In his courses on effective sales techniques, Doug Harvey tells attendees that the best way to sell something is not to sell it... at least not in the conventional sense.
"Selling is not, 'Here's a great product with all these wonderful features, so buy it,- says Harvey, who teaches sales classes for Aquascape Designs, a pond manufacturer based in Batavia, Illinois. "Selling is much different than representing. It's more like being a detective or doctor," he says.
Just as a doctor asks questions when a patient isn't feeling well, so should a salesperson query a potential customer. "When I sell a pond, I start out with questions, not answers, much like a physician," says Harvey. "Compare it to a patient telling a doctor he thinks he has an ulcer. If the doctor doesn't ask any questions about the symptoms, how can he accurately diagnose the problem and be able to help the patient? It's hard to have faith in a doctor when he diagnoses you without even talking to you, just as it's hard to believe a salesperson who tells you what to buy without discovering your wants and needs."
The secret to effective sales is taking out your "sales stethoscope," listening to your potential customers about what they want or need, and then convincing them that your product is the solution, says Harvey. "You can do this by letting customers talk - a lot. The first thing out of your mouth should be a question, and it should be followed by many more questions," he says. "Effective sales means getting out of your space and getting into their space. The greatest salespeople are genuinely interested in people and have little ego."
Permitting people to talk about themselves builds a positive rapport that pays off in the sales process. "If you've ever been to a party and spent the whole time talking about yourself to someone who asked you a lot of questions, you probably walked away from the experience thinking, 'What a wonderful person and marvelous conversationalist,- says Harvey. "You were impressed because all you talked about was yourself. When people talk about themselves, it opens them up to a sale and gives the salesperson valuable information regarding appropriate products."
Find out what motivates your customer. Effective salespeople know what a person is trying to accomplish. Without that information you are guessing, and the sale is lost in the presentation stage. You can't base a sale on what you think the customer wants. It has to be something the customer actually needs. Once you understand their circumstances, you can show how your product is the solution.
"Ask who, what, when, where and why questions," says Harvey. "In my pond presentations I'll ask people how long they've been thinking about a pond; who will be using it; when they'll use it most often; where they'd like to have the pond; and the last question, which gives me a great deal of information - why they want a pond."
Many salespeople fail to realize that the key to successful selling is not really about selling a product. "You're not selling your stuff, you're selling the benefit of your stuff, says Harvey. "It's about what it represents and what it can do for your customers. When people buy a drill, for instance, it's not the drill they want, but the hole in the wood. Good salespeople recognize this subtle difference, and they take advantage of it."
When selling a pond, Harvey markets the perks of owning a water feature. "We talk about the calming influence of water and how it turns a backyard into an oasis, where people feel like they're on vacation from the stressful world," he says. "Once they connect to those feelings, they're sold."
"When people buy a drill, it's not the drill they want, but the hole in the wood."
That the whole sales procedure is a pleasant experience for everyone is a new way of approaching things, says business coach Rich Giannini of Las Vegas-based Action International. "With the old style of selling, very little time was spent building rapport or following up. It was all about high-pressure sales techniques," he says. "You would get customers to make an on-the-spot decision and risk having them walk away. On the other hand, the new way of selling involves spending most of your time building rapport and following up and the least amount of time in the actual sales stage."
Never underestimate the power of relationships, says Giannini. "People buy from people. When they trust you and feel they know you, they'll want to buy from you, because they have confidence in your product and what your product promises to do for them. The more you understand customers and their needs, the easier it is to convince them that your product is the right one for them. You can easily point out the features that will attract them."
Product "malleability" is key, says Stephan Schiffman, author of The 25 Habits of Successful Salespeople. "Determine how you can take your products and services and make them fit what your customer is doing or trying to do," he says.
Contrary to popular belief, your biggest competitor is not the salesperson down the street. "Your competition comes from the status quo," says Schiffman. "You must show customers that it makes sense for them to change, otherwise they'll opt for keeping things the same."
Salespeople should use the products and services they sell. "Using the products makes you familiar with how they work and what they can provide to your customers," Schiffman says. "You also become enthusiastic about what you're selling."
