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A Business Trainer from Oxford, United Kingdom
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How To Break Through Personal Barriers In Sales
Sales managers and executives face a continuous battle to not only meet their targets, but exceed them.
Often, less than brilliant sales results are justified by factors such as:
• Product/service offering ('Not what people want')
• Difficult or unresponsive prospects ('Not interested')
• Pricing ('Too expensive')
• Poor sales support or back-up ('Inadequate after-sales service')
• Inadequate sales tools ('No sample or evidence available')
• Insufficient differentiation ('Satisfied with existing supplier)
... the list goes on and on.
However, although it's indisputable that these factors can prevent or provide obstacles to sales, they don't represent the full story. If they did, logic says that every sales person would suffer the same complaint with every prospective customer. How is it then that in the majority of sales situations only some people come up against some of these barriers, and really successful sales people rarely experience any at all?
The answer lies in the fact that in sales, what determines our performance are the individual internal barriers we ourselves erect to prevent us from achieving our best. By definition, these aren't founded in immutable reality; they're largely set and maintained by our own beliefs about ourselves and others, and what is possible and achievable. This being the case, it's down to each individual to identify, target and overcome their own personal barriers if they are to succeed.
To understand how to break through your personal barriers in sales, it's necessary to understand where those barriers come from and how and why we put them there. Some of the most common barriers are linked to variables such as these:
• We can't see ourselves as others can
• We all have 'comfort zones' in respect of what we believe we can achieve
• We often align ourselves to 'average' rather than excellent performance
• Sales targets are often set by somebody else, and linked to what other people consider is reasonable, desirable and achievable - we often don't truly sign up to them
• Achieving targets can be the responsibility of one individual although success depends on what other people do
• Selling is often approached as a competitive rather than a co-operative process
• Sales people frequently find they are equipped with only limited information about what they're selling
• Human nature tends to work against us staying focused and consistently energised
Let's examine these further and see what you can do to overcome them.
See yourself as others see you
This is both a literal and perceptual problem. Prospective customers will form the majority of their first impression of you purely from what you look like and your tone of voice, and will rarely change their opinion - so if you get these wrong, you're unlikely ever to make a sale. So, take an honest look at yourself in the mirror. Ask your managers for honest feedback and take on board what they say. Critically appraise the best performing sales people you know - or any other people you hold in high regard - what do they look and sound like?
In personality terms, many difficulties with under-performance are founded in lack of confidence. Why should a prospect believe that you can deliver what you promise, if you yourself have doubts? Mannerisms such as avoiding eye contact, nervously shuffling papers, a limp handshake or a high-pitched giggle can all spell 'loser'.
Top performers exude self-assurance without being over-bearing or appearing self-satisfied. Work hard at self-belief. Get someone close to you to video you as you role play a typical sales meeting, and pinpoint areas for improvement.
Step outside your 'comfort zone'
Breaking through barriers often means identifying what it would mean to ditch your self-limiting beliefs and step outside your comfort zone. Self-limiting beliefs are beliefs which we often view as so much 'part of us' that they can't be changed, yet often they're based on very flimsy evidence from a very long time ago. For example, you may believe that you're 'no good at networking'. How long ago was that belief formed? What do you base it on? What do you actually mean by networking? What makes people 'good at networking'? What is actually stopping you from being that good?
The answer usually is 'nothing'; there is little that is preventing you from being good. But to get there , you have to believe what you can achieve and strike out into new and unfamiliar waters - not an easy process for most of us. The key is to analyse how to tackle what you want to achieve and set yourself a step-by-step plan. Aim to 'eat the elephant' a mouthful at a time, not all at once!
Most people who adopt this approach are amazed at how well they are able to do something which previously they believed was impossible. And once in a different place, having slain one dragon, you are well placed to fight and conquer many more.
If you want to achieve outstanding sales results, you have to believe and act in a way that is truly outstanding. Start by sitting down with a pen and paper and brainstorming what it is that you feel would make an 'outstanding' sales person - in your own, or any other field. Then rank these characteristics from the most to least important.
Circle the ones that you know you already possess and give yourself a mark out of 5 (where 5 equals excellent) in terms of how you rate yourself against each. This will give you a clear idea of areas for improvement and areas you need to develop.
Talk to your employers, your colleagues and even some existing customers. What do they think makes an outstanding sales person? Finally, draw up a plan of action to develop those qualities which you are currently lacking - and set yourself some SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) goals for achieving them.
Develop yourself as a brand and consistently develop those brand qualities alongside the qualities of the brand of product or service you are selling. Remember, ultimately it's YOU that the customer is buying from, not the company you represent.
