To put it simply, if you don’t sell, your businesses will die, and there are no exceptions, this is what makes learning tried and tested sales techniques so critical. The real trick is knowing how to sell. It’s what I’ve been preaching around the world for more than a decade and one of the greatest challenges I’ve identified, especially for SMEs and entrepreneurs is identifying and selling to customers successfully.
With this in mind developing good selling skills is critical to your success, so here are thirty-four essential selling skills to help you drive sales and reap success. These techniques are for everyone from sales beginners to sales pros.
1. Research your customers
Of course, your product or service is the best. That’s why you’re in business. You want the world to know, but first, you’ve got to know your customer. Taking the easy wins means doing anything you can before your meeting to identify every detail about your customer that will add value to your objective – from the smallest of observations to the biggest of pictures.
Find out your customer’s strengths, weaknesses, ambitions, failures, competitors and challenges. Gathering as much intelligence as possible before your meeting will not only give you confidence but will bring your customer over to your side
2. Sell yourself
If sales is your religion (and it should be), the products and services you are selling should carry your faith. Or, put another way, before you sell to others, you should sell your product or service to yourself. It’s the first step in sales psychology. And if you have complete faith in what you’re selling you have more chance converting others to your faith. But how do you know if you’re sold or not? Try this: Get a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle and title the left column “Not Sold” and the right column “Sold”. Now list out all of the features or aspects of what you’re selling in the relevant columns. I do this exercise at least twice a week.
Now you’ll end up with elements of your product or service that you’re not totally sold on – and you can act on that until you get absolute confidence in what you’re selling. Only then are you ready to sell.
3. Know your SSS
SSS stands for Sales System for Success. It means having a clear process for your meeting. Rehearse set pieces before your meeting. Explore a number of set moves in your head that you can re-enact seamlessly depending on how the meeting goes. You’ll then be able to overcome any obstacle that comes your way. Taking the time to do this – like rehearsing a play – will make your word (and sales) perfect on the day.
4. Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP)
Learn NLP and you can master the sales process NLP is based on understanding how people organise their thinking, feeling, language and behaviour to get things done. One of the key messages of NLP centres on the fact that each of us forms a unique mental map of the world around us – the information that creates this map coming to us via our five senses.
Listen carefully to your prospect, and you’ll be able to pick up how he or she is absorbing information about your sales pitch. Are they hands on, do they rely on audio cues, are they visually stimulated, and so on.
Identify your prospective customers drivers
Everyone has a need – it’s just that many don’t know it yet. Through effective questioning and listening, you should be able to quickly discover your contact’s needs. Then, highlight them with these two questions:
- “What would happen if you didn’t replace/fix/address this need?”
- “What would happen if you did replace/fix/address this need?”
By getting your contact really thinking about both consequences, you are directing their focus entirely on their need, as well as their desire to fulfil it.
5. Understand your customer & tailor
Here’s some business psychology that sounds so simple and straightforward that you’re probably thinking why am I mentioning it here? Don’t tell me about understanding my client I can hear you say. Well, I am going to tell you because one of the main reasons for sales failure is the (not so) simple art of understanding your client.
Okay, so you’ve identified that your target has a potential interest in your product or service. Now take an interest in them. If they drink coffee, you drink coffee. If they like cricket, you like cricket – even just for the duration of your sales pitch.
Find a way to make your presentation, or the conversations and ad-libs around it, as personal as you can. It takes effort and guile to get right, but by becoming like them you’ll be them, and they will buy.
6. Prepare all your questions
Before you hit that sales meeting, brainstorm and prepare all of your questions. For each question you come up with, write out all the possible outcomes and integrate them into your pitch. Create a flowchart outlining all of the ways the conversation might go. A major part of being confident when selling just comes down to being extremely well prepared.
7. Get in the zone
You’re busy, you’ve got a a thousand things to be doing. Essentially, when you sell, you’re only doing one thing, selling. Appearing to do more than that in front of a customer is rude. So don’t! If the sales opportunity is good enough for you to travel and see someone or invite them to your office, then it’s good enough to give them your undivided time and space.
