Getting The Edge In Professional Selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

I AM FREQUENTLY asked about the cultural aspects of selling. Is there anything different about selling in the Philippines compared to say, Hong Kong, Australia, the USA or the UK? Essentially, no. The basic skills required to close a complex sales interaction are the same no matter where you are. Having said this, local culture has an impact on the way buyers and sellers interact with each other during a sales meeting.

Westerners often find it difficult to do business here in the Philippines. Cultural expectations and behaviors are different. The reluctance of Filipinos to actually say “no” is one example that affects the way people sell. When a Filipino is selling to a foreigner, they are often surprised to hear the client bluntly tell them that they are wasting their time and really don’t want the proffered product. When the foreigner sells to the Filipino, he may be similarly exasperated by his customer feigning polite interest when he really means “no.”

Saying “no” outright appears to be something that touches the Filipinos sensibilities. Rather than candidly telling the salesperson that they don’t want what is being offered, they are more likely to make polite statements that can be construed (perhaps I should say misconstrued) as interest on the part of the buyer. All too often, this translates into many wasted hours following up on sales calls. In reality, the customer has no intention of buying. No matter that it is nicer to be told that the customer is interested in what you have to sell, establishing what the customer really means is one of the key aspects of selling.

At the end of every sales call, the salesperson should be clear about what needs to happen next to move the sale closer to the point where the customer will make a firm commitment to buy. He should suggest appropriate steps to progress the sale. What do I mean when I suggest that next steps should be mapped out? Let’s say that you see a client to sell computer systems. The client has listened to your sales pitch over the space of an hour or so and at the end of the call tells you, “Very interesting. I would like to look at some brochures and think about it.” Taking this statement at face value would be a mistake since there is every chance the client is not interested. (Professional salespeople understand that such a statement implies a polite let down).

The salesperson might ask, not for the sale, but for a further meeting within one or two weeks to find out more about user requirements. Perhaps he might ask if his own technical department can come in to run some tests and analyze the system. Perhaps putting together a cost estimate for budgetary purposes might be appropriate next step. If the client is truly interested in the product, he will see these steps as a necessary and logical precursor to making a decision and may well agree to proceed this way. On the other hand, if he has made his mind up that he doesn’t want the product, he will consider further meetings between you and his staff as a time-wasting exercise. Although he may (out of politeness) not actually give this response in as many words, his reluctance to agree to a logical next step will speak volumes about his intentions.

Consider however, that the client may be interested but is delaying a commitment for other reasons. By walking away from the sale, perhaps one is walking away from what could be a very lucrative piece of business. I’m a great believer in getting answers; I would have no hesitation is asking, “I sense some degree of hesitation in moving forward with this sale. Is there anything we have discussed this morning that might indicate this is not worthy of further consideration?” This will at least elicit a response that will give some idea as to the client’s level of interest.

Nonetheless, I would also suggest that a client who is unwilling to move forward and provides no reason for this probably has little interest in making a purchase. Given a choice between revisiting a reluctant, non-committal client or seeing a new prospect, I believe time would be better spent finding out a new prospect’s needs.

I am not suggesting that you should completely abandon a client who is unwilling to make firm commitments to move the sale. On the contrary, these clients should be contacted on a regular basis to see if their needs have changed. As soon as they do, productive time can be spent visiting them to close the business that you are looking for. To waste time, however, on the clients who don’t want to say “no” means a less productive selling day for you.

The type of commitment you should be looking for at the end of each call is a logical step towards the point when the client makes the final decision to buy. Experience will determine whether this step is getting agreement to submit a proposal, reviewing data or holding a further meeting with the same or other persons within the company. Ensuring this outcome is achieved gives the professional something worthwhile to strive for in each client call he makes.

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.