Passion about your product is critical, agrees Harvey. "One of the best definitions of selling is that it's 'a transfer of enthusiasm.' Your enthusiasm about the product will show, and it's contagious. Great salespeople love what they sell and they buy a lot of it themselves," says Harvey, who enjoys his own 40x30-square-foot pond. Being truly interested in your product also makes you more relaxed, which boosts sales.
Closing the sale is often seen as the most difficult part of selling, but it can actually be the easiest, says Schiffman. "It is a natural outgrowth of the sales process. If the proper groundwork has been laid, and if there is in fact a good potential match between what you have to offer and what your prospect would like to be doing, closing the sale is quite simple. You make the assumption that you can help your prospect and you ask for the sale in terms the prospect will find unthreatening. By this stage, buying your product or service should make sense to your customers. If you've done your job right, you've determined what they want to accomplish and shown that your product can help them reach their goals."
To close, Schiffman suggests saying, "It all makes sense to me, what do you think?" If the person says it doesn't make sense, then have him or her explain what doesn't work so that you can find a solution," he says. "It isn't always pricing. Usability may be the issue."
If you get the dreaded "I'll have to think about it" response, Schiffman suggests saying something like this: "Well, Mr. Prospect, you know, as I finished this, I have to admit, I was a little concerned that I might have put too much emphasis on the (here pick some non-threatening aspect of your presentation). What do you think?"
"By responding in this way you give the prospect a chance to disagree with you and reveal what the real obstacle to the sale is," says Schiffman. "Once you know what the problem is, you can work to solve it."
Remain confident when ending the sale, says Giannini. "Assume the sale. Don't ask if the prospect is interested. Instead say something like, 'This product seems to appeal to you most; how do you want it delivered?' Either/or questions also work well, such as, 'do you want that in red or blue?' Avoid asking questions that have a yes or no answer, because you may get a no."
Money is sometimes a touchy subject, but it shouldn't be. "Many salespeople say they don't want to be offensive and ask for a check, but that's why you're selling, so get over yourself," says Giannini. "It's possible to soften the way you ask for money by saying something like, 'Will that be cash, check or credit card?' Or try, 'How do you normally pay for a purchase of this kind?'"
Many people are afraid of making a mistake and spending money unwisely, says Harvey. "Reassure customers that they're making the best choice," he says. "They often just need a little extra push."
Also remember that cost is often not the issue.
"Generally, customers aren't going to be happy with your price," says Harvey. "It's often more than they thought it would be, and there's always somewhere else to spend the money. I tell people that they deserve to spend the money on themselves, and I'm often the first person that has ever said that to them."
In certain industries that entail revolving product sales, staying in contact is important to future business. "Once the sale is made, keep in touch on a regular basis," suggests Giannini. "Long-term relationships can guarantee sales for years to come."
Closing a sale is often considered the most daunting task. Consider these closing tricks from Stephan Schiffman, author of Closing Techniques (That Really Work!).
1. The Future Response. "If you are having difficulty making the product or service seem tangible, but you're pretty sure that the person is interested, try the future response:' says Schiffman, who suggests using a tactic such as this:
"Mr. Prospect, one of the reasons I want to wrap this up for you is so we can lock in your rate; it seems as though every other month the accounting people raise the prices on us, and I know you want to avoid that. Now, because I can still guarantee this price for you, I think it would make a lot of sense to get started. What do you think?"
2. The Incentive Response. If you're trying to pry an important customer away from the competition or want to land a large client, consider this response: "As you know Mr. Prospect, I firmly believe that you'll find our widgets make your operation more productive and profitable. Here's what I can do so that we can prove ourselves to you: Why don't we think about giving you a free service contract on your widgets for the first year?"
3. The Endorsement Response. A popular way to close is to highlight, in a dramatic way, the endorsements you've received from satisfied customers, says Schiffman, who offers this example: "Mr. Prospect, as I'd mentioned earlier, Byron Jordan over at 123, Inc. is very happy with our A-47 model widget. Maybe we could set up a conference call so that you can talk with him about his perceptions of the product. What do you think?"