8. Start strong
Before you go into your meeting, take a few deep breaths, calm yourself down, then go for it – head up, good eye contact, friendly yet authoritative manner. If you can, ask questions early or demonstrate by listening that you are incredibly interested. Take notes, and do so often.
9. Balance confidence and enthusiasm
Having complete faith in what you’re selling will give you huge confidence, and that’s essential for any sales person. However, remember in a sales situation overconfidence is as bad as a weak, nervous, dull presentation. Rather than pumping yourself up and going like a bull at a gate, whatever you do, don’t come over as a kid who has drank too much coke or worse still, a narcissist.
So remember – be confident and enthusiastic but be humble at the same time. There’s something magnetic about someone who is quietly confident in their abilities and capabilities, and that’s the person you want to be.
10. Don’t offer more – offer less
The choice is great, but there’s way too much of it out there. Every day your client is bombarded with choice and the poorer sales person will only add to that confusion. You know your product or service backwards. You have complete faith, knowledge and confidence in it. Now use those attributes to effectively reduce choice for your clients.
The best way to sell less more often is to categorise. Break features, products and services down into easily digestible chunks then offer those to your client. The simpler you can make things, the easier it will be for the client to understand them. Do this, and you’ll be rewarded with sales.
11. Understanding brains
You may have heard the question, “Are you more left brained or right brained?” This is based on the science that our brain is divided into two and that each half dominates in different people. Those who have a left-brain dominance tend to be more analytical, fact-driven, linear and strategic. Those with a right brain dominance are generally stimulated more by emotion and as a consequence are freer spirited and open to change.
Identifying which side of the brain your prospect is driven by is gold dust, not only in terms of the type of sales pitch you make but importantly also in the way you can successfully handle objections.
Make your customer love you
So, first thing’s first. Ask yourself, are you in love with your customer? Hell yes -you want and need your customer, but are you truly in love? Do you go that extra mile, give them added value, make them feel appreciated, respect them. And when they talk do you listen?
I’m not over the top here – of course, you’ve got a business to run. A business with many customers. What I’m asking is, do you provide the level of service to individual customers that you would like to get in return from them? A level of service that is memorable. That has the wow factor? In short, do you offer the level of service that makes your customer fall in love with you?
12. Sell ethically, with integrity
Are you over-promising and underdelivering? Do you or your sales team over-gild the lily to close that sale? If you mismanage sales at the beginning of your relationship, everything else will turn sour pretty quickly. All relationships succeed through good, honest communication. Get this right, and your business will grow. Get it wrong, and your business will wither and die.
13. Gain clarity
Often business owners – entrepreneurs – are driven and don’t particularly like people getting in the way. A certain amount of single-mindedness is a good thing. Too much can do serious collateral damage to your business. Think of this. Do you ask for feedback? Do you do customer surveys, staff surveys? Do you ask what people would like to see and change and adapt to meet those needs? Or do you just plough straight on with the way you want to do thin
14. Use metaphors
Now, this is where your pre-planning really comes in. By rehearsing every possible outcome of your meeting, you’ll know your script backwards. As a result, you’ll be able to use metaphors and analogies to better explain your points. By doing this, you’ll be speaking in clear visualisations that help your contact fully understand what you’re saying. Remember – visualisation is realisation!
15. Mind your language
Not the verbal kind, but your body language. Get it wrong, and it will be a deal breaker. Turn up five minutes early. Be immaculately dressed. Shake hands firmly, pay attention to how you sit or stand. First impressions count. Show your customer your care and respect. Converse like you mean it. Be enthusiastic about the things you tell them. Listen to what they say and ask as many questions as you can. Above all, make sure your signals are working for you and not against you. Research has proven people make rapid and lasting impressions. Make yours the best! Further to this remember that people like people first, they trust people second and they do business with people they trust, third. Good Luck!
