Getting the edge in professional selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

Most salespeople like to think of themselves gregarious and outgoing by nature. They display a high degree of personal confidence and generally find it easy to talk to complete strangers, quickly establishing rapport. Yet reliance on rapport building as a means to selling is not an effective strategy. Today’s business decisions are based on a very solid grounding of common sense and meeting specific business objectives. Return on investment, value for money and advantages accruing as a result of buying capital equipment or availing of services are all carefully considered before a final agreement is reached and the vendor advised of a successful sale. 

Because a salesperson happens to be a personable individual who can talk at length about topics of common interest (basketball, politics, hobbies, mutual friends and associates, etc.) doesn’t mean he will win the business. At the end of the day, the decision to buy from him will only be made if he has demonstrated that he has the best solution to meet the customer’s needs.

Yet it is certainly true that establishing rapport is important here in the Philippines. It seems that everyone wants a very personal relationship before they are willing to transact business. Nonetheless, this shouldn’t be done to the exclusion of effective selling skills. While I agree that time should be set aside in every sales call to get to know the client (and give him the chance to get to know you) time is becoming an important issue for many clients. The days when a couple of leisurely hours could be spent over a cup of coffee are long gone. Increasing demands to achieve more with less staff in less time make time a premium commodity. 

I helped to conduct a survey for one of my clients where we tracked the amount of time that each salesman spent with his clients. We found that some members of the sales team were spending three to four times as many hours in sales meetings as others. There was a direct correlation between the time clients devoted to sales meetings and their position in the organization. Supervisors and rank-and-file would regularly sit in meetings of two to three hours. Managers and senior executives restricted sales calls to less than 30 minutes. What is telling about this survey is that despite all the additional time spent with the more junior personnel, the salespeople who had limited time in front of senior personnel enjoyed considerably more success.

The only reason for a salesperson to meet with a client (in a sales meeting) is to establish problems and needs and sell an appropriate solution. I agree that it is a good idea to get to know the client before getting down to the nitty-gritty of business but the truth is, rapport can be built during the sales process.

Asking appropriately worded questions and encouraging your client to identify the difficulties he is currently having and express interest in improving the situation will go a long way to help create rapport. A good place to start is to ask for general information that will provide a clear picture of the company or individual. What sort of equipment are they using? How big is the work force? Do they already have the product or service offered? Professional salespeople know these questions are easily asked and answered. 

Clients buy because they have needs. Problems with existing equipment or a lack of a particular service will often be the root cause of needs. Thus, the customer should be asked about problems, difficulties, dissatisfactions and concerns. Commonly referred to as “probing,” the salesperson will help his client define his current situation and express what he would like to see happen in the future. 

Needs can be defined as “problems the customer wants to address.” Creating a desire to solve problems is the key. Asking questions that make the client focus on the positive outcomes of solving problems can do this. When customers think about problems, they are less receptive to solutions. Get them to consider how much better things will be once the problem has been addressed and they will be more ready to listen to a sales pitch for an appropriate product or service.

Salespeople are often tempted to discuss their products much too early in the selling process. By waiting for the client to express his needs first, the salesperson will find it easier to offer the right solution. Although tempting to state the best features of his products, a salesperson should remember that clients are only interested in meeting needs. Product descriptions should be specific to the client’s requirements. 

Most client objections occur simply because customers don’t want or need what is offered or because they cannot see any value in the proposed solution. If the client has already expressed needs, he is not likely to object to an appropriate solution.

Finally, closing the call demands that the salesperson asks for an appropriate commitment from the client. It may be to place an order; it may be for another meeting. As long as the selling process is moving forward, the salesperson can feel that he has accomplished something in the call. 

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.