Two foundations for all successful sales efforts


For the past 32 years, I've had the opportunity of working with salespeople selling everything imaginable and what I have found is selling is selling is selling.

However I've also found that the majority of salespeople feel that selling their particular product, service or idea is unique and different.

Therefore I thought it would be of value to share with you examples of how other sales professionals sell their products and services. This week I want to share with you an example from a friend and sales professional based in the Northwest who sells home décor products to some of the nation's largest home improvement retailers.

One of the things that I have learned is that you don't survive in selling very long unless you learn to do some things right.

Therefore over a period of time, through exposure to various sales tools, techniques and sales practices from books, seminars and your own sales presentations, you build a sales arsenal of things you know that work. We also know that selling is different today and therefore we need to abandon the old, high pressure sales tactics of the past.

The gimmicks, trickery and subterfuge as depicted in films such as "Tin Men" and "Glengarry Glen Ross" are no longer effective. Today's successful salesperson is a highly trained, competent professional. He or she is honest and hard-working with a genuine desire to serve the customer.

There is one concept, however, that's practiced by virtually all the world's great sales professionals.

That concept?

The absolute necessity of following a simple, systematic sales process.

The processes may vary; however, most will include some or all of the following steps: approach, qualification, agreement of need, sell the company, fill the need, act of commitment, and cement the sale.

All sales professionals have a sales process. However, less than 10 percent of individuals holding sales positions can be considered sales professionals.

In this article, I will focus on the first two steps in the sales process that are interchangeable and go hand in hand.

They form the foundation for all successful sales efforts: approach and qualification.

To give you an illustration of these integral steps, let me share with you a few highlights of my friend's recent appointments in the Midwest. His morning appointment was with one of the nation's largest independent hardware store co-ops with more than 5,000 locations. His afternoon meeting was with one of the world's most recognized department store brands. Both were the result of cold calls - via e-mail and telephone - and the prospects he was meeting with were senior level decision-makers who'd arranged for their administrators to join him for the meetings.

The first of the two main goals he was trying to accomplish with each prospect in this stage of the sales process was to help the prospect decide that he or she liked him and would want to do business with him. The second is equally important: to determine need and just how qualified the prospect is to buy his product or service.

To help accomplish these goals, my friend spent most of the four-hour flight from Seattle preparing and rehearsing - honing and sharpening one of the most effective tools in his personal tool kit: the art of asking simple, open-ended questions. I've found that a few simple, skillfully worded questions asked in the right setting and context can do more to advance the sales process than the most eloquent presentation. Why? Because it's only when a prospect talks that you can uncover real needs and motivations.

While on the plane, the salesman carefully studied his notes and research he'd compiled in the previous few weeks. His material included timely articles downloaded from his favorite research sites. In the case of these two retailers, it included digital images he'd taken (with permission) in a cross-section of their stores, and even a few competitors' stores, to make a point about their need for a more compelling product and shopper-friendly merchandising strategy.

It's been my personal experience that a professional salesperson should invest approximately four times the amount of time in research and planning for every minute he or she spends in direct contact with a prospect.

This includes phone conversations, e-mails, letters, face-to-face dialogue and/or presentations. I find a real payoff activity is the time that I personally spend in developing the questions that I will ask of my prospects.

In addition to that, I spend time thinking in terms of the specific prospect I'm calling on and what questions would be relevant to that particular prospect.

Some of the questions that I ask myself:

Where can we connect on a personal level?

Where can we find common ground?

What's going on with her company that's exciting or groundbreaking?

For his first prospect, the salesperson refined a question that led to both of them reminiscing about their college days.

"When we were talking on the phone the other day I thought I detected a northeast accent ... what is your experience in that part of the world?"

For his second prospect, after exchanging five minutes of pleasantries to break the ice, he quickly inserted a nonthreatening question that uncovered key concerns and an urgency to buy:

"I was really pleased you seemed pretty open to meeting with me and learning about my company and our capabilities. Is it your general practice to meet with new salespeople, or is there something in particular that's motivating you?"

The answer told the salesperson he was a potentially motivated buyer, so he quickly led with the next question:

"You mentioned you'd had mixed reviews with ABC company ... how so"?

Do you see my point?

By asking simple, open-ended questions, you can learn volumes about a prospect that will help you move quickly through the sales cycle and not leave anything to chance.

As I have learned over the years, when selling becomes a procedure, it ceases to be a problem. If it's not a procedure, it will always be a problem.



Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.