16. Create, don’t firefight
Most companies I observe have a reactive method of customer management. When something goes wrong, they fix it. Take for example buying flowers for your better half. When your better half asks for flowers, and you buy them, you know it’s already too late. Firefighting is hard, energy sapping work. It’s also counterproductive. When you’re in firefighting /damage limitation mode, you’re not in creative mode.
17. Provide enough information
Why do people have objections? Assuming that you’ve not completely mis-pitched, your prospect’s reticence could be down to pure and simple resistance to change. What’s interesting about resistance to change is that in the majority of cases it is not connected to the facts you’re presenting, but instead it’s based on the irrational fear of something new which manifests itself as a satisfaction with the way things are currently.
If you’ve identified this in your prospect, it could be down to the fact you haven’t provided enough information. And this is easily resolved.
18. Avoid traps
Avoiding the traps, listening to your customer, providing the service you promise – these and other steps mentioned above will get your customer loving you. And not only that but it’ll encourage your customer to be a walking promoter of your business. And that’s gold dust.
To finish, I always remember what I was told by an old trader some 20 years ago: “Doug, no one talks well about someone they don’t think about or like. You have to love something about someone to go out of your way to promote them – and that’s what you’ve got to give your customers. Something to love.”
19. Avoid negative patterns
Perhaps the best way to answer the reciprocal love question is to look at negative patterns of business that you’ll want to avoid.
It’s so easy in the day-to-day running of your business, to overlook these – or more accurately, fall into their trap. So take a few minutes and see whether you identify with these patterns or not.
20. Handling objections
Like any other facet of sales, there are right ways and wrong ways to handle objections. I’ll be looking at the right ways to handle objections and, as you’ll see, objections needn’t be a monster you can’t control.
By learning these skills, you’ll understand how the person in front of you makes their decision to buy and, just as importantly, what may influence them not to buy. Do this well and objections will turn into approvals. Every time.
Brushing aside objections
That’s right, the easiest and quickest way to quash the objections monster is to simply brush it aside. It’s a fact that most objections aren’t objections at all, at least not to begin with. They are simply small reservations, gripes or moans. And it’s these kinds of objections that should be listened to, smiled at and then brushed aside.
The minute you pay more attention than you should to this type of objection – or worse still throw out ill-thought through rebuttals – these minor quibbles will rapidly become major stumbling blocks to closing the deal. Here’s an example of how an objection can be brushed off. If your prospect says: “I don’t really like the thought of that product/service” your immediate response should be something like: “Yeah, I agree. It’s just a fact of life that we all have to use it (specify product/service benefits) to take care of (whatever the product/service does or takes care of)”.
Now that you’ve swatted the monster you need to make sure it’s dead, and you can do this quite simply by using a little body language confirmation. Make eye contact, raise a little smile and shrug. If you see assent in the response from your customer, then you’ve confirmed the objection has been killed
Cuffing is what you should do if you sense, in any way, that the first phase of objection handling – the brush-off – wasn’t totally successful. And like brushing off, it needs to be deployed quickly and casually. I’ve used the word “cuffing” here simply as an analogy for effectively acknowledging the objection and placing it in check for dealing with later. Or in other words, taking the objection monster prisoner while it is still stunned.
To do this, your conversation must go something like:
You: “Okay, I can see you’re not convinced (pause). Let’s park this to one side and come back to it later when we can discuss it in more detail.”
At this point, write down the objection on a notepad and make a point of fully acknowledging that you’ve recorded it by showing the note to your customer. And then move on.
Of course, you must deal with the issue at some stage and in my experience if the scenario has been played out as above then by the time you come back to the objection, chances are the customer is happy enough to kill it off for themselves.
Final resort in dealing with objections
So the brush-off didn’t work, and neither did the cuffing. Now’s the time to go head on into full resort and kill that objection stone dead.
