A to Z of Direct Selling

Direct Sales, Direct Selling

Selling is at the heart of business, even if you’re not in ‘Sales’.

Think about the following scenarios:

  •        You’re trying to convince your manager to develop a new product, but can’t get him or her to take things further
  •        You’d like to introduce a new system into your team but can’t get people’s support
  •        You’re trying to convince a new person to join your organisation
  •        You need to get a business case written and signed-off but need help from a number of people as well as sign-off by your boss

Are all of these not selling something?

Whether you’re in a traditional sales role or not, it’s good to know some sales techniques. Knowing how to sell is a great ability to have, and it’s one that’s sure to be respected strongly within your organisation. And if you’re not in a ‘selling’ role, having some knowledge of the challenges faced in sales, may help you to build stronger relationships with people who are! Whilst this post will focus on selling in the field, many of these methods can be used to ‘sell’ internally within your organisation too.

A – Ask the Right Questions

Throughout a sales relationship with a customer and even before engaging with a prospective customer you need to ask yourself and the customer the right questions.

Too many people assume that they fully understand their prospects’ problems. You need to ask questions at the right time about the right things in order to get the information you need to make the sale, or else you might lose credibility and lose the sale forever.

B – Benefit Selling

Having spent my career in technology companies, I know from personal experience that technologists, including technology sales and marketing people, love to talk about features and the latest advancement in a particular product area. That’s great if your customer loves technology and knows what all the features can do for them, but very often you’re not selling to these kind of customers.

What tangible benefits does your product or service bring to the customer and her business? Will it make them more productive, and if so, how? Will it save them money over their current product or service, and if so, how much? Will it give them a competitive advantage over their competitors, and if so, why? Will your product or service de-risk their business in some way or help them sell more, make more, or use less? If so, why and by how much? The more specific and tailored you can be in your answers to these questions with the customer, the better chance you have of getting a sale.

C – Closing the Sale

Closing the sale is obviously one of the most important parts of selling. Without going into every technique on how to close, I would say that you should think about the following:

You do need to ask for the sale! I’m amazed at the number of sales people I’ve interviewed that haven’t asked me for the job – the sale. They didn’t get a second interview.

Always have your closing materials with you – not having the relevant ‘paperwork’ ready does two things; it tells the customer you’re not prepared and it gives them an opportunity to change her mind.

Be prepared to counter objections with reasoned and tailored responses

If you’ve ‘opened’ the sale well, spent a lot of time, energy and mental agility on learning the precise nature of the customer’s needs and their ability to pay for it, and if you’ve crafted a proposal that matched those precisely, then the close will be much easier.

D – Demonstrations

When done well, demonstrations of your product and service to customers can be extremely effective in moving them to a different stage of the sales cycle and ultimately a sale. Demonstrations act as an explanation of what your product is or does, proof that it works and is effective and relevant to your customer and can motivate them to want it after seeing it in action or using it. They can take many forms depending on what you’re actually selling.

Examples might be:

A case study or white paper on the use of your product or service

A face to face, online or video demonstration of your product in action

Try before you buy experiences – in the home, at a supermarket or a car showroom

A simulator or virtual walk-through

Two top tips:

  1. Test everything at least twice on your demonstration before you’re in front of the customer
  2. Have a back-up plan in case it doesn’t work!

E – Expert Advice

Customers want to feel that they’re buying from someone who knows what they’re talking about or at least that you can bring in the right subject matter experts if the solution you’re selling is a complex one.

F – Forecasting

A key part of a sales person’s role is the ability to forecast their sales regularly so that the business supporting them can plan in advance for:

Stock / resource availability

Gearing up production – placing demand on suppliers/production to ensure supply

Allows marketing to ramp up or down marketing activity, or shift their messaging

Gives management a view on whether budgeted growth is being met and whether further remedial action will be required to meet any under / over-performance

G – Getting Your Foot in the Door

You can’t make a sale until you at least get ‘your foot in the door’. How do you get noticed in a positive way by a potential customer so that you don’t get your metaphorical or actual foot crushed by the door closing firmly on it?

Knocking down doors is a hard business, especially in a difficult marketplace.  If your company’s marketing department isn’t driving leads for you then you have to do it yourself. Here’s some tips:

Who are your target customers and why?

Research the customers you’re targeting – Who are the decision makers? Have they been in the business news? How are they doing financially? Have they had any recent successes?

Build and use your business network to drive introductions to the right decision makers.

Have a strategy as to what will grab the interest of these customers and tailor your approach accordingly.

Don’t give up. Even if you get knock-backs, be persistent, be professional and focussed.

H – Help the Customer

Often-times the customer doesn’t actually know what the best product or service is to suit their needs. They know they have a problem that needs a solution and maybe an understanding of the direction they need to take, but not a thorough worked through list of detailed requirements, especially for a complex problem or solution. Through a process of listening, asking the right questions and collective knowledge you can point the customer in the right direction.

