Even before the tragedy of September 11, the United States economy was beginning to take a nosedive. Clearly, since the attacks, customers have been revisiting everything from budgets to personnel to company parties and benefits. The times we are living in are new to us but should not be especially new to experienced sales professionals.
I believe in the 80/20 rule. My clients tell me that 20% of their sales professionals are getting 80% of the business. And when I survey salespeople, they are concerned that they are not getting their share of business. They want more and are perplexed about what separates the good salesperson from the high achiever.
We all strive to be the best. Sales managers clearly want the best, and CEOs clamor for it. So what, then, is the correct formula for bringing in more business?
In 18 years of sales experience and training, I have narrowed it down to something I call "7 Habits of Highly Effective Sales Professionals."
1. Customer Knowledge
One of the many pet peeves that sales managers have is a sales professional who lacks understanding of his or her client. In today's very fast-paced and competitive world, sales professionals must understand who their clients are.
Recently, I watched a review of a sales professional's performance for the past year. When the sales manager queried the person about specific account information, the salesperson became flustered. Unfortunately, other than the fact that the client was a multinational pharmaceutical company, the salesperson knew little else.
Customers request that you understand their businesses. Clients are looking for solutions to business issues, and they are looking to you as the salesperson and account person to have the answers. Without understanding clients, how can you understand how you might help them?
You are probably asking yourself, "What do I need to do in order to understand the client?" First, you must get a copy of the annual report. Read the information to determine what types of products the client is developing. Understand the competitive landscape and how your product or service can thwart competition. Learn about the competitors for new business opportunities.
When you obtain the report, read the president's message, the financial information, and about the lines of business. Try to understand where your products fit beneath the organization's umbrella. Finally, look at the firm's website and review it for updates to the annual report. Look for business-climate changes, and look for the anomalies in business so that your product or service can resolve these issues.
Second, read the newspapers and press releases for the most current customer information. Determine from your reading how your service or product can assist your customer during good times and bad.
Third, it is imperative to use the most widely accessible resource at your fingertips: the Internet. There are voluminous resources available, such as factiva.com, interactive.wsj.com, and nytimes.com. And numerous portals, such as Excite and Yahoo, are constantly providing real-time business content. Review any of these sites to gain quick and up-to-the-moment access that relates to your customers.
The salesperson who does his or her homework and studies the customer and the changing landscape will learn how to quickly adapt to market conditions by finding solutions to customer issues. By becoming one with the customer and understanding his or her respective business, you become a reliable business partner for today, tomorrow, and well into the foreseeable future.
2. Questioning Aptitude
You get home in the evening, you are ready to sit down to a hot, cozy, and comfortable dinner, and the telephone rings. Don't you hate that? Feeling obliged, you pick up the telephone only to hear a salesperson hawking a product or service. He talks and talks and talks. He reads from a script and does not ask one question. He does not qualify the opportunity. Moreover, he speaks so much that you quickly become disturbed and terminate the call.
The best sales professionals learn to engage their audiences. The first task of the sales professional during an appointment—whether direct, telephone, or cold—must be to question the customer. Questions are a sales rule. Questions assist in uncovering useful information such as buyer behavior, decision criteria, budgets, time frame, competition, etc. These issues typically are not presented by the customer, so it is imperative for a sales professional to ask them.
Most important, questions asked by sales professionals must be open-ended. A question such as "Do you have a budget for this project?" will give you a "yes" or "no" response. I mentioned that the purpose of questioning is to engage the customer in conversation. An effective sales professional will ask the customer an open-ended question such as "If you had a budget for this product, what might it look like and when might you decide to make a purchase?"
The revision entitles the client to think through the possibility of using the product and requesting purchase money. When asked the revised question, the client provides more information and sets the stage for the effective sales professional to ask more qualifying questions and, perhaps, uncover any and all sales objections.
Finally, the salesperson is able to discover more about the next habit: uncovering the wants and needs of the buyer.
