When you love business but hate selling, that’s a problem.
Sales skills don’t come easily to me and I am not a natural salesperson. In fact I’ve realised that I have a distinct disdain for the stereotypical smarmy car salesperson or real estate agent types. These behaviours send prickles up my spine and I’d loathe to think that I would ever act in a way that pushed people into something they didn’t want or that wasn’t good for them. However, I also love business and the fact is that sales skills are ESSENTIAL for ANY business so developing some vital sales skills has been something I just had to do.
Over the years, I’ve made some discoveries that have helped me embrace and even enjoy the sales process. These sales skills are not complete and some may sound obvious and very basic, but together, they’ve worked extremely well for me so I thought I’d share them here…
Sales Skill 1: Keep in touch with customers more
Early in my career, I worked for a small engineering firm where my main role was marketing. But in addition, I was given a sales budget to meet – something that terrified me. My plan was to ease myself into it by contacting past customers, introducing myself and starting to build a relationship (so that I could later sell to them). But to my surprise, many of my calls resulted in sales straight away. Most of these customers hadn’t had any contact from the business for a long time but still had a need for our products. After a few of these calls, I set up a system where I would call every customer every 3 months. I kept notes about our last discussion and things we’d talked about and used these as the basis for the calls. The first of my sales skills was in place…
Sales Skill 2: Let customers know about your offerings
With this no-sales sales approach, I was going along and getting quite good results. I’d hardly talk about our products or services but just ask if everything was going alright and if there was anything we could help with. But after a couple of customers raised problems in general conversation and then were surprised to hear that we had a specific solution to this problem, it occurred to me that perhaps a lot of our customers didn’t realise the full suite of services and products we provided. Duh…
After this, I listed out the 8 or so key product offerings we had to get them clear in my mind and then made a point to talk about a different one during each conversation. I’d take notes on what we’d discussed previously so after 8 conversations we’d covered everything. I tried not to make this sound forced by having some discussion points ready – like examples of other solutions we’d recently installed for customers, industry news relating to certain products, or thoughts about how the products they were already using naturally went together with some other solutions.
At the same time, I launched a small newsletter (this was before many people had an email address so was physically photocopied and posted out to our database). The articles I wrote for this also gave me material to discuss during the phone calls and the two fed off each other – the second of my sales skills was in place…
Sales Skill 3: Learn to get over yourself – it’s about the customer
So now I had a good strategy and was getting great results. But then I changed jobs and for a while was in roles that didn’t require me to be involved in sales. And when again I needed to step firmly into the sales role, it was at my own business without any existing client base to tap into and with only one product on offer.
To get things going, we initially provided our service for free – this helped us fine tune the offering, clarify the marketing messages, but most importantly, it gave us great testimonials about the effectiveness of the service. So, yes, we used these testimonials in our marketing and sales pages, but more importantly, they gave me the confidence that the service was really truly beneficial to the small businesses that were our target market. This confidence is what helped me get over myself and get on the phone to help other businesses achieve the same types of results. It helped me realise that it wasn’t about me at all – instead, it was all about the customer and how I could help them.
I recently listened to a great podcast where Marie Forleo was asked about her approach to sales and self-promotion. To paraphrase, she said;
“Your number one job on earth is to bring your unique gifts to the world. If you’re in business and you believe in your product or service and the benefits it brings, that absolutely means that it is your responsibility to let as many people as possible know what your business can do to help them.”
Having a real belief in my product enabled me to take the focus off me – and this was the 3rd of my sales skills. Instead of stressing about my sales approach, I was now able to get on the phone and focus on having a conversation to figure out whether the business was the right type of business for our service and whether the problem we solved was one that was important for the business owner. If it was, then I just needed to explain exactly how our program worked and give examples of the results other businesses had achieved. There was no hard sell, but I’m sure that they could hear the passion and conviction in my voice in convincing them to trial our program for a while.
Sales Skill 4: Many touch points are necessary – keep going!
Over time, we built a small sales team and we were selling both over the phone and online. When online sales would come through I would often look at the customer’s history to understand what had triggered them to signup. More often than not, there was a long series of contacts. We might have first spoken to them a year or more ago, sent them numerous newsletter updates, handled some customer service enquiries, and eventually they had enough confidence in us to sign up.
The lesson I learned was that it often takes A LOT of contacts to close a sale. This reinforces Lesson 1, but also means that the sales efforts need to be linked to marketing, and also that patience is a big factor.
All touch points are important but in today’s environment where most businesses are (or should) be using email and social media for marketing, there’s always the question of how frequently to post. If you’re an under-seller like me, you might be tempted to think that you’re pushing your messages out too frequently and annoying people. But again, it’s important to know your tendencies. If you know that you’re ultra concerned about being in people’s faces too much, push yourself to do just a bit more than you would naturally do. (In the eyes of most other people this is not likely to be seen as being too pushy.) Plus, if you can make sure that you’re delivering real value in each of your posts, it’ll be seen as being helpful more than pushy. These extra touch points will help close the gap between a contact and a customer.
Do you struggle with getting into the sales role? Is this an area of your business that needs work? Give some of these ideas a try and hopefully they’ll help. And if you’ve got others approaches, I’d love to hear about them…