Sign up to your sales targets
In order to break through your personal barriers and achieve a sales target which someone else has given you, you not only have to understand and agree with the basis on which that target was set, you have to be 101% certain that it is not only achievable but that you are capable of exceeding it. In short, you have to believe in it - and you have to want to achieve it. It's not enough to be hungry in sales - you have to be absolutely starving if you're going to break through those barriers.
Psychological and practical research studies have shown that people tailor their performance to a pre-determined goal, regardless of whether, if asked independently, they felt they could do more. If they aren't 'limited' by a specific goal, many of them will achieve far higher results than anticipated. So don't limit yourself to achieving 'your target' - double that target in your own mind, or set yourself some other meaningful goal (e.g "to be highest performing sales executive in the company") and make the sky your limit.
Work with other people
Achieving your targets involves working with at least one other person - the customer - and often a whole team of people internally. Selling involves identifying your prospect's needs and wants and matching them successfully with your solution/s. Therefore by definition, the sales process should focus mainly on them - not you; successful selling comes down to how well you can communicate and empathise with others.
To break through your barriers, find out about different personality types and the different ways people communicate. There are numerous, excellent books on the subject and any insights gained will assist both your understanding of others and yourself. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) provides an excellent model for communication and books and training courses are widely available. One of the greatest barriers to sales success is believing that the world exists in the way we see it. In fact, reality is different for everyone, so any time invested in analysing human communication and behaviour will be beneficial.
In terms of working with other people internally, again spend time analysing the way your colleagues communicate and like to work and try to work with them in a way that makes them feel comfortable. If you can win their support and loyalty, you'll be much better placed to win the support and loyalty of external prospects and customers.
Turn competition into co-operation
Competition can be good if it acts as a source of motivation for people work together to achieve an outcome which reflects well on all. However, what happens all too often is that competition becomes negative - winning comes down to beating someone else, and to win means that one or more of your colleagues must fail. Worse, this attitude then starts to spill over into your dealings with prospective customers and the sales process turns into a battle between you and them. By consciously making colleagues and customers your friends and focusing always on what you can give to them, you will be rewarded by receiving far more from them than you will ever get through competing.
Also, don't go along with the commonly held view that sales people are interchangeable - 'one size fits every customer'. As you will learn from studying personality types and communication styles (see above), we all naturally find it easier to empathise with some types of people than others. Those who can recognise this and are prepared to 'swap' with colleagues in order to get the optimum 'fit' between themselves and their prospective customers, are ultimately the greatest winners. Sharing means success for you, your colleagues, your customer and your company.
Understand what you're selling
In order to be a truly effective salesperson you don't necessarily have to understand every aspect of what you're trying to sell, but you must know and understand the answers to the questions that prospective customers are going to ask, be open about those questions before they ask them, and where appropriate admit that you just 'don't know' (but will find out).
Often sales fail because sales people skirt around difficult issues, hoping against hope that the prospective customer won't ask certain questions. But if you are relaxed and truthful, then you can not only stop worrying about the questions, you can turn them to your advantage. For example, you may be selling something which is more expensive than a competitor's apparently identical product or service. Don't just hope that the prospect won't know this, make a feature of it, e.g. "You may wonder why our widget costs 10% more. It's because it's designed to last twice as long - yet we only charge you 10% more."
Most important of all, believe what you're saying. If you don't, you can't be genuinely enthusiastic - and enthusiasm and honesty are two of the key attributes that will help you clinch those sales.
Keep focused and energised
Sales can be a long, lonely and hard road to follow. You can be positive, energetic and enthusiastic some of the time - but breaking down the barrier which prevents you being that way all the time isn't easy. A solution which enlightened companies and ambitious individuals are increasingly adopting to assist them is one-to-one coaching - a process proven to help people at all levels achieve outstanding results.
The benefits of coaching are threefold:
• It helps the individual focus on what they need to do to become outstanding
• It provides the individual with a consistent, confidential, non-judgemental, on-going source of support
• It provides the individual with an arena in which to create new ideas, set and revisit goals, monitor progress, evaluate performance, and become motivated to achieve even more.
Coaching as a specialised discipline has been flourishing in the United States for over twenty years generating spectacular improvements in performance which has led to it now taking hold in the UK. A recent publication by Harvard Business School, based upon five years of in-depth research including case studies from 27 leading companies and surveys from 3,000 executives, concludes that "the vehicle for propelling a talented person to greater heights and greater performance, in much less time, is coaching - which enables people to stretch and grow..."
Prior to this, another study quoted in The Public Personnel Management Association Journal showed that training alone increased productivity by about 22% while training pluscoaching increased productivity by 88%. Breaking down barriers, indeed!
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