Getting the edge in professional selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

AS THE VALUE of a purchase increases, customers become increasingly concerned about wasting money, buying the wrong thing or committing to something that may have far-reaching, and possibly negative consequences on their businesses. At some point between first meeting with a salesperson and issuing a purchase order, the customer must think, “I trust this guy; I can do business with him.” He must believe what the salesperson is saying about his products or services and must be certain that the product is being sold, not for the benefit of the salesperson but to advantage himself and his company.

Clients invariably have some reservations about salespeople especially during their first meeting. The salesperson is there to sell a product or service; he will only tell the truth when it suits him. He is will not disclose information if he believes this might deter the client from buying. He will probably exaggerate claims about his products and possibly be evasive about the true cost. The pity is, this stereotype exists because there are salespersons who make a practice of behaving this way.

One of the basic tenets in selling is: “It is the role of the salesperson to assist the client make an informed and sensible decision in favor of the products sold by the salesperson.” Salespeople who engage their customers by showing empathy, actively listening, asking appropriate questions, providing insightful information and, finally, being totally responsive to the needs and requirements of their customers are invariably effective. Not only are they able to align the client’s needs with their own products, but they do so in a manner that makes the client trustful and comfortable. And this, of course, means it is easier to sell to the same client again at a later date.

Clients who ask questions, far from being difficult or awkward, are showing interest in the sales process. However, this can be a double-edged sword. At times it is difficult to respond to a customer simply because insufficient information has been given. A good example of this is a client who asks for a price early in the selling process. The reasons for not providing this information may be simply that the salesperson is unsure of exactly what the client wants. To give a price at this point in the sale would be tantamount to offering a solution without a clear idea of the customer’s needs. Alternatively, it may be that the salesperson is in a position to offer this information (knowing exactly what the customer wants) but doesn’t want to reveal it because he or she has not had the opportunity to upsell all of the features that add value to the purchase.

Engagement with the customer is essential; they will be spending money and it is appropriate that they should be involved in the selling/buying process. Over the years, I have taught many salespeople how to sell. Sure, I have a list of question types. I can show the salesperson when to offer solutions and what to do when the client objects, etc. In all honestly, the simplest way for a salesperson to approach a sale is to engage the customer in conversation. Remember of course that a conversation is a two-way communication and should not only involve the salesperson making a lot of statements. Rather he should be asking questions which will direct the client to disclose important, valuable and useful information. All of this will lead to the salesperson proposing the most appropriate solution.

If a customer feels a product is being rammed down his throat, he is likely to be turned off and resist the salesperson. Get the customer engaged and talking freely about their situation, what they really want to achieve, how much they want to spend, and you will have a client who is more than willing to disclose the very information necessary for the sale to be closed.

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.