The first thing to do is define the severity of the objection. Maybe start by saying:
- “Okay, I can see this is still a concern for you so let’s work through this together. Tell me, what are your major concerns?”
- Then repeat back to the customer the points they have defined. Often, by effectively emphasising or over-dramatizing the right words, you can make the objection sound as if there’s nothing to be concerned about in the first place.
- If this doesn’t work, then you need to enter into Categorisation Selling. This is simply a process of dividing the concerns and alternative options into small, bite-sized pieces and dealing with them one by one.
- It doesn’t matter if you don’t get positive feedback on all pieces – using this tried and trusted retail sales psychology, most prospects will see an overall benefit, and you’ll gain agreement.
21. Categorisation technique for sales
Categorisation is a technique that enables choices to be made more easily by setting out small steps that will lead your customer towards making the decisions you desire. To do this, you first need to place prospects who have concerns, questions or objections into one of two broad categories.
- Those who are not sufficiently motivated to take action or make the next step.
- Those who don’t fully understand what you are proposing.
Now you can see clearly what you need to do to encourage your prospect to make the right decision. For example, if they fall into category one you can set out a number of steps to help drive desire. If they’re in category two then you can set out a series of choices around a particular benefit or feature of your product or service.
Keep it simple
Above all the art of categorisation selling is to steer your customer towards more general choices before drilling down into detail, so when you formulate your series of steps keep it simple.
Always be aware that even the best of us can be drawn to a micro view and end up getting stuck, locked out or objected against because we have unwittingly been drawn into concentrating on minor differentials when we should be taking a more general view.
The power of choice
Done well categorisation is an extremely powerful tool to handle all but the most stubborn of objections. It’s a technique that’s based on retail psychology and relies on our ability to perceive differences between options and make choices.
These choices will result from the easy to understand options you’ll put in front of your customers to form a path along which you can guide them to make the right decision. However…
Beware of the pitfall
There is a potential pitfall to categorisation selling that you need to be aware of, and that is, if it’s not done correctly your customer may feel that you’ve been spoon-feeding them a little too much. In this instance it will be worth rebooting the situation, looking your customer in the eye and saying something like:
You: “Do you mind if I just break this down into what may seem obvious choices for you so that we can both see we’re on the same page here.” Then slowly lay out the path of obvious, simple, general choices that for some reason your customer hasn’t followed to reach the destination and result you desire.
Closing a sale
It goes without saying that you must always close the sale. But how do you know when to close? The Closing Circle is a technique you should employ when you’ve decided that you’ve done all the selling you could. When you reach this point, round up all the highlights of your conversation, and attempt to gain a positive response for each. When you’ve done this, you can ask for their business.
In this example, your contact is Joanne and you’re selling software:
YOU: So Joanne, we found your current system isn’t providing what you need?
YOU: You told me about the extra workload that’s being created by not taking care of this?
YOU: You don’t have any concerns about the product and service my company can provide?
YOU: And you’re happy to deal with me as your contact?
YOU: Then I’ll just need a couple of signatures here and here.
If you identify doubt at any point during this process, this technique will enable you to ask your contact exactly what the problem is, address it and Segway back into the close.
Sales techniques for teams & leads
Many of you will be running or working in a sales team, so here’s some key pieces advice specific to creating and taking part in a cohesive sales team that achieves fantastic results.
22. Help your sales team to sell
This is what the effective sales manager does, and it’s what you should do too. Attend appointments with your sales staff. Be available as a resource to help them close a deal via the power of higher authority. Get on the phone with them and show you’re willing to get stuck in. They’ll appreciate it, and your sales will rise.
23. Nurture your sales talent
Your job is to ensure your sales culture is positive, happy and productive. Do this through regular sales meetings where ideas are shared, training is provided, and successes are celebrated. Vitally, identify negativity. Not everyone shares your positivism, and you can’t afford to have negative people on your sales floor! Spot problems and address them. Sell the idea that negativity is counterproductive and show them that positive productivity is your sales mantra.
