Sales is the most important part of every business…..
Small businesses and entrepreneurs carry so many burdens and wear so many hats, that the most important, and difficult job, can get put on the back-burner.
Sales is the most important part of business. Because without customers, there is nothing to do. But sales is also much like working out, there’s a strange discipline and tenacity that it takes from people. In other words, it’s easy for people to let their salesman-ship get “un-fit”
Sales is like fitness – it’s takes determination and will, and it’s uncomfortable.
What would happen to your business if you got just a little bit better in your sales process?
Sales is an integral part of entrepreneurship, and I’ve found that there is a large group of entrepreneurs that are more like technicians than sales people. It’s because of this, I wanted to give some helpful tips about how to improve as a sales person.
Why are so many people “not a salesperson?”
I talk to many entrepreneurs during my week, and about 90% of them say the same thing “I’m not a salesperson like you.”
Why do so many people discount themselves and say they aren’t a salesperson? I think it’s because they know that sales means that they will face rejection.
Sales, at it’s core, is being a guide for someone, and presenting people with the opportunity to choose your solution.
I’ve been in a sales position, or serving as a guide to people, since 2003. I was in sales as a restaurant server, and then in a retail environment at Best Buy, where I helped between 20 and 200 people a day. Since then, I’ve built a company that focuses on business development for small businesses by building out their web presence and communicating through video.
Why it’s important to get better at sales:
When you don’t maximize the leads that come through your company, you’re losing. The idea is that entrepreneurs have such limited resources and influence, that they need to ensure that a very high percentage of people that come through their sales pipeline, are presented with a compelling value proposition, and processing experience, so they choose you. In other words, don’t waste their time and make a compelling swing for your solution.
Opportunity costs are huge in entrepreneurship. What I mean is that when you have people discover you online, take the time to reach out, and you get an opportunity to interact with them, it costs you a great deal of resources and credibility when you don’t close the deal.
Here are 5 ways to improve your sales fitness as an entrepreneur.
1 – Connect with the person authentically while advancing the discussion professionally
This is critical. You want to do two things when you’re actually talking to a prospect – connecting personally while serving as a guide professionally. The best way to connect personally is to ask questions about their life that aren’t too intrusive, but shows a genuine care about people. You need to care about this person – in a manner that’s not fake.
Connecting personally is about carefully, and genuinely, finding common ground. People can be cynical of personal questions, so carefully assess if someone has their guard up. If they do have their guard up, add professional value first. That’s important to understand, you want to connect personally while adding value professionally as a guide, but one doesn’t happen first or second, you need to go with the flow. Some people will allow you to connect personally before you even talk about the professional matter, while others won’t open up personally, until you’ve shown them you are the real deal professionally. You need to be receptive to this, and experience will help you.
Personal Connection is about finding common ground.
Be respectfully curious.
I usually start by wondering where the person is from, and what line of work they’re in.
“So where did you grow up?” “so what do you do for a living?”
You can launch into a subject matter, and then ask curious, yet respectful follow up questions that show you care about their answers. You want to CONNECT here, which is done by focusing on THEM.
Connect by making them the subject matter of the conversation.
The most potent and helpful thing to learn about a person is their family and friends. You want to get an idea of who they love, but you need to do it respectfully and carefully. I have learned to ask a version of the following question: “so, do you have cats, dogs, kids, wives, husbands” with a smile. This is my question that can include almost anybody – except single people that are lonely and don’t even have a pet. I say it this way because there can be hurt around divorce, children that are astray, distant, or have passed away, or when people are having trouble conceiving a child. This way, they can answer however they want.
The bottom line here, is that you want to uncover personal information about their life, eventually finding out what makes this person tick. Find out the important people in their life, what they love to do in their spare time, what they spend their money on, what they’re excited about, what their career path has looked like, what they hope happens in the near future, and then you want to empathize with them, and find common ground.
Asking questions doesn’t find common ground, you need to mix in bits of your own story.
Mix Questions with appropriate self disclosure.
Self Disclosure is the second part of the connection equation, which is the most risky. Self disclosure is where many sales people show that they have low emotional intelligence, or are just annoying.
If you want to connect, you need to be willing to appropriately disclose things you share in common. Be careful when you do this, because you can really screw it up if you do it wrong.
Things to avoid when appropriately disclosing about yourself to make connections in sales:
- Keep it brief, 80% of the conversation should be bout the other person, and only 20% about yourself
- Don’t one-up the person, or even remotely resemble being a “one-upper” It’s not common ground when you share your bigger, better, fancier version of their disclosure
- Don’t assume you’re becoming best friends, show that you are even keeled and just friendly
- Any statements you make are “withdrawals” from the “connection bucket,” CHECK YOUR punctuation. You should immediately follow up non-questions with either the professional matter at hand, or another question focused on them. Don’t make many statements.
