Learning to sell

When a person opens up their shop or becomes a consultant for the first time, they can be surprised that they’re actually in sales. Those who work as professionals (doctors, lawyers, etc) often don’t realise the sales side of their business and the whole system of customer service behind that.

Why do some sales people have it and others don’t? What makes a person good at sales?
Brian Tracy is one of America’s leading authorities on the development of human potential and personal effectiveness. Prior to founding Brian Tracy International, Brian was the chief operating officer of a development company with $265m in assets and $75m in annual sales.

He has had successful careers in sales and marketing, investments, real estate development and syndication, importation, distribution and management consulting.

Tracy is a man who knows more about sales than most other people in the entire world and while this might be a big call, he’s certainly up there. All around the world, his writings and lectures are well attended by people who know a lot about sales.

So where did the knowledge come from?
I started off as a poor boy. I didn’t graduate from high school. I worked at labouring jobs and finally stumbled into sales when I couldn’t find a labouring job, and then I spun my wheels for months and months and months until I began asking why is that some sales people are more successful than others?
I began to ask people, and it became almost like a blazing question for me. I began to ask top sales people what they were doing differently from me and the most amazing thing is they told me. They said show me what you’re doing and I’ll critique it for you’.
So I realised that selling was not a matter of talking. Selling was a matter of, first of all, separating prospects from suspects.

In brief, a prospect is someone who needs your product, wants your product and can use and afford it – but Tracy goes into depth with the definition.

You’re not looking to selling things to people that they can’t benefit from, you’re looking for people who can most benefit from what your product does for them. That’s a critical difference in selling – junior sales people sell what the product is; professionals sell what the product does, because all people ever buy is improvement, Tracey says.

They buy to improve their life or work in some way. So you need to be clear what is it that your product or service does to improve their life or work, and then you find people for whom this improvement is a real value and for whom the benefit is greater than the amount that you charge. So that is a prospect, he says.

So if you’re wanting these prospects to buy your goods and services, what do you have to know about them?

One of the things that we teach – and we spend all day on this – is this: who is your perfect prospect? If you could identify your perfect prospect – age, education, background, income, experience, knowledge, need and capability of buying – who is your perfect prospect for the benefits that your product or service offers?.

So once you’ve developed a profile for your prospect, what next?

Where can you find those people? And then, how can you appeal to those people – what value do they seek from you, why would they buy, why wouldn’t they buy. So everything in business, from the beginning to the end, is this incredible intense focus on the customer and how you can help that customer improve his or her life or work in some way.

Some people are great at customer service, but they still don’t generate enough customers. What are those sorts of people doing wrong?

What they don’t realise is that customers have two major fears – it’s the same in Australia, it’s the same worldwide. First, they have a fear of being taken advantage of. And why did they have this fear? Because they have been. That’s the normal nature of commercial society, people will be taken advantage of.
Second, they have a fear of being hustled or manipulated, being talked into something that’s not in their best interests because it has happened in the passed.
Therefore, the second part of professional selling is to establish a reputation of belief and credibility with the prospects. The person knows you and likes you and trusts you and believes that what you’re saying is true. I don’t mean this to be manipulative – it has to be straight forward and honest because in the final analysis you can never fake it, he says.

Good business people are cognisant of how important it is to build and maintain a high quality customer relationship with a prospect.
The best sales people, the best businesses, are those who their customers like and trust and feel confident doing business with, so it’s really an essential part, he says.

How important is it to understand the needs of a customer when it comes to selling?

It’s absolutely essential. In fact, there have been millions and millions of dollars of research done and what you find is that the customer is not really on the field of play until the customer realises they have an unsatisfied need that you can satisfy.
So therefore the focus in building trust is to ask questions about the customer situation in his or her needs, he says.

Tracey refers to articles in The Wall Street Journal and the Harvard Business Review that mention a recent study on this. It was found that people had three types of needs.

There are clear needs, there are unclear needs, and there are non-existent needs. And when you meet with a person for the first time, the biggest mistake that people make is to assume that they have an existing need of which they’re aware.
Many people have needs they didn’t even know that they were aware of, and the only way you can uncover that is by asking really good questions and listening closely to the answer until it becomes clear to you and to the prospect, and the prospect says ah yes’ and realises they need that. Only then can you start talking about your products or service, he says.

