Getting The Edge In Professional Selling

THERE are no shortcuts to effective selling. Practice, experience and training all help the professional improve his ability to close sales against strong competition or unconvinced buyers. The very best salespeople are those who spend time listening to their clients. They ask questions with the sole purpose of getting the customer to express opinions, problems and needs.

If I had to give a single piece of advice, it would be to stop trying so hard to make a sale. Logically, a customer will not spend money on anything unless he has convinced himself that it is needed. The task of a salesperson is to ask questions to help the client determine what his needs are.

I would agree that providing salient details about a product is important once the client has determined the need to buy. But to do so before the client knows that he needs the products is probably a mistake. A customer who is clear in his own mind that he needs the product will be more receptive to a sales pitch detailing how useful the product is. If he is not convinced that a purchase is a good idea, he will read the salesperson’s effort as a pushy attempt to get him to buy something he doesn’t need.

A salesperson’s role should be to assist the customer identify current problems, difficulties, dissatisfactions or concerns and then to help him determine how he wants to address these issues. Shortcutting this process almost always results in an uncommitted buyer. Perhaps this is why so many salespeople slip up.

One of my brother’s less “pleasant” girlfriends had an annoying habit of interrupting any conversation with strong statements like, “You have to see that movie; it is absolutely brilliant,” or, “That book you are reading is rubbish; you really must read these books by my favorite author.” Tell me anyone who would not be annoyed or irritated by such comments! But doesn’t this have a faint ring of a salesperson who sits in front of his client and tells him what to buy!

The best piece of advice I can offer salesmen is to restrain themselves from offering solutions until the end of the sales call. They should wait for the customer to express a clear need before explaining how their range of products might meet these needs. Professional salespeople who use this approach enjoy considerably more success in selling than those who push-sell.

Years ago, itinerant salespeople could often be found hawking everything from kitchen aids and cleaning products to encyclopedias and expensive appliances. Many of these salespeople felt forced (because remuneration was commission based) to push-sell their products to every prospect, irrespective of whether they needed them or indeed, could afford them. Consulting for one company with such a sale team; I learned that they had a monthly turnover of about one third of their salespeople and this was almost certainly a result of the lack of success these individuals enjoyed.

Nowadays of course, sales of this nature are often made by “infomercials” with highly engaging and informative demonstrations. I would certainly not suggest that this type of selling will replace the role of professionals any time soon but it does demonstrate one important facet of selling. The “pushiness” of the salesperson has little or no impact since the customer is free to determine whether the product is something they want to buy.

Salespeople selling high value, complex solutions to their clients will always enjoy more success if they take time to listen to customers’ requirements and try to match their products against these needs.

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

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