Getting The Edge In Professional Selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

I’M RIGHT IN the middle of ordering additional company brochures, completing layouts from new flyers and pamphlets, and printing marketing material for an upcoming exhibition. Over the years, I have seen costs associated with design, layout, printing and distribution skyrocket. Sure, these materials are considerably better quality. However, consider for a moment that our main brochure (all 32 pages of it) costs around P300 a copy and one might see why these are held for our more important customers or for clients who need specific information about our products. Our single page flyers cost a few centavos; I’m more than happy to hand these out to anyone with even a passing interest.

I’m always slightly amused at our annual construction exhibition held late in the year. I watch with amazement as visitors collect brochure after brochure from companies they will never do business with. On exit, the rubbish bins are overflowing with discarded brochures; but at least the visitor got the free shopping bag!

It is next to impossible to quantify the real costs of marketing materials. Or indeed, the value or contribution they make to sales. What I can say with a high degree of certainty is that they are relatively cheap when compared to the cost of maintaining a salesperson. Even the most flashy of brochures is not going to cost much more than a couple of hundred pesos and this figure pales into insignificance when one considers the cost of sending a salesperson out to meet with a client. I’ve had clients tell me they have quantified the cost of sales calls at P1,500 to P2,500 per visit so it shouldn’t be difficult to appreciate that sending out product literature is a far cheaper alternative.

It would be if it worked! Few clients take time to read printed material unless they have pre-identified needs. For example, a salesperson might pass by my office and drop off an armful of brochures detailing a range of photocopying machines. I might casually scan the brochures but it is unlikely I will be prepared to devote any amount of time to reading them thoroughly and reviewing the product specs unless I have already determined the need to replace my aging photocopier. If I haven’t thought about the need to replace, neither the salesperson’s pitch nor the brochures are going to “create a need.”

The main reason a salesperson meets with a client is to effectively communicate and persuade. This means entering into a dialogue. If all the salesperson is doing is talking about his product, this can hardly be described as a dialogue! The professional salesperson recognizes that the easiest way to proceed is to ask questions (and of course, listening to the answers provided). By doing so, he maintains control of the selling process and can gather information necessary to select and offer appropriate products and models to the customer.

Even the most inexperienced of salespersons know that there is certain key information that must be collected in order to find out more about customers. Each industry is different and each salesperson will have his own way of gathering information. The Internet provides a host of information. Junior employees called on the telephone can also reveal helpful information. However, to identify company needs, face to face conversation with the client is necessary. At the most basic level, holding a conversation with the client in order to find out what they have at the moment and what they would like to buy is the best way to sell products which will address these needs.

Sensible questions involve the client in the sales interaction, create a dialogue and provide information that help the salesperson offer the most appropriate product to the client. Consider this. The salesperson who fails to ask questions will have to describe every product in his range hoping that one of them may interest the client. This is going to take time and since it costs money to seat a salesperson in front of a client, time should be used productively to identify needs and offer the right products or service. If the salesperson approaches the customer as a “talking brochure” he is not justifying the high cost of selling and his company may as well spend the money on printing charges!

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.