An Introduction To Selling
The popular view is that only some people can sell, that salesmen are born, not made. The reality is that anyone can sell and that the art of selling can be learnt in the same way that any process can be learnt. Certainly, some people will have a natural aptitude for selling in the same way that some people have an aptitude for music or foreign languages, but anybody can achieve competence in selling if they want to.
If you’re the shy and introverted type, you will have to overcome some of these personal traits to follow the sales steps successfully. You’ll need to be brave enough to ask tough questions and overcome your fear of rejection. You’ll also need to break some social taboos about what ‘nice’ people are allowed to do. However, what you don’t have to be is the media’s clichéd depiction of a salesperson: pushy, untrustworthy, someone who would sell their own grandmother. Such people do exist, but professional salespeople work with their customers to make sure they buy exactly the solution they need, and then they come back and buy more simply because they are happy.
Once you’ve worked out how to sell, you’ll wonder how you survived without it. You’ll find those same skills hugely useful when negotiating with anyone, be it with your boss, employees, partner or child. How many times have you heard the expression “selling the idea”? It means what it says, and politicians are famous for it.
Selling is actually a mix of different skills and techniques. It is a process that once fully understood, becomes obvious, and it involves a breath of interpersonal skills that centre around human psychology and perseverance.
The Sales Process
At a very basic level, there are five steps in making a sale, which are covered in this guide:
Qualify Your Potential Sales
Before you spend a lot of time on a prospect, you want to know if they are likely to buy. So, there are four simple tests that will help you separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff:
- Are they the decision-maker? Do they have the power to sign the purchase order? Or are they an underling who has no purchasing power?
- Do they have the budget? Can they afford your product or service?
- Are they looking for what you have? If they need features or capabilities that you don’t have, you’re unlikely to make the sale.
- Are they looking to buy now? If they are just looking but don’t want to buy for a year, they won’t help you reach your sales target
Listen To What The Customer Is Telling You
So how do you find out these facts? In many cases, they’ll tell you in their first conversation, as the lead comes in.
“Hello, I’m the finance director of So-And-So plc and I’m looking for a simple CRM system for about ten users. We need to be up and running in three months’ time.” That’s just passed all the tests for us at Really Simple Systems, apart from the price but as they are a plc, that shouldn’t be a problem.
On the contrary: “Hello, I’m an intern at Bob’s Plumbing and I’m just doing some initial research for a CRM system we can run in the field” patently fails.
Good sales people spend more time listening than talking, and in most cases you’ll only get some of the qualification questions answered unprompted. So when they’ve stopped telling you what they want, you ask the unanswered questions, using a mix of closed and open questions to get the information you need. You might ask: What’s your job title? Do you have a budget in mind? When would you want the system installed? Any particular requirements that are important to you?
A good salesperson will develop words and phrases that will make these questions seem unthreatening and natural.
Why does the car salesman always ask you what car you are driving at the moment? Because if you’re driving a Ford he’s not going to offer you a test drive of a top range BMW on his Saturday morning.
Conduct Sales Fact-Finding
So you’ve finished qualifying your lead, and you now know that your prospect is worth spending time selling to. So now it’s time for you to find out their more detailed requirements.
Some people will know what they want and what the different offerings in your market all provide. Others may need educating.
For example, a prospective CRM purchaser may have used CRM systems in previous companies, know what they do and have a pretty good idea of what they want from such a system.
Another may say something like “We’re looking for a CRM system that covers our whole business process including invoicing and delivery routing logistics.”
In the software world, invoicing is usually done by accounting products and logistics by specialist systems. Therefore, we need to educate the prospect and then help them with their CRM choice, as well as pointing them to products that do what the CRM doesn’t.
