Sales: Art Or Science?

Basic Business Cents

Some people denigrate themselves and think they can’t sell. They view others as born salesmen and defeat themselves. I submit that selling is a process like every other facet of business and therefore a science rather than art. It can be defined as a customer focused approach presenting the product/service to meet the customer’s needs. The sales process can be viewed in three areas, Listen, Learn, and Adjust. These areas are not serial but intertwined.

Listen

Many sales people make a big mistake by opening the discussion with the prospect by telling about their company, their products/service, and themselves. This can be boring, irrelevant, and self-centered. Prospects are more interested in their business, their problems, and themselves, so ask questions to get them to start talking. Then listen and learn. People prefer talking about themselves rather than listening to others talking about themselves. These questions might include probing for insight into the prospects wants and needs, what is important to them, their aim or vision for the future, what causes them problems, and what is their desired result from meeting with you. Listening and talking in their language helps to build a strong relationship.

Learn

There are two parts to the Learn area, pre-visit and during the visit. If possible, do the homework before the contact to show your understanding of your prospect and his/her problems. Plan the sales call and negotiate access to the most senior decision maker. Learn names of relevant people involved, their positions and level of influence, and if the prospect is funded for the solutions to their problems. Study the prospect’s business, their competitors, trends in their industry, and what others are doing to solve problems. Gather appropriate references and case studies to support your products/services. Plan the sales call. Anticipate objections and develop solutions to them with your products/services.

Observe the surroundings and the body language of the prospect during the contact. Body language is very informative and will let you know if you are on the right track. Probe for insights into problems or areas that can use improvement. If you listen well, the prospect will tell you what he/she wants to hear to become sold. Practice your sales call. There is a great saying, “The best extemporaneous talk is well rehearsed.” Avoid a canned sales pitch but be proactive and plan what you intend to do and say, how you will turn objections into positive points, and how you will close. Then be flexible.

Adjust

It is safe to say the conversation will not quite go as expected, but with proper preparation you can adjust to the situation. Fit your product/service to the recognized need. Speak in the terms of the prospect, propose solutions that have value, and sell benefits as opposed to features.

Repeat the problems in your words to show that you understand what your prospect is facing in detail; only then should you offer your solutions. The value of a salesperson is value creation for both the customer and his/her company.

Deal with questions and objections as they arise and never put them off. Avoid disagreeing with the prospect.

Use a trial close when the prospect agrees that your solution will work. If the sale is not consummated at this point you can use case studies where the solution has worked for others, or you can offer references. Make sure you have the permission of satisfied customers to use their name in your selling pursuits. Differentiate yourself and therefore your product/service will not be viewed as a commodity that can be compared on price alone.

Always, always follow up, whether you win the sale or not, to maintain a relationship with the prospect. A letter or email simply thinking them for their time and interest followed by a statement of what you learned about their business and challenges and how you can provide solutions. Close with next steps as you see them.

The above are fundamental steps in selling but develop your own process because you are unique. Then by continuing to practice, rehearse, and improve you will develop into a successful sales person. You may be viewed as a born salesperson but you know in your heart it is because of your customer-centric selling process that you have developed, improved, and practiced over time.