An Article by
A Business Trainer from Woking, United Kingdom
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Sales Success In Tough Time
It is not about having some new magic method for selling, it is about applying the things you have perhaps forgotten.
The current economic situation is providing additional challenges to those of you responsible for generating and achieving sales, over and above those you normally have. You still have targets or quotas to achieve, your businesses have overheads to pay and on a personal level you need to earn money! The combination of these pressures, of managers or other stakeholders going on about the need to get sales, and the difficulties in finding customers who will spend can lead to many sellers becoming somewhat desperate in their approach. Your own approach to selling, your attitude or philosophy, might need to be looked at to meet the current market. If ever there was a time to remember that good salesmanship is about influencing people to buy, this is it! Is it a matter of working smarter not harder? Maybe it is a question of doing both – develop ways of working smarter, and then apply them even harder. To help towards this I would suggest that it is a good time to get back to applying some of the fundamentals. It is not about having some new magic method for selling, it is about applying the things you have perhaps forgotten.
Too many people fail to invest enough time in planning and preparation, either claiming to be too busy or believing that it is not important. In order to work smarter, recognise the benefits of doing more research or analysis of your customer base and potential market. Do you understand how your market is segmented? Which groups do you aim to sell to? (Or which groups buy more from you, rather than others?) Does it split geographically, by business type or size, frequency or purchase, type of behaviours the purchasers use? There are many different ways of segmenting a market and no one is necessarily better than the others. In many businesses, they find that it is most effective to combine two or three different approaches and this provides a more accurate target group. Think about how it might work for you and also, look at which segments might be stronger within the economic climate. There will be some sectors and segments which either have to keep spending or which have the money and will choose to do so. Please remember, not all customers are the same! Identify those who will not be able to deal with you at the moment and invest less time in them in terms of looking for business. However, do keep in contact and maintain the relationship for when things improve. Instead, invest your time in those who are more likely to spend.
When you have a clearer idea of who you want to target, consider two things. Why should they see you? (What will be the value for them in having a meeting? Remember, time is a precious commodity, especially in organisations where numbers have been reduced.) How can you differentiate what you offer? In this competitive age, you need to be able to understand, and explain quickly, why your offering is different. If someone is going to give you a chance, to start using you rather than an existing supplier, or another competitor – why should they? If you have been doing your planning effectively, developing these answers could be straightforward and will apply for those within your target segments. Approaching them, directly or in conjunction with your marketing if appropriate, can be done more confidently and with greater success. Perseverance is required. Many sales people lose out on opportunities because they give up too easily. Be willing to take more than five attempts to get to see someone. Evidence suggests that the successful sellers are those who will go to this number and beyond.
When you have meetings arranged, the next step is to do your preparation for them. Recent research shows a few potentially worrying trends for sales people! Too often sales people do not understand the client organisation’s buying process and misjudge the timing in relation to their own sales process and make contact too late. Also, when sales meetings do happen, the buying organisation does not want to just hear sales pitches! The meetings need to have more focus on them and their issues, both business and personal, i.e., how the issues are affecting them in their roles. Bearing this in mind, think about your preparation for the meeting and how you will structure it. Who are you seeing? Where do they fit within the decision making unit (DMU)? Are they going to be able to make the decision or are they influencers? Another factor which I have noticed in the last few months is that final decisions are often rising higher within organisations. We would strongly recommend that you have some form of table and/or organisational chart as part of your customer record so that you can identify where your contacts are within the DMU and, importantly, where you have gaps and need to plan to fill them. Although many sales people come in to the prospects’ buying process late, this tendency to move the final decision up the line, does mean that the professional seller needs to be patient. Unfortunately, the prospect’s timescale does not always work with yours and your sales targets and schedule!
Having done your planning and preparation, it is time for the actual meeting. As mentioned earlier, think about how this can be of value to the prospect or customer. The more you can build this, the greater the likelihood of them becoming interested in how you can help them. Take a more "consultative selling" approach so that they see you as someone who can help them find solutions to their issues. You have to be able to develop a compelling case for them to want to buy from you. To achieve this you need to establish rapport with those you are meeting as a start point. Be open to being flexible in your own behaviour to match the different styles or personalities you might encounter. As the meeting progresses, use their language or terminology. It enhances the rapport and also makes you appear more knowledgeable about their industry and, by association, the issues they are facing. Use your questioning to keep the focus on their issues and challenges and to uncover and discuss their needs and wants, including any constraints around timescales and budgets. Allowing them time to talk about these areas can often help to create a sense of value from the meeting on its own, especially if your questioning encourages them to think about things in a slightly different way.
When you feel you have a clear understanding of their situation and the needs and wants behind it, it is time to think about putting together your initial suggestions or start building your sales case. It is vital at this point to really understand and apply the benefit selling principle. People buy products or services, and choose suppliers, for what they will do for them, how they match their needs and wants, not for what they are or have built into them. They want a problem removed, life made easier, to save money, do something more easily or whatever. They want to know how you can deliver that. So, you have to make sure that you are not just telling them about what you do, you have to help them see how you can help them achieve what they need or want. The more you can emphasise the benefits and build them up, especially relating them to the prospect’s issues and using their language – the more compelling your sales case.
Although you may need more patience in your sales process in the present climate, you do still have to apply the fundamental steps as you go through different meetings. As part of your preparation, think about what objections you might encounter. Be prepared, rather than taken by surprise! Can you anticipate a number of the obvious ones? Think about how you can respond to them or, even better maybe pre-empt them, and you will be able to be a lot more confident when they do occur. Also, look for opportunities to build the commitment as you go through the meeting and are putting forward your case. This "trial closing" is important to make sure you are on the right track, you are dealing with any objections rather than letting them stay hidden, and you are building the desire to do business. Even if you know that there will need to be further meetings, or that the decision is going to be pushed up the hierarchy to someone you haven’t been able to meet – ask for some commitment. Are they going to recommend you? Based on the meeting you have had, is there anything they are not happy with – or anything you need to do before the next meeting? Also, do not let yourself be put off too easily. Be prepared to maintain contact, seek further meetings and not allow things to drift or the business to go elsewhere without you knowing.
When you have been successful, or with an existing customer, do remember the importance of the after-sales service. You must follow-up to make sure that the customer is happy with their decision, they have received what they expected and remind them of what a good decision they made! This aspect of relationship management is so important so that you can keep the customer and develop more opportunities. Regardless of the economic climate it is still a lot less costly to sell to existing customers rather than find new ones! Another reason for managing the relationship is that the happy customer can be a good source of referrals – which again are easier sales.
Selling is rarely an easy job, with competitors being all around, other sources of pressure and relentless targets. In difficult economic times it can seem to be even harder. However, you can still be successful provided you use some common sense. Do not get dragged down by all the messages of doom! Get back to basics and use them! Start by focussing on where you might be more successful by targeting the right segments and customer types. Scattering your effort far and wide will not necessarily provide success, it just dilutes your energy and effectiveness and can demoralise you. Then plan and prepare your meetings thoroughly and keep them client focussed. Remember, you need them to buy if you are to sell – so let them provide you with the reasons to do so. - First published in "Business Line"
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