Bad salespeople are a dime a dozen. Good salespeople know that the best success comes by using a structured approach. Many variations exist (mostly in terminology), but the basic structure is the same. What follows is how I describe it and teach it to my clients. But before I start, let me emphasize that unless a customer says “where do I sign?” taking shortcuts in this process will reduce your chances of securing a sale.
1. Prospecting. Commonly associated with the first phase in mining operations, the term prospecting comes from a Latin word meaning “to actively look.” And, to be successful in sales one must actively seek people with a need for whatever product or service you’re selling. This requires initiative, good time management, and an ability to handle rejection. You also need to be looking in the right places or you’ll waste a lot of time spinning your wheels.
2. Assessing. Once you find someone who could benefit from your product or service you need to learn about his or her situation. Sometimes called “qualifying,” this step requires genuine listening on your part as you work to truly understand your prospect’s needs. This includes asking good exploratory questions as well as good clarifying questions. I can’t emphasize enough the need to spend a lot of time on this step. Shortchange your time here and you’ll be shortchanging your pocketbook.
3. Presenting. This is what most people think of when we talk about sales – giving a demonstration of how your product or service meets the needs of your customer. It comes after the Assessing phase because until you actually understand your customer’s situation, you won’t know how to tailor your presentation to show how your product or service meets your customer’s needs.
Flexibility and adaptability are key in this step. Your product may have 50 features and benefits that you’ve memorized, but if the customer brought up only six or seven that are areas of concern and you still cover all 50 points in your demonstration, you can easily overwhelm your customer. You don’t need to cover everything. Highlight the key points that are of concern to your customer and maybe a few more.
4. Handling objections. Do not be afraid of objections, for they are a normal part of any sales process. When a customer presents an objection it is merely because he or she has a question that you haven’t addressed yet. That said, the easiest way to prevent objections is to spend more time asking questions in the Assessing step. The more time you spend there the easier it is to tailor your presentation so that objections are not raised.
One process that works for many types of objections follows the acronym CIC, which stands for Cushion, Isolate, and Commitments. Cushion means to provide a little time and some emotional space. People don’t mind buying something they need, but they dislike being sold, especially with high-pressure. A little time and emotional space helps a customer feel safer (i.e., not pressured). Second, isolate an objection by asking clarifying questions so that you understand it very clearly.
Then, after you’ve isolated the objection, explore your customer’s commitment to the purchase. In a very general way, it might sound like “if I can address this concern to your satisfaction, is this the product / service you want to buy?” Your wording on that will change depending on your situation and industry, but you get the idea. In one way or another you need to ask for commitment.
5. Closing. If you’ve done a good job up to this point, then closing should be merely a formality. In other words, if you spent a lot of time discovering your client’s needs and then showing how your product or service meets those needs, then a simple question such as “when do you want us to do this for you?” will close the sale. However, feel free to float trial close questions along the way, such as “how many would you need?” or “would you prefer these in green or in red?”
The important thing is to not give up too soon. Studies have shown that customers will say “no” six or seven times before they finally say “yes.”
6. Following up. Too many salespeople believe that once the customer signs the papers, the sale is done. In truth, a long-term relationship can result in multiple purchases plus multiple referrals.
Therefore, make sure your customer gets his or her order delivered correctly and on time, and take initiative to help fix any problems that might come up – don’t just pass them off to someone else in your organization. It’s much easier to keep a current client than it is to get a new one, and referrals are a gold mine all by themselves … but that’s a topic for another column.
Dan Bobinski is a management trainer, best-selling author and director at the Center for Workplace Excellence. He makes his home in Boise. Reach him at (208) 375-7606 or firstname.lastname@example.org.