Cultivating Bigger, Better Sales
People Want To Buy. Here’s How To Get Them To Choose You.
Fourth in a five-part series
Are you ready to start selling your products and services? If you’re nodding your head and thinking “Yes!” this means you’ve thought things through and have started by creating your brand. Then, you identified a budget and put together a marketing plan that includes specific strategies and tactics. You’ve prepped the job and now you’re ready to paint, so to speak. Congratulations!
If you answered, “Yes, I’m ready, but I didn’t do any of the things mentioned above,” then I encourage you to check out this series’ previous articles on mindset, branding and marketing in the November, December and January issues of this magazine. They will give you a good foundation of what you need to do to maximize your time, money and effort with your sales process. And, they will help you understand why branding, marketing and sales all work together.
Where many business owners get tripped up is when they start a business and immediately start selling. While some business owners may experience success initially by doing this, eventually the well will dry up. And then what happens? Then these business owners feel more like a salesperson than a business owner. They feel like they have to really sell their products and services and they start convincing, telling, pushing and shouting from the rooftop that they are here to help. Instead of being in a solutions mode where they serve customers and make a difference, they become that sales hawk everyone dreads.
You know what you have to offer is going to help your customer. If it didn’t, why would you have started your business in the first place? But, even though you know you’re the best source in your industry your prospects and customers don’t know it—yet. Why? Because they don’t know who you are. They have no relationship with you. They haven’t found your place among their resources list. And frankly, you haven’t earned your right to be called on to serve.
Think of it this way. You can’t jump from seeing someone across a crowded bar to marrying them. It’s just not going to end well. There are a lot of subtle steps that happen in between. And, there are some obvious ones too. This is why branding and marketing are so critical. If you don’t want to always be the convincer, teller, sharer or shouter of “choose me,” you need branding and marketing. It’s simple: branding and marketing bring you to an easier and more confident sales conversation. And these are conversations that help you get to “yes” faster. These are conversations that help you feel like you’re serving a higher purpose, and making things happen in your business.
This is why you brand first, market second and sell third. It’s a continuum that must be followed. The links are so strong that neglecting any one of these doesn’t just weaken the chain, it actually breaks it.
So, assuming that you have done your work in branding and marketing—and have become really good at one-way conversations, you are now ready to enter into the two-way conversations associated with selling.
Ready. Set. Sell.
The sales process starts when someone engages with you, and begins asking questions. They may invite you to be a part of a bid list. They may ask for a quote. They may ask if you have something new that will work for them. They may ask if you can do something. Or, they may even want to refer you to someone else in their organization.
These are all ways a sales conversation starts. Marketing conversations are always one way. They consist of you providing valuable information, providing opportunities to learn more, and you showing up as credible and as the authority in your field. But, once you get a prospect asking questions, you enter into a sales conversation. This means the prospect is genuinely interested in continuing your conversation and knowing more about how you work. So, what type of questions do you get asked? How do your prospects and customers get the process started on their end? Do you know the language they use that indicates they’re looking to start a sales conversation?
Selling is more than taking an order. If that’s all you care about then you’re focused on creating a transactional business, and you will win or lose business based on price and convenience. Why waste time learning how to run a business or learning to structure your branding, marketing and sales process for maximum results? When you are an order taker you are in a continuous hunting mode. You only care about the person who is in front of you now, and how quickly you can get them in.
In contrast, you can create a business that is based on getting customers with whom you can develop a relationship. These are customers you will want to work with over and over and over again. And this kind of relationship requires nurturing. It’s like farming—planting seeds, feeding them with water and sun, and then harvesting them. After all, there is nothing better than recurring income. You know that order that generates every year without you doing anything more than answering the phone or email and confirming pricing? (And yes, these orders really do exist.) How many recurring orders do you get every year?
If you decide to create and practice a sales process you will find that you get more customers and more orders. And, when you strategically look at your sales as the next steps in your branding and marketing continuum you will start getting clients—clients with whom you really enjoy working and clients who help you create an amazing business.
The Three-Step Process
How does a sales process happen? First, accept that selling is a process. Accept that selling takes time and patience. Accept that selling is connected to branding and marketing in such a way that without one, the other two don’t get results.
Then, accept that the sales process can be divided into three steps:
Before The Sale. This is when your marketing and your sales activities overlap. You’re talking to prospects who have self-identified that they want to continue the conversation. They’re looking for value. They’re looking for something. They want to consider you as an option—down the road. Your prospects may help you get on a bid list. They may direct you to people who make purchasing decisions in their organization. They may facilitate other introductions to build interest. Everyone wants to be that “go-to” connector, right? They may talk to you about future orders. They may even ask for samples or catalogs, or other simple things to see how you respond. They want to see how you think, how you work and whether you’ll be a good fit to work with them. It’s a test without a test. For example, I called on one company for 52 consecutive weeks before getting an appointment with them. That appointment led to almost $250,000 in sales. How long do you stay in touch with prospects? How many times do you reach out to see how you can help? There are a lot of statistics about follow-up. I promise you, your company’s future is in the follow-up. Identify your warmest prospects and create a program to follow up with them strategically and consistently. Make sure you provide value. Then, watch what happens in a few months to a year.
