The typical small business owner necessarily wears many hats: CEO, head of IT, and sometimes even, shipping and receiving clerk. Yet one role that some small business owners don’t always enjoy is head of sales. Usually when people dislike sales, it is because they think they aren’t good at it, and/or they somehow find it a bit beneath them.
SALES PROS KNOW THAT SELLING IS AN ATTITUDE…
The fact is, sales doesn’t have to be demeaning nor difficult. It is best to remember selling is something all small business people do, every day, whether they realize it or not (or whether they like it or not.) It might be getting a discount from a vendor on a big order, meeting your best client for lunch, or even just negotiating a deal for a cheaper and faster Internet connection. Whatever the case, it’s all sales.
Boiled down, sales is really nothing more than convincing people to endorse your idea. Your idea should be that your product will benefit the customer. To be successful at sales, you need to see that it is your job, not to sell, but to help solve a problem. Of course your subtext is that your product or service can best solve that problem, but your consumers must believe you want to help more than you want to sell. Do that, and you are more than halfway home.
Sales pros know that selling is an attitude. It is not about making customers do or buy something they don’t want; it is about serving their needs. If you think sales is about convincing people to buy something they may not want or need, of course you will find it difficult and dirty. Who wouldn’t? But that is not what effective selling is all about, not by a long shot. Once you see that, making sales should become instantly more interesting and enjoyable. This is the purpose of this guide. Like anything else in business, when you enjoy doing something, it takes less effort. Usually you get better results. The plan for the following sections is to show you how sales can, and should, be an enjoyable experience that can lead to more success.
SALES CAN BE LEARNED (AND UNLEARNED)
Sure, some people are natural born salesmen, and lucky for them. But for the rest of us, selling is something that can be learned. The problem is many of us learn it the wrong way. You must first unlearn bad habits before you can learn good, new ones.
Negative sales habits include:
- Being pushy: No one likes a hard sell.
- Overpromising: The rule should be under-promise and over-deliver, not the other way around.
- Selling features, not benefits: People buy items for a benefit in their lives. The features of your product or service therefore should be secondary, not primary.
The good news is that positive sales habits can be learned too. Start with the people you know, professionally or personally, who are successful at sales. What do they do right? Ask them about their philosophies. What are their beliefs? Why do they like it? One thing you will not hear is that they work to persuade people to do something they don’t want to do. Sales pros know, and will likely tell you, that their job is to help the customer solve a problem. That’s why it’s easy, and likely why they like it.
Other places to learn sales include:
- Shadowing: If there is a great salesperson in your group, see if you can shadow him or her for a few days.
- Online sales training: An online search will uncover many online and video tutorial classes.
- In person: Chambers of commerce, trade organizations and community colleges all usually offer valuable sales classes.
SECRETS OF THE PROS
One of the most recognized top salesmen in the country today is Tom Hopkins. Hopkins says that if you want to increase your sales, it would be wise to remember that we have only one mouth but two ears. Says Hopkins, “Listen twice as much as you talk, and you’ll succeed in persuading others nearly every time.” The reason for this is clear. If you listen more than you speak, you will be able to learn the pain points of the customer, and once you know those, you will be better able to craft your pitch.
Another reason to listen more and talk less is that when you listen, you hear cues and clues. People learn and process information in different ways. Some people think in words, others think in pictures, and still others are kinesthetic (that is, feelings are paramount for them). Listening for how a customer interprets information can allow you to craft your response and conversation in a way that works best for him or her (instead of best for you).
- You will hear visual people say things like, “I see what you mean.”
- Kinesthetic people might say, “This computer just doesn’t feel right to me.”
- An auditory person people might say, “I like the sound of that.”
The late, great Zig Zigler was a master salesman and motivator. Zigler had many aphorisms that exemplified his philosophy of life, and sales, but a chosen few make his point:
- “You can get everything you want in life if you help enough people get what they want in life.” Zigler knew that selling required helping.
- “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” Again, selling isn’t something that just magically happens. You need to work on it, and yourself, if you want to excel.
- “For every sale you miss because you’re too enthusiastic, you will miss a hundred because you’re not enthusiastic enough.” No explanation needed.
So what lessons can we take away from all of this? Let me suggest a few:
1. Have the right tools: When you walk into a new car dealership, what do you leave with? That’s right, an expensive, beautiful brochure of the car you viewed. The car salesman knows that investing in the right tools makes the sale easier.
Items that you may want in your sales tool chest include:
- Professional business cards
- A great website and social media presence
- Laptop, tablet and smartphone loaded with business apps
- Access to sales software, like Salesforce
2. Remember, it is about their needs, not yours. Why do people buy drills? Their need is not for a drill. What they need is a hole. But if you don’t listen closely, you may conclude that the super drill that you are supposed to move this week fits the bill. Maybe, but maybe not. Think carefully about what you offer that best helps the customer get the hole they want. It may not be that expensive drill. If you can figure out what you sell that really fills their need (not your quota), you will make the sale every time.
3. Follow up: A good friend of mine happens to be the best salesperson I know. He was recently named national vice president of sales for a well-known company. He sells products in the six-figures, and so he must be good. Yes, he is naturally gregarious, and that certainly helps, but he knows some tricks of the trade too.
One is this: Follow up is key. He says a prospect has to hear from him at least five times before he can make the sale. The first few times help him establish rapport and learn their needs. The next time or two, he hones in on the solution, then the sale, and then he follows up again after the sale.
4. Golf: The best lesson I ever learned about sales was on the golf course. If you have ever golfed, you have undoubtedly learned it too. It is this: The harder you try, the worse you do. So too in sales. Customers can feel it when you try too hard to sell them. Just like that errant golf ball, they will quickly go sailing off into the distance – the wrong way.
Hopefully, you’ve taken away that by listening to customers’ needs and changing your outlook on sales, the process can be enjoyable and fun. For a small business owner who wears many hats, the sales hat is one of the most important. Learning from the pros and arming yourself with helpful tools can help that hat fit more naturally and successfully throughout your workweek.
Steve Strauss – Senior small business columnist at USA TODAY and author of 15 books, including The Small Business Bible, Steve is your host at TheSelfEmployed.com.