While in college, I took a commission-based sales position and quickly learned about the thrill of the sale and what it took to be successful in any sales gig.
I am a quick study and selling comes naturally to me. Rising to the top in short order, I eventually led a crew of 20 sales associates. There were some hard lessons learned along the way and sharing some of these with you might prove to be of value. So, here are some lessons learned, so far, in my sales career.
1. BE YOURSELF
I was hired along with a few other people who struggled immediately. Although I had just met these people, I noticed my fellow hirees acting almost like different people around their potential clients. People can and do sense when someone is not being genuine and themselves. I quickly discovered revealing a bit of your personality to prospective customers is fun for them and yourself! So be serious about selling, but don’t take yourself too seriously!
2. KNOW YOUR PRODUCTS/SERVICES
I felt great about my first couple of sales, but they were smaller, easier products to learn about and sell. Then clients began asking questions that I wasn’t prepared to answer or I didn’t know the answers! Nothing is worse than not being able to answer a sound question about your product or service. If you can’t handle meaningful questions, it is inevitably a deal killer. The customer may like you, but, at the end of the day, the buyer is going to buy the product or service they feel most comfortable with, as long as it fits their needs. Unfortunately, you just made them feel uncomfortable by not knowing answers to their questions. Knowing your product or service inside and out and front to back is crucial. So prepare yourself well by knowing what you are selling and anticipate questions. Knowing that you can field any question the client asks regarding your product or service is a huge relief and allows you to relax (being yourself) and to focus on the more critical parts of the sales process that follow …
3. YOU CAN’T CONTROL THE PERSON BUT YOU CAN CONTROL THE PROCESS
Okay, I’m feeling great about my product knowledge and things are going well. Then one day I get this very “difficult” client. After years of selling, I can easily identify a tough client … I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m a tough customer … and there’s nothing wrong with that. Anyhow, this client came in and just beat me up. I made the sale, but I wasn’t feeling great about it afterwards. I found out quickly that there will always be some people whom you can never control … but you can control the SALES PROCESS! Control the entire process from introducing yourself to the prospect to the time your new customer is shaking your hand and thanking you for the great service you delivered. Some lessons I learned about controlling the sales process are:
4. SET REALISTIC CLIENT EXPECTATIONS AND ALWAYS UNDER-PROMISE & OVER-DELIVER
I often sold products that were being shipped from different warehouses. I always told the customer what the USPS/UPS/FedEx expected delivery date was for their purchase. A number of times I made sales to customers and the product was supposed to be delivered within 5 days. So, naturally, I told the customers to expect their new product in 5 days. I mean, it is the USPS! Unfortunately, delivery would sometimes take longer. Of course, I would get phone calls from disgruntled customers on days number 6, 7, or 8 wondering what was going on. Even though USPS said it should take 5 days to deliver, it was my fault for not establishing appropriate customer expectations from the get-go.
Thereafter, facing the same situation, I would tell the client to expect 10 days shipping (knowing those instances beyond a 5-8 day ship period happened once in a blue moon and products usually come in on time within 5 days, and often sooner). So, when the product does arrived on the 4th day, customers would be ecstatic to learn that their purchase came in early! The fundamental lesson learned was to always under-promise and over-deliver by setting realistic customer expectations. You are not deceiving your customer. You are simply setting realistic customer expectations based on your experience in this and other similar situations that may be beyond your control.
5. BE HONEST, GAIN TRUST
This is so self-evident! Being honest with your client goes a long way and pays off in the long run. Trying to make a little extra money at your clients’ expense is not right and that type of approach never works in the long run when trying to establish long-term, loyal customers. Occasionally I would have a client that was inclined (for whatever reason) to buy a certain item over any other similar product. Let’s just call that item Product A. What if you, the salesperson, believe Product B was better suited for the customer? If that customer comes in and just wants to buy Product A, most often, a salesperson will take the sale and move on quickly to the next prospect. However, sometimes you have to tell the customer things they don’t want to hear. If you can provide a valid reason for why they should buy Product B over Product A, they now know you have their best interest in mind. You have gained their trust. Sure, you may run the risk of losing the sale. But what’s worse … losing a sale, or selling the wrong product/services to a customer? Doing what’s right for the client is always the right thing to do.
6. SELL VALUE! NO NEED TO ASK FOR BUDGET
I was never a fan of asking a client “What’s your budget?” I don’t really see the need.
If the customer needs a product/service, and your job is the find them the best solution, why have your client focus on what he’s going to spend as opposed to what he’s going to get?
There’s a relationship between what a customer is willing to spend based on the perceived value of a product or service to that customer. The customer will spend more money than their budget “allows” if they see the value-added aspect of your particular services/products. I’ve had instances in which people spent triple their budget because they were sold on the value and application of the products I pitched them. Asking for their “budget” often turns the process into you “selling” them a product or service they need versus you “helping” them with a product or service they need. I wasn’t there to sell people, I was there to help people.
Asking people for their budget is a dated, flawed approach and more and more salesteams around the country are removing this direct qualifying question from their salesprocess.
8. ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
Asking the right qualifying questions is everything during the sales process. Asking the right questions will reveal all sorts of insights into what they want, what their needs are, what type of person they are, etc.. These questions are unique to each market and you have to find out what works best for you. You need to find ways to be able to extract great insight into what the customer needs without asking direct questions sometimes. This is a huge aspect of the sales process. Sometimes purely intuitive, but it can and is often taught. Observe a good veteran salesperson at work. They seamlessly incorporate this ability into their apparently “normal” conversation.
9. OVERCOME OBJECTIONS & BEING POSITIVE!
We’ve all heard “I like what I’ve learned about your products/services, but I just want to take a look at what else is out there before making my decision.”
Either (A), you didn’t sell them on the product or service; or (B), they have another objection that you don’t know about. Could it be price? Is there another decision maker in the process? You have to be able to overcome these objections. This takes time and experimentation to discover which sales lines work and don’t work when it comes to addressing these tough objectives. Also, this reflects back on asking the right questions, as shown in Lesson Learned #8.
As for having a positive attitude, we all have days when we would rather be somewhere else than work, or maybe something in our personal life is bringing you down. You have got to leave that at home and always be positive during the sales process.
No one wants to work with a negative or grumpy person. Being excited about what you are selling is crucial, and people feed off of that and can see your passion for the products or services you are selling. If you believe in it and convey that strongly, your customer will begin to believe in it.