24. Set goals and rewards
It’s essential you set your troops – your sales force – an ultimate destination and let them know of the pleasures that await when they get there. For example: “Over the next six weeks we’re going to sell 50,000 copies of a new book that’s just been published. It’s called Sales Commando – Unleash Your Potential. The reason why is X, how it will be possible is Y, and the demographics are Z. And when we’ve achieved that, we’ll all go out to dinner on me.” It works. Trust me.
25. Don’t be a goalhanger
Last, but by no means least, don’t sit back and take the credit when things go well. Remember, victories belong to your sales team Failures belong to you. Understand that sales is the lifeblood of any business – and the heart is your sales team. Take out the heart, or at least restrict its flow, and your company dies.
26. Power breakfast
Proponents of the power breakfast have a good argument. For a start, people are at their sharpest, mentally, in the morning. That means they’re more likely to pay attention, more likely to be enthusiastic and consequently more open to starting a sales conversation.
Factor in what many food experts deem as the most important meal of the day, that they’re cheaper than lunches and there’s no alcohol involved – and the power breakfast seems to be a sale’s ‘win-win.’ In my opinion, breakfast meetings provide the perfect environment for networking. Early morning is a convivial time of the day, and the number of breakfast meetings clubs concurs with that. You’ll be meeting people at their best part of the day where you can forge new links and new business opportunities without going into an over-sell mode.
27. Power lunch
Until the advent of breakfast meetings, power lunches were the traditional workhorse of business meals and still, in many scenarios continue to be so.
Lunch is faster paced than breakfast. It doesn’t cut into personal time, and it certainly doesn’t raise the stressful issue of including a spouse or partner in the way breakfasts or after-work dinners do. Their timing is generally controlled by the working day and as a consequence last one or one and a half hours only. The power lunch offers an ideal opportunity to sign off a deal struck during the morning. Or at the very least, reward your sales endeavours and potential new client with a relaxing break from proceedings in a neutral and mutually pleasurable environment.
If you’re planning a power lunch first, choose a venue suitable for all. If your client is meeting you, make sure you book somewhere convenient and central. Within the venue you choose YOU MUST pick a table that’s in a private, quiet location. And away from the bar. Nothing worse than potential eavesdropping or rowdy interruption to kill the atmosphere.
And, if you’re continuing the sales conversation, make sure the table has enough elbow room plus room for paperwork, laptops and phones. In this situation, a wi-fi connection should also come as standard.
28. Breakfast networking technique
Okay, so you’re networking over eggs and coffee. You’ve researched the breakfast meeting you’ve decided to join and you’re face-to-face with prospective customers. Rule number one – don’t get carried away.
My biggest advice for when you’re networking is LEAVE YOUR BUSINESS CARD AT HOME. Seems rather counter-intuitive doesn’t it? After all, everyone else is trying to give everyone else a business card so why not join in?
Believe me, it’s far more effective, in sales terms, to take charge of the communications by obtaining your prospects’ details rather than giving them yours and hoping for the best. When you’ve got their details tell them you’ll be in touch – and make sure you do.
29. Don’t fold your arms
Whether networking over breakfast or signing that deal over lunch, one of the greatest strengths of a successful salesperson is the demeanour within which they conduct themselves.
Remember, chin up, don’t fold your arms, be open. Ask questions and get to know your client, or get to know them more. Shake hands positively, don’t lecture. Always listen.
If your making sales calls here are some further sales techniques to help…
30. The biggest secret of cold calling
First thing’s first. Don’t be afraid of the telephone. We’ve all been on the receiving end of bad telesales experiences. By following a few very straightforward rules the telephone sales experience, you give your prospects will be a positive and mutually rewarding experience.
If the thought of cold calling leaves you numb with anxiety and fear (and it can do to even the best salespeople) worry not. The biggest secret of cold calling success, whether on the telephone or face to face, is organisation and preparation. It’s not enough to know your product or service backwards, you need to know your target the same way as well.
