Recently, a young man I have been mentoring decided to take a job in sales to help pay for college. He is bright, talented, and one of the nicest young people I know. So to give him a little help, I decided to sit down and share a few key ideas on how to be successful in sales. I believe these ideas apply to any person making a living asking other people to buy what they are trying to sell. I hope you find some value in these suggestions.
Now, let’s get clear at the start. I am not the world’s leading expert on sales, nor do I claim to be. However, I spent about ten years where my career focused on delivering very high-level sales training to global Fortune 500 companies. I have also read over 200 sales books and listened to hundreds of hours of sales training programs. But there is still much to be learned.
So with that said, I want to send you some comments and ideas to think about during your sales career.
1. Get used to rejection (at least for a while).
When most people start in sales, they typically get about ten no’s for every yes. Many things contribute to this dismal closing rate. It could be a lack of sales skills, preparation, and a lack of confidence. One of the biggest problems is selling to the wrong people who are not a good match for your product. Lots of salespeople will tell you it’s a “numbers game.” That if you knock on enough doors, see enough people, make enough cold calls—you’ll make your numbers. That may well be true, but it is a terrible way to go about it. Trying to sell like that takes a ton of time and makes you face loads of rejection from people that have no reason to buy for you. Trust me, that is no fun.
A fundamental idea that great salespeople know is this:
Sales success is determined by the number of professional sales calls on highly targeted customers.
2. All sales break down to three key questions:
- Do they have a real problem and acknowledge it?
- Am I talking to the right people?
- Do I have the right solution?
If the person has a problem, and you genuinely have a superior solution, and they will not buy. In that case, you are talking to the wrong person (no authority, no budget, not willing to take any risks). It would be best to find someone else in the organization to talk to, or move on to a different customer who will buy from you.
3. The only way you will ever be successful in sales is to be completely honest and always try to do what is in the customer’s best interest. Period.
Never worry about making a sale. Worry like crazy about helping your customer. Do not worry about your commission. Worry about adding massive value to the client and delighting them. An old Zig Zigler sums it up nicely. “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”
4. In sales, even before they buy the product—they have to believe you first!
This does not mean you should try to be a slick schmoozer—this is what crappy salespeople do. They rely on building a “relationship” to close deals. People do not buy from you just because they “like” you. They buy from you because they also trust and respect you. They believe you and that your products and services will deliver on your promises and give them the desired results. It could be financial return, fun, esteem, security, whatever problem they attempt to solve by buying from you.
The goal is to become a TRUSTED ADVISOR.
How do you do that? Here are just a few suggestions:
- You must be an absolute EXPERT on your products and services. I do not use that term lightly. I seriously mean expert.
- Be extremely well-groomed (dress similar to, but slightly better than your best target customers). Unless you sell drum sets to rock stars, it is best to be clean-cut, polite, and exceedingly professional. I do not mean stiff and in a pressed uniform. It means you look and act like your customers, so they feel comfortable around you.
- Always be on time and ready for the meeting. I have two sayings around this point. “Five minutes early is 10 minutes late” and “I’d rather be early and board than late and stressed.”
- It is essential to have an excellent grasp of the general business trends affecting your clients. Read the paper every day and a few business/trade magazines each month.
- You need to become as knowledgeable as possible about your clients’ businesses. The more you know about how they do business, how they make money, who their customers and competitors are the better job you can do of helping them. You cannot help someone you do not understand.
- Become an expert on your competitors. What do they offer? Where are they better/worse than you? What are their prices? How are you differentiated?
- Make sure you always follow up and do what you say you will do. You must be dependable.
- Always say “Please” and “Thank You.”
- Ask for the business and when you get it, make sure the customer knows how much you appreciate their trust in you. What is the best way to do that? Deliver what you promised them. Make sure your products and services meet and exceed their expectations. If you do this, you will never have to “sell” again. Happy customers will naturally want to “buy” from you. And they will refer you to all of their friends and associates.
- When you make a mistake (and you will, we all do), do everything humanly possible to rectify the situation immediately. Then begin a campaign to regain the client’s trust. Take 100% accountability, don’t try to blame anybody else. Fall on your sword and fix the situation.
- Read at least two sales books every month. Yes, I am dead serious here. Or you can substitute audiobooks, webinars, podcasts, blogs, but you must do this religiously. Much of your success will be tied directly to how well you embrace the idea of lifelong learning. Sales is a highly skill-based profession. Several excellent authors understand sales very well. Get in the habit of reading widely on the topic of sales excellence, especially consultative sales.
