Anybody who has spent any serious time in sales has developed a personal selling style, that which works for them. I am no exception and, certainly, my style has evolved over time. I spent my first five to seven years in retail and that was followed by B2B direct selling beginning in 1977.
Retail was a great place to start but, try working consistently extended hours, nights, weekends, and a Christmas season in the candy department. Do this for a few years and the unknown of working on commission-only sales, even faced with the prospect of starvation … still seemed pretty damn attractive.
It is only fair for me to state that, in the spirit of full-disclosure, I am now blissfully semi-retired and banging on doors is no longer my priority. If I had a hobby besides work, I would be blissfully fully-retired.
My selling positives
I’d like to think that I am probably pretty good at certain aspects of the sale. Having spent most of my adult life in sales, these attributes are now reflex to me. No thinking about the what, when, or how is needed.
Humor – I always like to inject humor and most often it is in the form of self-deprecation. I’m Canadian and we are all born with this natural talent.
Rapport – The correct amount of chit-chat is always important and that correct amount is dictated by the customer. You need to be able to read that. You need to be able to mirror your prospects.
Manners – I was raised in the liberal use of please, thank you, and respect. Honesty is also a big part of this. Your word is your bond.
Never being afraid to tell them “no” – This includes when it is in their best interest or when it just can’t be done. You are also not afraid to tell them that “I don’t know”. This makes you human and it also means that you will always have a reason to go back, even if it is to answer a question after research.
Being assertive vs. aggressive – I have always managed to be non-threatening while still displaying confidence. Being diplomatic helps. Cushioning, providing reasons before asking tough questions or having to deliver unwanted answers, is a powerful technique!
Urgency and responsiveness – Being on time is late. Replying the next day … is late. Don’t be late. Do you want to be viewed as unique, remarkable, and memorable? Start here. When was the last time you heard … “He/she is a great salesperson but, they are just too damn responsive.”?
Under promise and over deliver – As a general rule, however much time I am going to tell you that it will take for me to do “x”, is going to allow me enough time to make that date even in the event of … unplanned open-heart surgery.
Whatever I agree to give you, in return for your business, I will give you more. That is, unless, you are a jerk or screw with me and my money. Then you will get a full refund (assuming you have paid me) and the opportunity to torture some other poor schmuck.
Identifying influencers – Like most salespeople, I like working on referrals. I’ve never been one of those people who can ask customers, let alone prospects … “Please write down five names of people like you who I can call on”. However, what I am very good at is identifying power partners, building relationships with these folks, and then having them feed me. Delicious.
Trusted Advisor – Becoming a Trusted Advisor requires you to build multiple relationships within your customer’s company as well as with outside vendors, like yourself, who will be instrumental in your projects. This is particularly important with major account sales. You are building a web of inside and outside connections, all of which will watch your back as you will watch theirs.
As an example, I spent most of my selling years in the electric sign industry and I specialized in new construction developments. As such, I might work inside the company with purchasing, project management, and accounting.
Outside of the company, there were contractors and other trades, architects, developers … a whole slew of folks. Together, we were a team and teams rarely compete for new business. In fact, it was common for the team to work together on multiple projects.
Putting everything into every deal – Let’s be clear. I hate losing. The only way that I can even stomach thinking about that is by being able to say, honestly … “There is absolutely nothing more that I could have done to secure this deal.”
Education – I have always taken the time to educate my clients and this is backed by extensive product knowledge and preparation.
Control the deal – I know how to keep things focused and on-track even when the train appears to be in danger of going off the rails.
Listening – You take great notes and you ask great questions. Even better, you ask their permission to take notes You clarify, cushion, answer, and confirm questions themselves as well as your answers. You display honest empathy and an interest in them.
Qualifying – This is the process of identifying the players, their needs, and their willingness and ability to satisfy those needs (invest). Is this my kind of customer and my kind of deal? I want to work with people who recognize value vs. price and I’m not afraid to ask them if they meet that criteria.
Setting expectations – You are letting your customer know the process and what they can reasonably expect. As a buyer, if I have no idea of what and when to expect something, my mind wanders toward areas that are not necessarily in the best interests of the seller. Next, exceed these expectations wherever possible (see under promise and over deliver).
Anticipating, or uncovering, objections – I always try to do this before they are asked and then I will address those head on, on my terms, prior to them having the chance to become an issue. You are also prepared to offer proof, where needed, that extends beyond your good word. However, always remember that the worst objection will be the one that you never hear.
Professional proposals – You get one shot and, particularly if there is going to be any selling and deal review when you are not present, you’d have to be an idiot to not do everything you can to improve your chances. Besides, your competitor only left them some hand-scrawled order form on what appears to be a used napkin.
Involving the team – The team wasn’t always happy about this but, f ‘em. I think that it is important for the customer to know that there are other members of the company who will be integral in ensuring their satisfaction. For these folks to hide in the background is counterproductive to their own development as well as to their own accountability.
Follow-up – Always advise your customer of the status of their order (or whatever is anticipated) and particularly when they least expect it. If they have to ask you, you are already too late. I’ve also found that when I deliver the bad news, nobody ever yells at me. However, when they call me with an issue, they are always angry. I prefer not angry.
Trial closes vs. closes – I’m not sure why but, trial closes (or minor point closes) that are typically used to take a customer’s temperature rather than request an action (sign the order) have always been an integral part of my communication style. Even better is that they work … awesome!
Treating them like they have already bought – This is sometimes referred to as a modified assumptive close. An easy example would be discussing delivery time frames and options prior to having any kind of actual agreement. If the customer does not squash the conversation as being premature .. this deal is likely done.
Asking for the order – This might be as simple as “Are you ready to get started?” My personal favorite is the order form close. It’s on the table, we can review it line by line and, if there are any contingencies, we can make those right on the form and we can both initial those. There were times that my order forms were so scratched up that owners would pull their hair out. Life does have it’s little pleasures.
Stuff I’m not so good at
On these areas, I still might need a little work. Okay, a lot of work …
Hunter vs. farmer – I am a new business guy who was always off to the next kill. Mind you, not before this deal was completely finished. I could service accounts only if … the numbers were high enough. My level of interest was always dictated by the size of the deal. In industries where four figure deals were probably the most common, I would rarely work those unless for an established account or as a referral.
Impatience – If I did not like you or, if I sensed that this was likely not going to be a successful deal, I would walk away quickly. My instincts were generally (not always) correct. I lack the patience to work deals over extended time periods and I’m not good with slow paced buyers or people who can’t make up their minds. That being said, my capacity for patience will be directly correlated to the size of the deal.
Not real big on kissing ass – This also meant that if your actions clearly indicated that your time was more important than mine, shop elsewhere. I don’t wait on scheduled appointments. I leave. I probably walked away from some pretty nice business but, at least I didn’t need a tic tac.
Avoid price-driven deals – I hated it when people tried to work me on price just because, they wanted to work me on price. If money is your only concern, buy elsewhere. If this is going to be a cattle call of competitors, I won’t be one of them. If you called from the phone book, call someone else. Rarely, if ever, would I bid for work unless I could write the specs. Besides, there is absolutely no honor in being low bid.
How about you? Have you ever taken the time to reflect on your own personal selling style? This has been a fun exercise for me. Part of it has involved me looking in the mirror and asking myself … “How did I get this old?”