Welcome to the very first post in the Sales 101 series of articles. In this weekly series the aim is to divulge tried and tested sales tips, techniques, and know-how to help you improve your sales performance.
To kick things off in this introductory post is the oft overlooked topic of ‘sales fundamentals.’ Like with any other discipline, a strong foundation in the basics of sales is key to setting a steady trajectory in the right direction.
Having the wrong fundamentals in place means that not only will you repeatedly fail to get your desired results, but you’ll also waste a lot of time in doing so. The other thing that will happen is that you’ll habituate all the wrong things, and have your autopilot constantly flying you in the wrong direction.
A lot of salespeople spend a lot of time working on their questioning and/or their closing techniques. This is good, but in only focusing on these two areas, the area of product knowledge often gets neglected.
Do your homework and learn as much useful and relevant information about your products and industry as possible. But don’t just stop there, instead take it a step further, and also learn about your competitors’ products.
Having a good level of product knowledge prepares you to provide a compelling argument for why your customer should buy your products. This will also make it easier to switch a rival’s customer over to your product(s) or overcome any objections.
To really take your knowledge level to that of an expert, learn about your industry and all of its subtle nuances. The more you know the better prepared you are to successfuly pitch your products, and to all the right customers.
One of the most important areas to look at when it comes to sales basics is questioning. This is almost a science in its own right due to the various different categories of question groups such as open, closed, probing, and closing questions.
Most of us have heard about the basics of questioning such as the five W’s in Who, What, When, Where, and Why. But understanding how to apply different questioning techniques at the right time can take your sales game to a whole different level.
For starters rather than solely relying on questions during the early stages of the sale, you can use questions throughout the sale to gauge your customer’s ‘mood.’ For instance after mentioning a solution to a customer’s problem, you can then pose the question ‘how do you feel about that?’ or ‘what are your thoughts on XYZ?’ to further gauge their mood.
To help yourself master the basics of questioning techniques you can write down, and memorize a series of questions for each part of your sales process. The art of timing your sales is something you’ll only get to grips with through ‘practice.’ You can give yourself a headstart by writing down your questions in advance and practicing at home or better yet on your colleagues at work through some good old fashioned role playing.
A lot of information can be communicated without so much as saying a word or writing anything down for that matter. Body language is very important when it comes to the art and science of effective communication.
A great example of this would be a mother giving one scolding glance to her mischievous children. And with that one glance, a lot is said without any words having been spoken. Other great examples include body posture or vocalisations such as sighs which can tell you whether or not the person you’re interacting with is fully engaged with you or off in some dreamland.
An easy way to ‘hack’ the area of body language to your advantage is to practice ‘congruence.’ In communication, congruence is when all aspects of your communication align in harmonious agreement. That means that the message you’re trying to convey matches the tone and passion of your voice, which in turn aligns with your posture, hand gestures, and overall body language.
At some point throughout each sales journey you’ll most likely come across objections from your customer. The inexperienced salesperson will probably take that initial no at face value and move on to the next prospect.
Effectively overcoming objections is a crucial skill to have as a salesperson. The opportunities you lose in objections could be the difference between you missing your target and achieving your monthly or quarterly bonus.
But what exactly is an objection? Well what it isn’t is something to be taken personally.
When a customer tells you ‘no’ it means that something’s gone a bit wrong somewhere within the sales process. It could also mean that you haven’t laid enough foundational groundwork prior to attempting to close the sale.
Customers can object to your pitch for a number of reasons ranging from a lack of trust to feeling pressured, or even cheated on the pricing. It’s crucial that you understand exactly what it is that your customer is objecting to.
The best thing you can do to overcome an objection is to proactively read the customer’s mood from the minute they walk in to just before you attempt to seal the deal. You do this by asking the customer ‘how does that make you feel? or ‘what are your thoughts so far?’ at different intervals throughout the sale.
If the response to the above questions is negative then your next step should be to understand why the customer is feeling this way. You can then use the feedback from your probing questions to formulate and propose a solution that will make them happy or at atleast assuage their worries.
This is where it helps to write down some questions beforehand and memorise a few for such occasions. In essence, you’ll want to have some basic ‘probing questions’ written down and/or memorised beforehand.
A simple probing question in relation to a price objection is ‘what price did you have in mind?’ or ‘what’s your budget for this service or product?’
To help you with your preparations go to the top salespeople in your team and ask them which objections they come across the most, and what works best in overcoming them.
You can also Google or search for common sales questions online and then personalise them by adding a bit of flair to make them unique to you. The last thing you’ll want to do is come across as robotic as it will give the impression that you’re just going through the motions to get the sale.
So you’ve done all the groundwork from asking all the right questions to pitching the best solution to match your customer’s needs. You’ve overcome your customer’s objections by providing solutions to their ‘perceived’ or ‘potential’ problem(s). Now what’s next?
At this point, you’ll want to seal the deal, and in doing so get your customer’s approval to finalize the deal. In order to close a deal, you’ll need to have removed any potential objections that your customer had beforehand.
You also have to master the art of reading your customer’s buying signals. These buying signals can be verbal or non-verbal. This includes the customer nodding along enthusiastically, asking follow-up questions that ‘imply the intent to buy, or proactively sharing information about their needs with little to no prompting from you.
Sometimes a customer just walks in and buys a product right off the shelf along with a few additional tidbits that can be potential cross-selling or upselling opportunities. But this is a rarity, and more often than not you’ll have to do the heavy lifting by asking all the right questions in order to effectively read people.
After all, is said and done remember to ask for the customer’s business. There are various different questions you could ask, but the most important thing you can do is to be confident in your approach.
Just as there are different types of questions there are also different closing techniques. With each unique closing technique the initial approach to the sale is also slightly different. And how you set the tone of the sale at the beginning of the process is massively important to how effective your close will be.
For example if you didn’t do enough research on your prospect before then this will eventually show and stifle your customer’s confidence in your ability to advise them effectively, and as such this also affects their willingness to accept your ‘expert opinion.’
Last but not least comes personal development. This is a topic that, in recent times, has become very popular and with good reason.
Personal development in this context is merely adopting a growth mindset. The focal point of which is the continual growth and development of one’s sales skills, and know-how.
Personal Deelopment author and writer Brian Tracy often toutes the 3% rule as good strategy for both personal and professional growth. The 3% rules is where you take 3% of your income and reinvest it in your education.
Your self education can be comprised of books, audiobooks, courses, and/or seminars. It can also be a combination of different things that complement each other. The main point being that the reinvestment into growing your skillset will eventually boost your earning potential in the long run.
When all is said and done sales is a combination of many different areas. In order to start your sales journey effectively you’ll first need to have a good foundational understanding of each individual aspect.
To become a sales expert however you’ll need to understand how these different areas relate to each other. You’ll then have to put the in the work so as to practice using these skills on different customers and in different scenarios time and time again.