- Spend at least an hour every week studying your competition. What are their new products, services, offers, and deals? It is essential to keep up with what your competition is doing.
- Work at least one hour every week, creating better questions. Figure out how to handle common objections. Develop new ways to demonstrate/explain your products and services and why (specifically) they are superior.
- Be phenomenal in your time management and organizational skills. Become a master at planning your work and working your plan. Have a system to track your appointments, essential projects, follow-up calls, emails, notes, and client information. This is the lifeblood of your business. Sales is basically “You Inc.” You are the CEO of your own one-person sales corporation.
I will tell you that few salespeople are willing to do the things on this list. Oh, they might admit it is a good idea to do these things. But only a tiny fraction will ever take the time and effort to earn the Trusted Advisor position with their customers. I promise you the few who do all the things on that list are extremely well-compensated and enjoy the fact that they get paid to help people.
5. For the past ten years, I have asked people in my sales classes to describe the “typical” salesperson.
Here is what they say:
- Rude, pushy, manipulative, lies!
- Does not understand or care about me.
- Does not understand their products or services.
- Wastes my time.
- Pressures me.
- Talks too much and do not listen.
- Only cares about making the sale, not what is best for me.
So, you want to be a great salesman? Just do the complete opposite of that list. I am serious. Be the complete opposite of what most people think a salesperson is, and you will do wonderfully.
- Never lie to a customer—NEVER.
- Be polite, kind, and genuinely caring.
- Take the time to truly understand your customer and their unique needs/concerns.
- Be an expert on all of your products and services (and those of your top competitors too). And I mean EXPERT.
- Never waste even a minute of your customer’s time. Always be exceptionally well prepared.
- Do not pressure or manipulate your customers (they can smell a stupid sales “technique” from a mile off). Focus all of your energy and talent on helping them. Remember: Technique is nothing. Intent is everything.
- Ask good, well-planned, and highly focused questions, then be an extraordinary listener (and take great notes).
- Here is the mantra: If you want to sell—ask, don’t tell.
- Do ONLY what is in the customer’s best interest, even if that means sending them to the competition.
If you do these things with every customer, you will do just fine in every sales call, I promise.
6. How to handle objections (it is too expensive, I do not think it will work for me, I don’t use services like yours).
The first thing to do is ask several good questions and try to uncover the “real” objection—what is the issue? Once you discover the true objection, you have two choices:
A. If it is valid (they do not need your product or a competitor’s product would honestly be much better for them), help them make the right choice. Even if that means picking up the phone and calling your number one competitor and setting up an appointment for them to meet.
B. If the objection is not solid, you should have an excellent, honest, and logical way to explain why they should reconsider their concern. You need to sit down and look at the top five objections you will likely get over and over and develop great answers for those concerns. Your solution must be so elegant and well thought out that after you have gone through it with a customer, they look at you and say, “Wow, now that you explain it that way, it completely makes sense. That is not a problem for me at all, thank you.”
KEY POINT: You cannot do this on the fly. You can’t make something like this up. It takes lots and lots of time, thought, effort and refinement. You should know the main objections you will get almost every time and have a 100% solid “home run” answer to show that you are competent, confident, and prepared. That is what a Trusted Advisor is supposed to do.
Now, let me make a prediction.
If you show this list to salespeople, even those who have been doing it for a while, they will likely admit that these ideas are sound, but they do not do them. They will say they don’t have time to do all of this, saying it is different for their products or services. They will claim they sell based on relationships and will have lots of excuses. All I will say is: Judge them by their results. If they have a high close ratio, colossal income, happy clients, lots of referrals, and they do not do these things. Then please sit down and talk with them and learn everything you can from them. But I doubt you’ll find many truly successful salespeople who ignore the things I’ve just shared with you.
I sure hope that helps, but I also recommend you go and ask every other good salesperson what they think. In fact, the more you listen and learn, watch what works well and what does not, the sooner you will develop your own sales style. Something that fits you and your customers and is in line with the way you want to do business. That is when sales will get fun. You will realize that sales is a noble profession focused on helping people get what they want and need. It’s not you versus them to close the sale. It’s you and your customer working together to get the exact right solution. That is something that every salesperson can be proud of.
Good luck, my friend—I look forward to seeing you soon and hearing about how things are going.
If you want to get in contact with me, I’d love to hear from you. Please visit my site at https://johnspence.com/contact/ and let me know how I can help.