- Don’t over share or share “Debbie Downer” things that are negative in your life.
- Don’t share about drinking, smoking, partying, or other character tarnishing things. You don’t want to be fake, but you also should keep your nasty habits to yourself.
Moving the ball down the field professionally:
Remember, you want to connect personally while “moving the ball down the field” professionally. This means you don’t want to waste their time.
People like connecting only when you are efficiently helping them solve their problem.
Carefully assess the pacing your prospect wants. You don’t want them rolling their eyes because you waste their time, but also remember, your ability to connect with them personally, is going to be a huge differentiator.
You need to connect, but you CANNOT waste their time.
That’s why, I try to be efficient with my professional questions, trying to keep the “connection” to “professional” conversation ratio at about a 50/50 mix. I’m ultra sensitive to wasting people’s time because I think that when sales people are out-of-tune with their client’s pacing, it’s a sign of low emotional intelligence. Therefore, I don’t want to risk looking like I have low levels of awareness by dilly-dallying, and risk them feeling like I’m cluelessly wasting their time.
So the first tip to increase your sales fitness, is to work to connect personally with your prospect while simultaneously moving the professional ball down the field. Connection is done by genuine curiosity about the person, caring about them, and then offering appropriate levels of self disclosure, to find common ground. Don’t wast people’s time, but remember that a good personal connection with a person will often be the foundation for trust – and is a huge differentiator during a sale.
2 – Be a guide, not a sales person
This is the most important thing to understand.
Make it your goal to be a guide for people, and help them navigate the waters of solving a problem.
People hate being sold something, but they like buying something. That’s why being a guide is so critically important – it positions you as a trusted advisor rather than a pushy salesperson.
You have to decide that you are going to serve as a guide, which means you need to work hard to understand the most relevant options buyers will have, what value propositions they usually have, and then help them understand how your solution aligns to the different value propositions people might hold.
You should be an industry expert, and authentically help them learn how they might want to make their decisions.
Help them understand the buying process, the trade offs, and don’t be afraid of your competitors. In fact, embrace the alternative options the prospect has, and help them understand what you’re competitor does well, while sharing what you do well.
“Alright, when people are looking for a laptop, people are usually looking at three factors: First is how they use it: is portability important or will it jus sit there. Then you have the speed, which is really only important if you do video games, video editing, or lots of picture editing. Then you have the relevancy of the processors, the newer they are, the longer they stay relevant.” When I would work with people in Best Buy, this was the most basic way I would add value, by helping them become BETTER shoppers for laptops.
To be a guide, you want to make them an informed buyer, and show them how they might want to consider in the process.
To be a guide, honestly frame up the decision making process for the prospect. Help them understand what other people have considered in the buying process, but keep this first part short, humble, and don’t be a know-it-all. Also, remember that it’s ultimately about what the person values, not what you tell them to value. Also, remember that you’re prospect might be more informed than you are – that’s not a bad thing. If you play into their ego, and appreciate their expertise, you’ll be just fine.
Relentlessly pursue their best interests.
This is something that I’ve recently come to appreciate since getting into highly sophisticated sales of financial services and marketing solutions. A guide will take a “fiduciary” approach with their client, where you only recommend what’s in the best interests of the client, rather than trying to sell something.
How do you do this? You must understand their value proposition.
Value is in the eye of the beholder, and you must uncover what’s most valuable to the prospect.
Being a guide is all about understanding value.
Value is much more important than price, features, or even lifestyle benefits. Each person values things very differently, and if you want to be a guide and close the sale, you need to effectively uncover what’s important to the prospect.
Absent a value interpreter, all negotiations devolve to price.
This means that you need to find out what’s most valuable to the prospect, and then skillfully interpret your solution’s value proposition, to their unique sense of value.
- Time saving
- availability of parts
- Communication levels
- Someone to pickup the phone
- Lots of communication
- No need for communication
- Ease of use
- Quality of products
- Smoothness of ride
- failure rates
- reliability in extreme conditions
There are hundreds of different possibilities for a client’s sense of value, and you want to use great questions to uncover these.
Here are some potential types of questions that might help you identify what a prospect values:
- What’s most important to you?
- What have you learned so far in the buying process?
- What have you learned is important to you, in the buying process?
- What have you come to love about your current solution?
- If you could change one thing about the current situation, what would you?
- What have you come to really appreciate about ________
- So three years from now, looking back, what would make your purchase successful?
- What’s the least important factors for you?
- FRAME UP THE TENSIONS AT PRICE LEVELS
- At this 50,000 price point, you usually exchange features for mileage – would you prefer to have lower mileage or more features.