And that all starts with research. Let’s call it “attention to detail”. Don’t ever lose sight of the fact that the effort you put in will be directly proportionate to the results you get out.
31. The morphing effect & adopting
When you’re collating your data (research), invest energy and time into segregating your contact list into definable demographics so that, for example, the construction industry, teachers, service sector, lollipop ladies – whatever – get their individual groups.
The reason for doing this is what I call “the morphing effect”. In principle, this means when you talk to specific groups of people you will naturally adopt selling techniques to suit that particular group. You may not even realise you are doing it but believe me you will be.
32. Train, rehearse and drill before a sales call
You’ve got your well-researched data. You’ve grouped your contacts. But it still isn’t time to start contacting. The final and arguably most important part of your preparation is to train, rehearse and drill yourself so that you are in perfect shape to make that call, knock on that door, meet and greet your potential new customer.
Be a master of your craft. Rehearse various ways of saying the same thing so you can appeal to different character types/market segments. It doesn’t matter if you’re new to the industry or a twenty-year veteran, you’ll still need to prepare and train.
The art of great selling is about research, preparation, rehearsal and delivery. While the sales process is no alchemy machine, these few basic principles will give you the confidence to engage with your potential customers and in turn, persuade your potential customers to engage with you. And that’s what cold calling is all about.
33. Close a sale on the telephone
Fully researched, fully rehearsed, you’re now ready to make that contact. And it will go – regardless of who that contact is – in three definable steps. Introduction and permission, question and short story and close.
Step one is when you tell them why you’re calling and gain permission to tell them more. Step two is when you tell them about your product or service (short story) and identify the features that will most likely fulfil your customer’s needs. Step three – you’ve got this far so make that sale!
34. Attitude and mind control
Successful telephone sales are like running a marathon – it’s all about the mindset. Approach the task in a lacklustre way, and you’ll have lacklustre results. Train, even physically, to be alert and to be on form.
Focus on success, professionalism and gaining the right results. It’s important to remember that rejection and the word ‘no’ are part of the sales professional’s life. Learn to embrace the word and feed off rejection to make you stronger.
35. Organising your sales data
Your first objective is to build a qualified list of contacts mined from reliable sources. Use the internet, of course, but also don’t be afraid of using the telephone. Your objective is to get the full name, position and direct dial number of the person you want to call. Pose as a customer, call the company and ask for the details.
When you have your data, take some time to organise your contacts into demographic groups. This helps you immeasurably when making numerous calls, enabling you to adapt selling techniques that suit each particular group.
36. The three Box Model & a script
However you verbalise your telephone presentation, the cold sales call will go through three main phases; Introduction And Permission, Question And Short Story and The Close. I call it the Three Box Model.
For each phase, create a basic script then rehearse it, over and over. Be prepared to answer any question, strive to listen more than talk and make everything as relevant, logical and easy to understand as possible for the prospect. Your basic script should go something like this:
The introduction and permission:
“Hi, Is that John?”
“Good, this is Doug from … we’re a … and the reason for the call is …”
The question and short story:
“Before I begin, can I ask you a few questions?” (have your questions pre-prepared)
“So when’s a good time to sit down with you? Morning or afternoon? I’m available Tuesday at 10 or would Wednesday at 2 be better?”
37. Words, tonality and sound
As professional persuaders, the words we use are our ammunition. Use positive words, strong open questions and robust statements. The other weapon we have is our vocal inflexion. Simply, if you’re talking about something the prospect should be excited about, sound excited, positive and happy.
38. Over to you
Get into the zone, be positive, have well-researched data, work from a pre-rehearsed script that you can adapt. Practice makes perfect – make sure you’re word perfect before you make the call. And always be upbeat, no matter how the call goes. Telephone selling isn’t easy. I hope these few basic tips will make your telesales experience far less stressful and a lot more rewarding. Good luck!