I – Investigate Thoroughly

Whether it’s prior to engaging a new customer or during the sales cycle, it’s important to know as much as you can about a sale, a prospective customer, an existing customer, your competitors and innovations in your marketplace. Being armed with all of this information will put you on the front in conversations both with your customers and internally when you need to fight for resource or help.

J – Juggling Balls

Sales professionals, especially successful ones, need to be extremely organised and have the ability to juggle a number of balls at any one time. They need to be managing their pipeline of sales (more on that later), writing proposals, building target lists of prospects, re-signing existing customers, and often dealing with customer queries and pricing requests. They also need to be on top of their marketplace, maintain their knowledge on new products and services as well as keeping an eye on the competition.

K – Knowledgeable

Great sales people are sponges for knowledge. Constantly looking for opportunities, they keep an eye on their market, the latest trends and build up enough knowledge about key vertical sectors and their customers so that they can converse knowledgeably on a range of topics.

L – Listening

Listening is a core competency for anyone wanting to get ahead in business, but no more so than sales. Great sales people listen intently for buying signals, doubt, time-wasting and potential barriers to a sale. By listening for the said and the unsaid, a  great sales person uses their two ears and one mouth in the right proportions.

M – Motivation

Self-motivation is a crucial skill in sales. When the going gets tough a sales person needs to dig deep and find the energy to keep motivated and keep focussed on their target. In sales you often get more knock backs than sales and it’s important that you find ways to be able to bounce back and keep going.

N – Networking

Networking is massively important for a sales person – offline and online. If you want to be really successful in sales, you have to make time, often out of normal working hours to build your network. If you want further information on see a previous post – Business Networking – It’s not ‘what’ you know…

O – Objection Handling

In sales you will always have to handle objections throughout the sales cycle. One very effective way to deal with objections is to pre-empt them as part of your discussions. If you have done your homework, you will be aware of the four or five concerns that your prospect may have so you can incorporate them into your presentations and discussions. This can be effective at promoting you and your organisation in a professional manner. Rather than operate a head in the sand approach, you tackle these reasonable concerns as part of your pitch coming from a position of strength and demonstrating that you do not run from the hard questions.

Here’s a four step approach in dealing with objections:

  1. Ensure that you make the prospect aware that you understand where they are coming from and their concern is not unreasonable
  2. Qualify the objection, so that you understand exactly what the objections is
  3. Sell the business benefits again, taking into account their objection. Be aware that your approach first time round didn’t quite work so you will at least have to expand and take different angles to re-enforce the point
  4. Ask them if they are happy and understand what you said and that you have been able to relieve their concern

P – Pipeline

Managing your pipeline effectively is hugely important, not only for you, the sales person, but for your management team and the wider business.

A sales pipeline works by placing all leads or prospects at the different stages of the sales cycle, and then measuring their progress through the pipeline, from unqualified lead to satisfied repeat customer. If you use a tool such as Salesforce.com or Goldmine, you can manipulate and analyse your pipeline quickly and easily, if you’ve kept it up-to-date, to report upwards and help you plan your activity for the days, weeks and months ahead.

Q – Qualifying

Qualifying is the art of determining what the customer needs and therefore wants, when they want it, whether they can afford to buy it and whether they’re holding the purse strings. A simple 5 step process should give you some of that key guidance – PACTS:

  1. Product Need – What need is the customer trying to fulfil and will your product or service meet that need? It pays for both sides to be honest at this stage, so neither of you are wasting your time.
  2. Authority – The decision maker is ideally who you have to qualify. If you are not talking to that person,you can capture the rest of the information and get in front of the decision maker as soon as possible.
  3. Cash – Can the prospect afford to buy your product or service? If there are no major issues they will gladly answer and back it all up, easing any worries that may be present.
  4. Timing – When does the customer require your service or product? Business situations can change quickly and your prospect may be interested to get an offer in now, but be straight with them and ask if the timing is right and ask them the likely hood of requirements changing. Looking out for the customer is important to build a good relationship, getting all of the possible time constraints out in the open will help with the final decision.
  5. Stakeholders – Who are the key stakeholders you need to influence to get the sale? It may be that there are a number of people you will need to influence before you will get a decision.

R – Relationships

Having strong relationships with customers is really important for a number of reasons, and yes one of them is to sell more. But having a good relationship also reduces a customer’s tendency to move somewhere else, allows you to learn more about their business and their marketplace, open up their network to yours through introductions and recommendation, and in one or two cases you may build up strong and lasting personal relationships which is always a great thing!