- Do you prioritize up-front costs or long term repair costs?
- Would you prefer to live in this district with better schools, or would you trade that for a bigger lot in the country?
- What did you learn last time you made this purchase?
- POINT PLANK ASK THEM
- What have you learned is most valuable to you?
Every industry provides a set of different value propositions to uncover, but you need to discover what’s most important to your prospect.
It’s Never About Price.
If someone tells you that it’s about price, you’ve forgotten that it cannot be about price; it’s always about value.
Everyone understands that price is relative. That relativity is also known as value. Sure, $150,000 is too much money, but not for a 5,000 square foot house in Lakeville Minnesota. Sure, $500 seems like a high cost, but not compared to hiring someone full time.
If someone says that you’re price is too high, the client is really telling you that they don’t think you provide enough value, or that they don’t see the value in your solution at the particular price point.
If it was about price, people would never buy anything that’s “expensive.”
If your negotiations deteriorate to price, that means you just didn’t connect with their value proposition. They didn’t think you were worth it.
So the second tip to increase your sales fitness is to be guide, help make them a more informed buyer, embrace your competitors, and then focus on value. Remember that value is different for every person, and then you need to use great questions to uncover what’s valuable to them. Once you get a hold of their value propositions, you want to connect your solution’s value propositions to their unique perceived value, and then ask for the sale.
3 – Pick up the phone right away, call people back quickly.
You get a lead, you should do them the service of taking the effort to connect with them.
When you’re follow up is sloppy, it puts the burden, or “monkey,” on their shoulders. It shouldn’t be up to them, to work to get a hold of you.
This is huge when a lead comes through the internet or you had a referral. Follow up diligently with them, because it’s the courteous thing to do.
Many people who think they “aren’t sales people,” don’t want to be pushy, so they won’t follow up diligently, and get slack on this.
I’ve learned that people are busy, and they’ll often not return your call because you’re interactions are happening at an inconvenient time. Entrepreneurs should be calling, emailing, and texting their leads to connect. You can say things like “I just wanted to gently follow up, sorry if I’m nagging.” while you diligently call them, text them, and email them till you get a hold of them.
On the scale of pushy and lazy, too many entrepreneurs are simply lazy with their follow up. Make the call, and get it done fast.
4 – Good prospecting activity will lead to success
Prospecting is getting in front of qualified buyers. Often times, this is setting up a demo, a free consultation, or any time of meeting.
This is hard to do, because its the most annoying thing to be on wrong end of Prospecting needs to be done, and you need to go out and make it happen.
Too many entrepreneurs stay stagnant, and don’t ask for a meeting.
Activity and persistence trumps EVERYTHING.
Prospecting should be connecting in person or on the phone. When you can get a meeting with a qualified prospect, that’s a win. The bottom line is that the more meetings you have, the more opportunities you have.
Not every business requires in-person meetings, but most can benefit from them.
Some businesses require more activity than others, but I’ve found that most entrepreneurs are held back because they are nowhere close to adequate.
You should be prospecting too much rather than not enough.
I’ve learned that some industries really struggle at this, particularly the construction world and subcontractors.
Construction teams will work alongside other prospective clients, but never have a pro-active conversation about helping each other out. I’ve been amazing that when it does happen, it creates huge opportunities. If you’re a mason, concrete guy, siding, roofing, patio, framing, or HVAC, business owner, you should make it a goal to have at least one pro-active meeting a day, to build the right kind of prospecting relationships.
I’m sure many people just rolled their eyes in disgust at that, but I’m serious! If you make it a goal to prospect a bit every day at lunch or breakfast, you’ll take off.
The idea here is basic – get in front of people, keep that activity high, and things will start to go really well for you.
5 – Help other people
You should make it a goal to help, refer, or assist other entrepreneurs. When you help other people, particularly by sending them business, you’ll build critical relationships.
It’s good for you to keep a stack of business cards of partners that you like to refer business to. Help them on social media, and write for their websites.
Help by Backlinking
Small business owners need to help each other. When they do, they can do a great deal of good for each other. Many entrepreneurs don’t realize that there’s another way they can help each other, by being an expert on each other’s websites, and back linking to each other. By giving a “virtual vote of approval,” you help their business big time.
Help by reviewing
If you’ve had services done by another business owner, and you want to endorse them, head over to their Google My Business page, Facebook page, Yelp page, and others, to provide an authentic, real review. Remember, a review immortalizes your word-of-mouth referral and helps the business owner in many different ways.
I hope these hints help you get just a little bit better in your sales process, and therefore helps your business grow. I’m passionate about entrepreneurs, and I’ve seen so many of them go from mediocre to amazing, when they focus on both sales and delivering great results.
Thanks for your time!
Also published on Medium.