How important is research? Have those who are poor at sales not researched their potential customer bases or markets?

The 80/20 rule applies to selling as to every other field. Approximately 80% of sales people are mediocre because they’re lazy. I’ve trained a million sales people and I’ve worked for a thousand corporations. They’re lazy. They do the very least to get by, they don’t make any effort to learn as much as they can about their product, their competitors’ products, and especially about their customers.
The top 20% however, are different. These people are ambitious and eager to make a good life as sales professionals, they see this as a professional field, and they’re veracious about learning. They read everything they can, they listen to audio programs, they attend courses, they study their product and their competitors’ product, he says.

I asked Tracy to give some examples of people in this 20% category.

Probably one of the best examples is Sam Walton of WalMart. On the list of the 10 richest people in American, the richest multibillionaires, five are descendents of Sam Walton.
He started off with a little store in a little town called Bentonville, Arkansas, and he had this idea of satisfying people by finding out what they really wanted and then looking everywhere to get them the lowest prices and when he could manage it to buy in bulk.
So we have lower prices – he always passed on 50% of his savings to his customers in lower prices. There’s a lot of controversy about WalMart today, but WalMart is a great company because it’s focused single-mindedly on selling the very best quality at the lowest price to people who can afford the very least, the littlest guy in society.
So what Sam Walton will do is, from the time he started his business, he would travel to other towns to visit other stores and walk around the stores and take notes looking at what they were doing right to satisfy their customers and then come back and incorporate it into the WalMart approach, Tracy says.

When talking to Gerry Harvey recently, I mentioned that when I was listening to what he does it reminded me of a top-notch athlete who is focused 24/7 on success. Is this the hallmark of great sales people and great business people?

I say that there are many qualities that are helpful to success and there are two that are essential – one is focus, which is being absolutely clear about who you are and what you want, and the second is concentration, the ability to concentrate without diversion or distraction on your most important goal.
And both of these are learnable skills, by the way, and very few children have them and you can learn them by practice, he says.

But what do you say about people who are in sales who have done nothing to actually teach themselves the skills of selling?

Recently, I heard from an expert in retail selling that it’s not smart to start off with the question can I help you? and most people in retail with no training will ask that question and annoy the customers.

That’s all they know. Many companies are started by people who are not sales people. We’ve done hundred of thousands of dollars of research – there’s two types of companies. There are companies with an entrepreneurial CEO. This is a person who worked his way up, sold his way up, and built a company. Then there are companies that are run by non-entrepreneurial CEOs. These are people who moved in from a different field and never went through the selling experience. These people have no sense for how important the sales are.
IBM got into serious trouble in the late ’80s and early ’90s and they were even talking about breaking it up. The reason was because the last of the great sales guys, Thomas J Watson Jr retired in about 1986/87 and they said we are a big company now, we can run this company with accountants’. So the person they put in charge was an accountant and the accountant felt that selling was a completely unnecessary part of IBM and began slashing sales budgets, marketing budgets, slashing rewards – basically completely, as they say, disrespecting the sales function – and the company in three years was almost like a ship turned over in the water.
And when they brought in a new president, the first thing he did was bring in McKinsey and Company, spending $3m finding out what was wrong. They reported back that low sales was the problem, and high sales the solution. What’s the key?, he asked. Get your sales people out there face to face with customers, helping them solve their business problems, and get them off the phones and out of the offices’.
And within 24 months they turned the entire company around. Every single business that gets into trouble, somebody has to say let’s get back to selling, let’s get back to getting face to face with customers and helping them with what they really want and need.

Peter Switzer’s tips

  • Appreciate this reality – when you’re in business, you’re in sales
  • Work out your prospects
  • Research these prospects intensely
  • Identify your prospects needs
  • Write scripts for your sales staff so they know how to talk to prospects and customers
  • See selling as a profession
  • Seek sales training
  • Be honest and ethical in your dealings

Author: Biz Think Tank

BizThinkTank is a dedicated small business website, with a wealth of regularly updated tips and articles. Whether you’re looking to start a business or grow your business, you’ll find a wealth of handy advice and information.

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