Getting the Edge in Professional Selling

Over the Christmas period, I was wandering around in one of the city’s many shopping malls browsing for gifts for the family. My daughter requested a watch and since I couldn’t get my friendly online shopping store to deliver before Christmas day, I was forced to troll around various jewelers and watch stores to find something suitable. A few stores I entered had modestly priced watches. Sales clerks were quick to pull the items out of display cases and describe the many features of the watch. Less so when I started looking at some premium brands. The watches were invariably presented on a black velvet tray and I was left to examine the item in hushed silence. The ever present sales clerk was only there to make sure I didn’t rush off with the watch without paying for it!

Pick up a glossy magazine today and you will see advertisements for Rolex, Ebel, Patek Philippe and other well-known, prestigious brands. What is interesting about these ads is that they rarely describe the features of the watch. Rather, they show a photograph of the timepiece and leave it to the client to appreciate its quality. Note also that these advertisements do not indicate the price. The very last thing that the manufacturers want to do is to draw attention to the premium cost of the item.

Advertisers know that a long list of features draws attention to price. When the product is expensive, it is rare to find features or, for that matter, any mention of the cost. However, if the product is a budget or low-value item, the price will be prominently displayed and a long list of features will invariably accompany the advertisement. I believe the rationale behind this advertising tactic is to persuade customers that many features and a low cost represent good value for money!

Salespeople often make the mistake of describing premium-priced products to clients in great detail. They enumerate every feature of the item. Yet, research shows that this has the same impact as other forms of advertising and marketing. Customers believe that features add significantly to the price of the product. The salesman faces an uphill struggle to persuade the customer to buy.

It is better to describe products to clients by demonstrating how specific features can be used by them or will help them. However, even this approach has its drawbacks. Clearly, if the customer needs the described feature, he will react positively. Conversely, when he sees no need for the feature, his likely reaction will be to raise objections.

Some years back, I was working with a car company in Japan. Their latest urban SUV offered a very impressive 4WD system with traction control for icy and snowy conditions. Discussing brochures for the product, I commented that this feature should not be mentioned in any product literature destined for Southeast Asia and would likely put customers off if they thought they would be paying for a feature they would never use!

Overcoming objections is difficult at the best of time. It makes little sense to let them occur because of an overzealous desire to describe every feature and advantage of the product whether or not the client needs them.

Effective salespeople don’t spend much time talking about their products. Their focus is on the client’s needs and requirements.

By asking questions, they encourage customers to express specific needs that their products can satisfy. It is not until the last few minutes of the sales call that they describe the items they are selling. They focus specifically on those features that the client has expressed a need for.

This is not a particularly difficult process as long as the salesman understands what he is trying to achieve. Simple questions such as, “What do you want to use the product for?” and, “Would it be useful for you to have…?” all help uncover specific needs. Statements that reinforce client needs such as, “You have told me you are looking for this feature. The item I am suggesting will fully meet this requirement.” Approaching the sale this way avoids offering features that the client doesn’t want. Objections will not occur as often and the salesperson will walk away with more business.


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.