S – Solution Selling

Solution selling has been a buzz term for a couple of decades now, if not longer. It is predicated on discovering customer needs and aligning your solution to those needs. Sales people show customers how their solution better meets their needs than any competitor solution through a process of questioning and exploration. However, I think there is a shift happening in certain segments of the market, as customers become more informed via the web and their social networks. Customers are more aware of their needs and the kinds of solutions available probably more than at any other time. Selling a solution is still important, but it has to be outcome focussed, and potentially you may need to put some ‘skin in the game’ to close the sale. How confident are you in your service levels? How confident are you in the savings you’ve promised? Are you willing to put that to the test with Service Level Guarantees or revenue share on savings?

T – Trust

The number one attribute of a great sales person is trust. If you cannot be trusted within your organisation you’re not likely to last long.

What do I mean by this?  – If you continually over-promise customers things as part of your solution in order to close the deal, you’re going to disappoint or lose the customer when your internal teams can’t meet those requirements either to time, or to budget, or at all. You’re going also going to upset the customer, possibly enough for them to go elsewhere or at best not want to buy anything from you for a while, if at all.

U – Understand Who are the Influencers and Decision Makers

When you’re selling into larger organisations you really need to invest time and energy in finding out who all the key influencers and decision makers are for that prospect. You need to be aware that some of those influencers may not even work in that organisation. Who does your decision maker play golf with – do you know her? Do you know any of the senior people in the organisation through people in your business or social network? Getting the inside track on the people you need to meet and influence, could save you months in a long sales cycle.

V – Value from the Customer Perspective

I have mentioned this indirectly a couple of times within this post and it’s not by accident. Throughout the whole sales cycle from lead to close you need to be thinking about and talking about what value you’re bringing to the customer. If there are multiple influencers and decision makers in the loop, you’ll need to think about their individual ‘hot buttons’ and press them. The Finance Director will be wanting the best deal, for the lowest price with the best payment terms. The Marketing Director will be wondering how this will help her drive more leads of her own. The Managing Director will want both of those things, but also peace of mind that once the deal is done, the solution will go in smoothly, that her business won’t be affected in any way to the negative and that she has the phone number of your bosses boss, should anything go wrong.

W – Wining & Dining

Hospitality is still a big part of sales, but you need to ensure that you are mindful of the relevant bribery acts in your country and the bribery and hospitality policies of your prospective and existing clients. That said, spending quality time with customers, new and old, in an informal setting over dinner, watching the big game or race is a great way to strengthen relationships, build new relationships and have some fun.

X – X Marks the Spot – Getting the Contracts Signed

The deal is NEVER done until you have the proverbial signature next to the ‘X’ on the contract. Many times in my career have I been told that the deal was done, only to find that the contract was sitting with lawyers for 6 months, or the customer changed their mind, or they actually awarded the contract to someone else. You haven’t closed, until the contract is signed (plus any cooling off period if that applies).

Y – You are a Differentiator

As a sales person, you are representing your organisation’s brand probably more often more than anyone else. You can be THE differentiator between a win and a loss, a loyal customer and an angry customer, success or failure. Something to think about!

You need to come across as being confident in yourself and your abilities. To be truly successful in sales, it’s also really important that you have a firm belief in the products and services you’re selling as well as the brand you’re representing. A customer can see right through a sales person that doesn’t!

Z – Zone of Influence

As a sales person, the more you interact within your customers, the more time that you invest in  your business and social media networks, assuming you’re doing all the right things, the more your zone of influence will increase. I’ll leave you with a personal story that I hope will resonate with you. I remember attending a networking event, when I was new into a role, and looked out upon a sea of unfamiliar faces, except that of a competitor. That competitor knew everyone in the room by their first name. Let’s just say that since that time, I’ve made it my business to  network and build my zone of influence!

I hope you enjoyed this A-Z and as ever, would love to hear your views and feedback.

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About Mark Conway
A highly motivated executive with 18 years business experience in fixed / mobile telecommunications and IT Services. A strong record of delivering sales and large-scale change programmes, improving customer experience and with a proven ability to build, lead & manage high quality teams; offering strong relationship building, commercial & decision making skills, gained working in technology and telecommunications for KC, KCOM & O2 in the UK, and with BT Wholesale, IBM, Accenture, Microsoft, Deloitte, SAP and Cisco in partnership. My Blogs: Think Oak! - http://www.oakconsult.co.uk/blog Life Spirit - http://www.lifespirit.biz

3 Responses to A to Z of Direct Selling

  1. supernova says:

    Great advice Mark, salient points! Regards James 🙂

  2. Victor Ho says:

    Mark
    Thanks for visiting my blog. Relationships and Wining and Dining are very relevant where many similar products compete. I go with the person who has the most desire to cultivate a relation. Otherwise there is nothing to differentiate. And I use one product so that when there’s a problem, I know who to call. All the best to you.

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