What to do if the Lead Qualification Fails
If the prospect wants a feature that your business’s offering doesn’t have, you can:
- Try and persuade them it isn’t needed; or
- Find a workaround; or
- Try and minimise its importance to their decision; or
- Qualify out
After all, there’s no point continuing the sales process if on your fact-finding mission you discover that the prospect has a requirement that is key to them and that you can’t meet. For example, every now and then we get people saying that they love our CRM, but they want to run it on their in-house server. We’re a Cloud-based CRM system and we can’t do that. So unless we can persuade them that running their CRM on our servers is fine, there is no point continuing the conversation.
Look for Opportunities!
After they have told you what they want, and assuming you haven’t qualified them out, you now have the opportunity to introduce some new features to their list that the competition doesn’t have.
If you can manage to persuade them that a certain USP you’re offering is valuable and a mandatory requirement, then you’re going to do well against the competition! For example, we often ask potential CRM customers “Do you want mass emailing integrated into the CRM?” Most of our main competitors don’t offer this. If the customer decides to add that feature to their list of must haves then we’ll be well placed against them.
Finally, run through the requirements list and confirm with the prospect that these are the things that they want and that that is all that they want. Then roll out your conditional close “If I can show you that our product does all of this, when will you place the order?”.
How to do a Sales Demonstration
After qualifying your lead and doing some fact-finding, you know that the prospect is worth spending time selling to. Now’s the time to demonstrate why they should buy your product or service.
The purpose of the demonstration is to confirm that the product meets all the customer’s requirements laid out during the fact-finding process – it should not be to allow the prospect to make up their own mind! That sounds a bit harsh, but as a salesperson, you need to control the sales process. That’s why many companies won’t allow prospects to see the product until they’ve been through the fact-finding process.
You should make sure that you cover all of the lead’s requirements that were discussed, with particular attention paid to any mandatory ones. With features that are especially critical to the making the sale, you should get the prospect’s agreement that they are satisfied after showcasing that element – “Are you happy with how the sales forecasting works?”.
At the end of the demonstration you should ask for feedback, and again do a trial close – “Can you see this CRM system working for you?”, or “How does this compare to other products that you’ve seen?”.
You’ll probably not close with the prospect at this stage, however, a great sales demo will go great lengths to securing your business the deal even if you don’t exhaustively meet all of the lead’s requirements. Your product features will become less important if the prospect believes you’re invested in helping them rather than just making the sale.
The overcoming objections stage is about listening to the prospect’s concerns about the product or service after they have some knowledge of it. For example, they may say “It doesn’t do this”, or “it is more than I have budgeted”, or “I don’t like the way it handles this issue”. The role of the salesperson is to overcome or minimise those problems.
Of course, not all objections need to be overcome. Especially if your competitors face the same limitations or would fail to meet the prospect’s other more important requirements.
When sold by the book, the overcoming objections stage comes right after the demonstration stage but just before Closing. However, in reality, the prospect can introduce Objections at any time in the sales cycle.
Here are some typical objections and some solutions to overcome them:
Price is Too Expensive
- Differentiate your offering from cheaper alternatives: features, service, customer satisfaction
- Try to minimise e.g. “an extra £10k over five years is only £38 a week!”
- De-scope the offering: take out features not needed in return for a lower price
- Offer a discount in return for a quick sale or a customer endorsement
- Offer different financing or payment terms, perhaps across multiple budget years such as staged payments or leasing
Product Isn’t a Complete Match for all Requirements
- Look for workarounds
- Try to minimise importance versus 100% fit for everything else
- Point out that nobody else does that either
A Competitor has More Features
- List the features that you have, that the competitor doesn’t
- Point out any restrictions or drawbacks of those features
- Disprove, if possible, e.g. “they say they do that, but actually, they only do this”
- Minimise the desirability of the competitor’s features
Your Company is too Small or too New
- Provide references of happy customers
- Point out they’ll get better customer service from a small company
- As an early customer of a new company, their needs can help shape the product
- They’ll be ahead of the competition by going with a cutting-edge product
Prospect is Not Ready to Place Order
- Work prospect’s time scales back to prove that they need to order sooner than they thought
- Find or create a compelling event that will give them a reason to buy now
To learn more, we have a comprehensive guide to overcoming objections to get you closer to closing your sale.
