Perhaps the most important subject you can study and learn is sales. Yet many of the smartest students avoid learning it, and some of the best colleges shun teaching it.
Why? One reason is that our society too often disparages the sales profession. Death of a Salesman, Wall Street, Boiler Room, Glengarry Glen Ross give negative portrayals of selling. As a result, too many look at sales people as "slimy, sleazy" liars.
And, because so many that gravitate to sales jobs are not properly trained or qualified, the stereotypes about sales and sales people are reinforced by the negative experiences of many buyers.
Why is learning to sell so important?
Selling is a critical skill because, like it or not, everyone has to sell to succeed. Famous author, Robert Louis Stevenson, recognized this when he said, "Everyone lives by selling something." Whatever you do, sales skills will help you to...
- Secure the job you want.
Of course, if you are in a sales position, learning to sell more effectively can put a lot more money and opportunities in your pocket.
Once you recognize the importance of sales, you should begin learning a framework for selling that I call the Sales Cycle. The way I teach it, it has five main steps.
Generating, Categorizing, and Collecting Intelligence on leads. The best sales people get leads from everywhere. Leads capture contact and other information on the people that have expressed an interest in buying what you are selling. They are typically recorded on physical or electronic versions of "lead cards," and contain the following four types of information on the "front" of the card.
- Identification of the prospect. If you are selling to a business, most of the information you need is on your contact's business card. For additional information you need, your lead card should be designed so you can add it with minimal effort.
The "back" of the lead card should contain your notes of every contact that include (1) details on what the prospect wants, (2) information on any competitors the prospect is considering, (3) the next step approved by the prospect, and (4) answers to basic "intelligence" questions you should ask. These questions typically include the following:
- What do you want or need? This question is critically important and will facilitate your handling of all subsequent phases of the sales cycle.
Giving presentations. To give effective presentations, sales people need to properly prepare for the presentation. This involves (1) investigating the prospect, (2) formulating questions to clarify the intelligence already collected, (3) making sure presentation equipment works, (4) being ready to answer "nasty questions" such as what's wrong with your product, and (5) handling disasters related to Murphy's Law.
Once you are prepared, you should give the presentation by focusing only on what prospects told you they want your product to do. Novice sales people insist on telling the prospect everything in their presentation no matter what. This wastes sales and prospect time and is sure to "turn off" the prospect. During the presentation, the sales person should look for three signals -- (1) Buying (upon getting this, the sales person should close the sale), (2) Rejection (the sales person has lost the sale and needs to do whatever is necessary to recover), and (3) Objections (upon getting an objection, which is an obstacle to the sale and a disguised request for more information, the sales person should go to the "Identifying and Answering Objections" procedure listed next).
Identifying and Answering Objections. If the prospect is not pre-sold on buying the product, identifying and answering objections is the quickest way to close the sale. It involves the following steps.
- Lowering the barrier. Before you can answer an objection, you should try to lower the barrier by empathizing (but not agreeing) with the objection.
Closing the sale. There are two basic categories of closes -- Trial Closes and Standard Closes.
- Trial Closes. When you employ trial closes, you assume that there might be a sale, and you are testing that assumption. Good sales people use trial closes throughout the sales process to save the prospect's and their time. There are many different trial closes. The following is an example of the "two positive choices" trial close: Mr. Jones, "we have this in blue and red, which would you prefer?" If Jones says, "Blue," the sale is closed.
Please notice that both closing technique categories involve questions that cannot be easily answered with a "No". That's because good sales people avoid such questions unless that are certain the answer will be "Yes". They ask closing questions with confidence. And after asking, they do not say anything since it is the prospect's turn to answer.
Post-close follow-up. Once you close the sale, there is another phase of the sales cycle - the post-close follow up phase. In some cases, prospects get "buyers remorse," and the "closed" sale becomes unclosed. To handle this situation, you need to go back to the offending objection and answer it again. In a percentage of these situations, you will not be able to recover the sale because of circumstances beyond your control. In most of them, good sales skills will close it back up. Even when there is no incidence of buyer's remorse, there is another step. You need to make sure that the customer is happy, and once happy, you want to ask your customer if they know of others that you can help as you have helped them. That is, you should look at all prospects, whether they become a customer or not, as a referral source.
Knowing how to sell
Successful people learn how to sell one way or the other. If they do not learn a formal process as outlined in this post, they may make costly mistakes and develop bad habits. If you want to increase your chances of success in business and in life, it will greatly help you to learn the sales process and practice it so it becomes part of your marketing DNA. Some examples of successful sales people include: Bill Gates (yes, he did sales in the early days of Microsoft), Steve Jobs (not many are better than he was at selling during a presentation), and Ross Perot (after the Navy, he want to work for IBM as a salesman). When I went to school, I did not learn sales since my business professors looked down upon the sales profession. This cost me a lot in lost business and lost opportunities after I graduated. I wrote this post so that won't happen to you. Best of luck.