During The Sale. Selling is all about asking questions—the right questions. While marketing is about getting conversations started, selling is about getting questions asked and answered that help both the prospect and you determine whether the sale actually makes sense. Trust me, not every sales conversation should end in a sale. Many business owners forget this.
Selling is not about trying to convince prospects that what you have is right for them. It’s about helping them see for themselves that what you have is right for them. Selling is not spewing the features of a product. Customers don’t really care about how it happens. They simply want it to happen. Unless you have some unique and proprietary product, keep the feature discussions to a minimum. It’s also not about what makes you better than someone else because what you think may be important to your prospect, and a point of comparison, may be unimportant to them. So why give your competition air time?
The gold is in finding your prospect’s pain points and positioning your business as the best solutions provider, and the one that will make those pain points go away. A pain point may be delivery. It may be quality. It may be not enough ideas. It may even be that this prospect doesn’t feel appreciated by his or her current supplier. You don’t know why someone is looking until you start asking the right questions. And remember, they may not want to tell you because they may not even know themselves. Asking questions will help you understand what they want, and what they really need. And, it will help you better position your company as the best one for them, assuming you can deliver in the area where their current provider is not delivering.
Sales is about creating an outcome that is a win-win and brings value to both parties. Don’t forget to make sure this prospect checks your boxes too. You don’t want to produce a job just to do it, unless you’re looking solely for experience. Focus on solving problems you can solve, and solve them with excellence. This is your zone of genius. There is nothing worse than working on a project or for a client that doesn’t feel like a good fit. No amount of money is worth the stress.
As you’re listening to your prospect, make sure you’re overcoming objections. Don’t be afraid to raise objections. They reinforce your understanding of the customer’s wants and needs. They reinforce your ability to be vulnerable and relatable. And, they reinforce your ability to deliver. Overcoming objections shows that you’re listening to their concerns. Be proactive and address them as they come up. A small issue now can stop a big issue from happening later.
Then, as you are converting to the close, be quiet. Let the prospect transform themselves from a prospect into a customer by letting them go through that change on their own. Respect their ability to convince themselves.
After The Sale. The sales process never ends, it just morphs into the next phase of customer conversations. Now the fun starts—thanking them for their order, upselling and cross-selling products and services, and asking them to refer their friends. This is where you let them know you value them. This is where you let them know you want to work with them again, and that you have more to offer. This is where you find out what else they might need today or down the road.
So many business owners abandon a customer once they’ve become a customer. They focus on getting new ones. You’ve already invested the time and money to bring this customer in. Nurture them. It takes a lot less effort (and money) to keep a current customer than it does to get a new one. Take advantage of your hard work and focus on building relationships with your customers.
There are a lot of simple ways to stay in touch. You can send a thank-you gift and a handwritten thank-you note never goes out of style. You can email them valuable information. You can create a tickler file and send them updates about reorders, etc. Find your customers’ preferred style of contact and use it consistently to stay in touch. Don’t assume they will keep your information front and center, or even remember your name. Make it easy for them to find you.
You can also create a structured loyalty or referral program. Incorporating these types of ongoing communication tools can help you get more business. See if such a program is something that works for you, and your clients. If it sounds exhausting and overwhelming, save it for another time. You can start anywhere that feels most comfortable to you and your team.
Understanding why you look at your selling process from these three perspectives can be the first and best place to start building a stronger sales process—a process that yields better results and a thriving business.
Remember, people want to buy. There is an inherent need to make that connection. However, people need a reason to buy. And, they need to be able to support their emotional buying decisions with rational purchasing facts. Help them choose you. Help them choose the right solution for them.
Selling is a lot easier than most business owners make it out to be. But like anything worth doing, it’s worth doing well so you’re yielding the best results with the least amount of effort, frustration, time and money. Putting a sales plan in place will help you know what you’re doing well—and know where you have gaps that need to be filled. Don’t think selling will take care of itself. Find someone who can help you learn good selling techniques. And make sure you’re teaching everyone in your company how to sell as well. You never know who could be that person who brings in that next big account.
Watch for Part 5 of this series on logistics in the March issue.
Find ’Em. Keep ’Em.
Find the three previous articles in this series below:
November 2016, Flip Your Mental Switch To Success
December 2016, Success Starts With A Strong Brand
January 2016, Smart Marketing
Abigail Tiefenthaler, founder of Aiken, South Carolina-based distributor Sweetspot Strategies, Inc., is also a speaker and consultant helping entrepreneurs run the businesses they really want to run. With 30-plus years of business experience, including 15 years in corporate America working in a variety of marketing capacities, and 19 years running an award-winning promotional products business that put her in the top five percent of the industry, Tiefenthaler understands how critical it is to play full out, and use marketing for the heavy lifting it is designed to do. Her goal is simple: simplify the marketing process and eliminate confusion. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-804-9413.