3. Interpretation of Consumer Wants and Needs
There are several paths and processes to follow during a sales presentation; however, the most important one addresses buyers' wants and needs. In order to sell anything to anyone, an effective sales professional must question the customer to understand why he or she wants or why he or she might need the product.
Many of my clients tell me that they have exuberant sales forces, yet they are not effective in closing business. With analysis, we discover that representatives are excited, but they are so busy telling about their products that they fail to ask questions. This communication breakdown takes the focus off not only the customer but also the customer's wants and needs. Without uncovering need, what can you possibly sell?
The solution here is to ask so many open-ended questions that your presentations become conversational. This will take some time, but once you master the art of solid questioning, you can then formulate questions that hone in on wants and needs. When you do this, you will notice your sales increase.
One final word on wants and needs: customers will also purchase from you for personal and/or professional reasons. Remember to ask yourself, "What is in it for the customer? Is he or she looking for job recognition, cost-effectiveness, or, perhaps, personal happiness with my product?" As you progress with your line of questions, try to uncover what I call the "Truth of Purchase."
4. Ability to Establish Client Rapport
Without question, building a relationship with your customer is vital. People want to have relationships with people. They won't buy large quantities of product from the Internet because they want to trust a live human being.
If you have good relationships with clients, you will be able to sell to them five, 10, and 15 years down the road. Think of a client relationship as a lifetime investment. This portion of the process fits in with my earlier thoughts about becoming a consultant, not just a sales professional.
5. Uncanny Ability to Ride the Sales Roller Coaster
Selling is a volatile process. One day is favorable, the next sullen, the next euphoric, and so on. Each day brings a new experience and new challenges and a new adventure. In order to be an effective sales professional, one must be flexible and adaptable to change. Each opportunity, call, or presentation brings a new question or, perhaps, education.
For years, I have told my clients to become chameleons and adjust to the changing topology. You must do this because the instant you become frustrated, the customers see it. Think of the customer as a mirror—he or she will mimic your behavior. If you are happy, your customers will be happy; if you are sad, they will be, too.
Since my first days on the job, I have carried a small pocket mirror to every sales appointment. I look in the mirror prior to my call to ensure that I appear either happy or neutral. I look at my facial expressions and, if possible, posture.
By instilling a positive attitude and a neutral posture, I enable customers to feel at ease and do not allow them to understand some of my personal and professional trials and tribulations. I focus on them, their wants and needs, and their contentment with my product and personal service.
6. Understands the Know's Principle
Consider the customer; the prospect; the product; the topic you are going to speak about when you meet with the prospect or client; the competitors, the marketplace, and the issues that surround them; the questions you want to ask; the possible objections; the closing technique; the hot-button factors which allow the client to say yes to you; and, finally, your own limitations. You must know what you can and cannot commit to. Never lie, never cheat, and never, ever over-commit. In order to succeed, you must KNOW how far you can go based on how much you KNOW about your product and customer. If you never KNOW, the only sound you will ever hear is NO!
7. Honest and Enthusiastic
Love what you do, love the product you are selling, and love the people you sell with. If you don't, then get out. If you don't like what you sell, prospects will see right through you and think, "Why should I buy from someone who is not passionate about what they say or do?" Your energy and enthusiasm come through on each and every call; if you are dispassionate, you will not ask the right questions, you will not read the buying signs, you will not hear objections, and you will not make any money.
What You Can Do Today to Improve!
Commit to your boss, to your job, and to being the best you can be. Identify with your clients, determine their wants and needs, and then develop plans to help them. If you do this, your clients will trust you now and forever!
Also, commit to everlasting improvement for yourself. Set bigger and better goals, think of new ways to deliver better customer service, and determine how to augment daily challenges.
About the Author:
Drew Stevens is an international speaker, author, organizational development consultant, and facilitator. He is a six-time author and has written two books on sales and sales management. His latest book entitled Split Second Selling is due in June 2006. Drew works with organizations that seek to further profitability and productivity.