How to Close a Deal
For many sales novices the words “closing the deal” fills them with dread.
That scary and secret process that only seasoned salespeople know how to do without trembling in their shoes. It doesn’t have to be that way if you have run through the other stages correctly.
Build Prospect Confidence
In most B2B sales, the prospect will make up their mind to purchase over the time it takes to evaluate and maybe test your proposal. During that time, it is crucial that you build their confidence in your offering (and in you and your company) until they complete.
You need to grow your personal relationship with the prospect so that they trust you enough to believe you when you say that your offering will work for them.
Closing the deal shouldn’t come out of the blue and the final close should be a natural progression from all the smaller, conditional closes that you’ve thrown out during the course of the sales process.
If you’ve given conditional closes at the end of the fact-finding and during the demonstration phase, and maybe even during the overcoming objections, you should have led the prospect into a position that the final commit to purchase is a small, natural step, not a big decision.
Having said that, there are numerous ways of leading the prospect into committing.
Key Closing Techniques
In the jargon of sales methodologies, there are a number of named closing techniques. Here are the main ones:
You simply ask for the order. For example, “Are you ready to go ahead?”
You just assume the prospect is going ahead and let them wriggle out of it if they dare. For example, “Let me fill out this order form and then you can get going.”
You set the criteria for their decision to close later. For example, “If we can meet all your requirements within budget, will you go ahead?”, or “If I can get it delivered this week, can you place an order today?” and “If I throw the roof rack in for free, can you commit to purchasing?”
You offer them alternatives, but not buying isn’t one of them. For example, “Do you want the red one or the green one?” or “Shall we deliver this week or next?”
Puppy Dog Sale
Not really a close but a technique that creates a Compelling Event at the end of the trial. For example, “Try it free for 30 days, with no obligation!”. Beloved of software vendors, this is named after the pet shop that will let you take a cute little puppy home for the weekend – there is no way your kids will let you take it back to the shop!
As with all canned sales techniques, you need to adapt the words to suit the situation and really make them your own so they don’t sound artificial or overly pushy.
The Final Close
Closing, asking the customer to commit to a purchase is often seen as the hardest part of the sales process. It shouldn’t be if you’ve done your homework and the customer is ready to buy.
Most people spend time weighing up the pros and cons and then emotionally commit to purchase. Some prospects will get to a certain point and then just say “Fine; let’s do this”. Others will need help committing because they find making decisions scary, especially if there is no deadline for making a decision.
If you’ve followed the sales process correctly then you will have done lots of little Conditional Closes throughout all the sales stages, so when you finally ask for the order with a direct close the prospect is emotionally prepared and is happy to say: “Yes”.
To research more about the art of closing sales, check our expert guide.
How To Sell Summary
As we said at the start, the popular view is that only some people can sell and that salesmen are born, not made. We hope now that we’ve demonstrated that anyone can sell and that the art of selling can be learnt in the same way as any process.
This classic approach divides the sales process into five distinct stages: Qualification, Fact Finding, the Demonstration, Overcoming Objections and Closing.
In reality, although you may try to run through those stages in that order, you should be thinking about all of those phases all of the time:
Juggling the Stages
You may “qualify out” in the middle of the demonstration when the prospect announces a key requirement that simply can’t be met.
You might be overcoming objections when qualifying the prospect and they are saying that the price is too high.
The prospect may announce some new requirement in the middle of the demonstration that needs further investigation.
There’s a sales saying that goes: “Always be Closing” and that is true, you should be doing mini-closes throughout the whole process to make sure the prospect is still on track for the final order.
Keeping Sight of The Objective
You need to be alert through the whole sales cycle, and be aware of any new information that might come up, while also being prepared to branch off and qualify, fact-find, close, or do a mini-demo.
You must always keep your eye on the final objective of getting a purchase order. If you keep steering the process back towards that goal, you’ll minimise the chances of getting lost during the sales cycle and you will finally close the deal.