There are many in sales who believe that success depends on a friendly smile, a gift for small talk, and a large dose of enthusiasm and optimism. Others might toss in a passion for selling, listening, the ability to close, and coming across as sincere.
Yet, possessing a great attitude and excellent sales skills doesn’t guarantee success. Many salespeople who “do everything right” underperform. With so much focus on personal qualities and skills, the sales process doesn’t get the attention it deserves. But it is the process that makes a huge difference to customers, the process that engages them in ways that lead to closing sales.
Here are some elements of a customer-oriented sales process:
- Play detective. When a customer asks, “What can you do for us?” too many salespeople instantly launch into a presentation about their company and how it solves problems for its customers. And that’s their mistake. “Right now, I don’t know, but I intend to explore your situation and determine the best way we can help” are the words that make the most sense to customers. They know that answers come from digging and finding what they may have missed or failed to recognize because they’re too close to the situation or are being pulled in other directions. Today’s customers are skeptics. They’ve learned from experience that many “solutions” are often overly simplistic, miss the mark, or are poorly conceived and fail to deliver on their promises. They recognize that the right solutions result from proper investigation. And that takes detective work.
- Figure it out. Digging and gathering information is worthless unless the information is analyzed so the problem or “pain,” emerges with clarity. Rarely, are “instant insights” accurate or complete, let along correct. It takes struggling to figure out how the pieces fit together, and it takes time and thought to put together a proposed solution that makes sense to the customer.
- Write it down. What’s missing is the answer to the crucial question, “What do I need to do to make the solution compelling to the customer?” And this is where it’s easy to drop the ball. In your mind, you see yourself going across the goal line. And while enthusiasm is essential, it takes more to close sales.
And here’s where the dreaded words “write it down” enter the process. Writing is tormenting, frustrating and agonizing. It’s hard work, which is why it’s easier and more fun to talk than to write. It’s the writing that clarifies ideas, hones arguments, exposes weaknesses, spots inconsistencies, and, most of all, makes clear what’s missing. It’s only then that you know what you’re talking about, and when you’re sure you will make sense to customers.
- Win ‘em over. You’ve done your homework and you have built a solid case for getting the order. While this is necessary, you’re still not ready to get in front of the customer to capture the order. To do so now would be like handing the sale to the competition. In other words, it’s time to “win ‘em over.” This is when a salesperson puts the power of the process into play. It’s based on investing in the customer–on committing your knowledge, experience, and creativity (and that of a sales team) into uncovering the need and developing the right solution.
Winning is not simply about providing all the right information and facts, or impressing a customer with the wonders of your product or service, the importance of your company, or even your impressive track record. It’s making the right investment that gives salespeople the extra edge.
- Stick with it. Waiting to hear from a customer about your proposal can be so frustrating that it’s easy to blow the sale. Making the wrong move can put your efforts in jeopardy. Being too aggressive by following up too soon, too often, or asking when a decision will be made will undermine all your good work. It sends the message that underneath your professional demeanor, you’re just one of those salespeople no one wants around. So be patient. Selling is about making something happen. But let the competitors make the wrong move. Let customers know you’ll wait for their decision and you won’t bug them. Patience shows you’re confident and that you trust the customer.
In selling, cutting corners is best left to the amateurs and those who think they can talk or manipulate their way to success. It takes the entire sales process to achieve consistent positive results.
John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales strategist-consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 617-774-9759, or at johnrgraham.com.