Sales are the lifeblood of every business. Whether you call it business development, account handling or client relationship management, the principles are the same. But there’s a fine line between success and failure. Follow these ten tips and improve your chances of closing any sale.
1. Research the customer. Find out all you can about their personal circumstances, for example their relationship status, family names and hobbies. Make sure you understand their position in their organisational hierarchy and how their business works (in terms of how decisions are made and who sanctions them). Keep notes on their company: read their website, their annual report and their trade magazines. Follow them on LinkedIn and Twitter. Make it your business to find out all you can about their business.
2. Research your products. Every business owner should be well versed in all of the features and benefits of what they’re offering. Blindingly obvious? You’d think so. But if your business carries many different lines or services, then you may be missing that ‘killer benefit’ in one of them that will seal the deal, if you aren’t fully aware of what’s available. That includes knowing the specifics of availability, delivery dates, repairs and your aftercare service, so you can answer any queries on these aspects. You also need to know about competitor offerings, so you can set your product or service in context.
3. Research the past relationship. You should know the complete history of the relationship between your company and the customer’s organisation. That includes what they have ordered in the past. Know your facts about any challenges or issues that may have arisen and how they were resolved. Using a CRM system to keep track of your previous sales pipeline can help immensely.
4. Set a clear – but flexible – objective. Meeting a customer without an objective is like doing your week’s shopping without a list: you’re just wandering around hoping for inspiration! Your objective is not just to create a rapport with the customer, it is to sell. But you’ll need fall-back objectives too, so prepare some alternatives. For example, settle for a smaller order or even leave a product on sale or return. Your objectives must be realistic. For high value items or services, your objective might be to persuade the customer to undertake a cost-benefit study on your solution.
5. Probe for other customers for your product. When you’ve exhausted a product’s possibilities with one customer, ask them for leads to other people in their organisation who might have a need for that product.
6. Probe for other products for your customer. If a customer starts to buy fewer products from you, always check to ensure you understand the reason why. It may be that their policies have changed. Find out what is different. It might be possible for you to sell one or more of your company’s other products, to help them meet their new requirements.
7. When you’re with your customer, ask open questions that get beneath the surface. One of the worst things you can do in selling is to simply launch into your ‘patter’ without tailoring your offering to the customer’s needs. We all know that people don’t buy features, they buy benefits, but sometimes we can forget to look at what we’re selling through the customer’s eyes. Open up a dialogue with the customer, make sure you understand their needs, then relate your product to those needs and sell the benefits.
8. Keep control of the meeting. Be careful with a customer who tries to put you on the back foot by asking lots of questions. Remember, you can answer a question with a question (why is that important to you?). Try to uncover what is behind their queries and get to the root of their needs.
9. Overcome their objections. There are few certainties in sales but one thing you can bet on is that customers will have objections. The best advice here is that you should never take objections personally. The customer is not objecting to you; they’re usually objecting either to their need or to some aspect of your product. Once you understand that, it’s easier to put their objection into context. The trick is to probe until you understand their specific objection (and often it will really come down to just the one thing). So identify and articulate that specific issue, then put it in perspective and give your counter argument.
10. Ask for the business. Closing the sale should be pain-free and simple, not gimmicky or complex. If you haven’t unearthed all of the client’s unspoken objections, if the benefits aren’t necessarily relevant to the client, then the close will need to overcome this – you may still make the sale, but you’ll be doing it the hard way and with more uncertainty. Finally, once you’ve got the sale, stop talking. Less experienced salespeople can sometimes talk the customer into changing their minds after they’ve agreed to buy. Never make that mistake.