Tactics constantly come and go in sales without making a significant impact on outcomes. On the other hand, solid strategies can make a significant difference in what happens. Here are 10 sales strategies that can have a positive influence on performance in 2015.
1. Define yourself clearly. Most people let others decide who they are, define their capabilities, and what they can accomplish. This happens without even knowing it. More often than not, the results are far from accurate. Worse yet, such “labels” stick, unless we work to change them by having a clear picture of how we want to be perceived and actively reinforce it. If being seen as thoughtful, helpful, hard working, cooperative, motivated and reliable is your preference, then the task is focusing on strengthening those qualities.
2. Be ready with answers to questions. Experienced salespeople have thoughtful and carefully crafted answers when customers ask questions. That’s good as far as it goes, but what about the questions that customers think about after a meeting? When they’re left unanswered, they can challenge credibility and raise doubts. This is why Frequently Asked Questions can help avoid problems. Make a list of those that come up time-and-again, along with your answers. Ask customer service people to help. Then, email your FAQs to a customer or prospect after a meeting. Also add a link to your FAQs to your email signature. It’s a good way to show you know what customers are thinking.
3. Rethink responsiveness. While responsiveness is a top business value, it’s usually related to “putting out fires.” Problems get immediate action. What about the other 99% of the time? Specifically, voice mail messages, emails, agreed-to deadlines — the list might be long. Failing to manage the details sends a powerful message; so does handling them.
4. Use the power of pause. Salespeople often talk their way out of sales. It doesn’t take talent, just an endless stream of words that confuse, frustrate, and antagonize customers, who can’t get a word in edgewise. Salespeople often act as if a lull in their sales spiel is so dangerous that it must be avoided at all cost. There’s a better way. Taking time to pause lets customers absorb what is being said, and suggests the person speaking is thinking about their choice of words. Pauses also encourage listening; it’s as if customers are waiting for what’s coming next.
5. Manage prospects effectively. The mismanagement of prospects creates the weakest link in the sales chain. Prospects are dropped too soon or disappear due to a lack of regular follow up. Like customers, prospects deserve good management: some change their minds, others aren’t ready to buy, and a number simply need encouragement. One salesperson gets referrals from a prospect that didn’t buy because of a health problem, but who felt the consistent follow up sent the right message.
6. Put the emphasis where it belongs. Because selling is a tough profession, salespeople like to let everyone know that “nothing happens until someone sells something.” This phrase is quoted so often, it’s assumed to be true. It’s never challenged, even though it’s nonsense. In fact, just the opposite is true: Nothing happens until someone buys something. This stands selling on its head and changes the way to think about marketing and sales. It moves the emphasis from the salesperson to the customer — where it belongs.
7. Getting customers to say “yes” isn’t the goal. Even though reality has changed, the persuasion mindset remains embedded in marketing and sales: “If I can get an appointment, I’ll come away with an order,” or, “If we can get through to consumers with our message, that’s all it will take.” Even though the mindset persists, it’s dead. Marketing and sales are at a different place; they’re about engaging customers by involving them in the process and making sure they have a place at the table. Communication is not just helpful. What customers are thinking and saying dwarfs everything else.
8. Aim for the right fit. No salesperson can serve every customer. No one can always have the correct product or service, and no salesperson can possess the personality or temperament that are the right match for every customer. Too many in sales waste time trying to prove these wrong. It never works.
9. Get people talking about you.Salespeople say referrals are the best business. Yet, for most, referrals are few-and-far-between, the wish that’s rarely fulfilled. Worse yet, there are customers and others who pass them out as if they’re giving candy to kids — and they have no value. Getting legitimate referrals means being a continuing presence in the minds of customers, prospects or anyone else. It’s easy to do by finding ways to be of help. When this occurs, the common response is to reciprocate. In other words, making referrals is a way for customers, prospects and others we know to say, “Thank you.” It isn’t how well known salespeople are that makes the difference; it’s how much help they give that counts.
10. Think like a customer. It’s not only difficult for salespeople to think like their customers, many make a point of avoiding it. They don’t want to be distracted from staying focused on getting the order. Even so, salespeople should appreciate what making a purchase means to customers. For consumers, neither what they buy nor the cost is the issue. What’s important for salespeople is recognizing that making a purchase is a personal investment that they take seriously. It’s as if a customer says, “Hey, salesperson: This is my money and I want to feel that you recognize what I’m doing. It’s my skin that’s in the game.” Whether it’s a friendly smile from a barista at Starbucks handing someone a favorite latte or a life insurance salesperson saying to a client, “I know what doing this means to you,” the message is the same: both are making it clear that they recognize the importance of thinking like a customer.
John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales consultant and business writer with a strong background in the insurance and financial services markets. He publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales.” Contact him at [email protected], 617-774-9759, orjohnrgraham.com.