’t really matter. What matters is that selling skills are there to be learned. Like the skill of riding a bicycle, it just takes practice.
Another aspect of this myth needs to be addressed. It is that in order to succeed in sales, you must have “the gift of gab.” While it’s true that you must not be afraid to talk with people, it’s even more important that you learn to listen. The human body is amazing. We have been given two eyes, two ears and one mouth. They should be used in that proportion. Learn to listen and observe twice as much as you talk, and you will succeed in sales.
Introvert vs. Extrovert in Sales
It doesn’t matter what your current disposition is. Both introverts and extroverts can do well in sales. The major difference between the two types of people is that extroverts tend to be interesting while introverts are more interested.
There’s a story told in Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, about a man who was invited to a party where he only knew the hosts. During the evening, he mingled with many of the other attendees. Afterward, the guests commented to the hosts on what a wonderful person this new guest was. When asked what they found so interesting about him, the guests realized they hadn’t learned much about him at all. He had made them feel important by getting them to talk about themselves. He was interested.
The interesting person entertains. The interested person lets others do the talking. The lesson to learn from this is that you can benefit from a little of each disposition. In sales, you want what you say to have an impact and in some cases achieving that impact requires a bit of entertaining.
However, if you keep your focus on asking questions about the clients’ needs, what they like about what they’ve seen so far, what they’d like to know more about, and so on, they’ll end up telling you just what they want to own.
From there, it’s just a matter of handling the paperwork, scheduling delivery or getting their investment information and final approval to make the sale.
Learning to Sell
Learning to sell isn’t difficult. You already sell yourself every day to your loved ones and acquaintances. You sell others in your circle on where to have lunch, what movie to see and how to spend your recreation time. If you have influence over children, you are selling your values to them all the time. You just haven’t paid attention thus far to the individual skills that make up the selling process.
Becoming a successful professional at selling takes a little more effort than it took you to learn to live with the Golden Rule. In selling, rather than treating people as you would like to have them treat you, you want to treat people as they want to be treated. Every action, gesture and word should make them feel important. It should tell them that you are there to serve their needs. You’re not the stereotypical salesperson who is only out to get their money. With an attitude of servitude, your business will grow exponentially.
This article was published in June 2008 and has been updated. Photo by @Tonefotografia/Twenty20