Sales Tips from Hoolock Consulting

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Recently, I was trying to sell a particular product to a client I didn’t know very well and fairly quickly, they decided against it without fully evaluating it.  This week, as I was visiting the town where they work for the first time in a while, I took the chance to see them again and present the project in more detail and gained significant interest from them.

There are many reasons why a client may reject your proposals and ignorance can be one of them.  You obviously know your product and its benefits in detail but your client doesn’t.  For various reasons, they may not take the time to understand it, discuss it with their colleagues and determine its collective value to their company.  So, always try to understand why your client has said no and don’t just give up if you really know that your product is valuable to them.

Don’t give up


Timing is everything in sales.  Some sales people are considered lucky for “showing up at the right time” when in fact, they knew the right time to show up by researching and understanding their client.  (of course, there is sometimes luck involved in showing up at the right time but you can’t do it all of the time).

Knowing when your client will need your product requires initial research and then follow up with the client.  Don’t worry that they don’t need it today.  If you can determine that they will need it in the near future, keep them warm and come back at the right time.

Timing


A recent McKinsey study found that most adults learn and remember more by doing things rather than by being taught them.  When you are trying to develop your skills, in any area, but particularly in sales, doing the job is the best way to learn.  However, if you are on your own, it can be more difficult and in particular, it is difficult to get feedback on how well you have done or what you might improve.

If you can, go along with a colleague who can both support you and provide feedback.  It would be best if that colleague was an experienced sales person but you can also get valuable feedback from other colleagues who were able to observe your behaviour.  If you are with someone, try a new approach or line of questioning when they are with you so that you learn how that goes.

Coaching and Mentoring


This was my favourite expression as a sales manager.  When you suggest a reason why a customer should buy your product or service, think about “so what”.  If you can still ask “so what”, then you have not articulated a good enough reason for buying. 

For example, being able to record data that the client cannot record now is not a good enough reason.  Why do they want that data?  What will they do with it?  What will they learn as a result?  What difference will it make?  If you haven’t answered those questions, then you haven’t provided a good enough reason to buy.

“So What”


Different people think in different ways.  It is really important to try to understand the way that your customer thinks, both as a company and the individuals involved in the decision making.   In some companies, one person makes a decision and everyone goes along with it.  In others, decisions are made by consensus.  This is particularly true in non-english speaking countries. 

The personality of the person you are dealing with will affect how you need to work with them.  People can be decisive, collaborative, relational, sceptical, analytical or innovative and how you relate to these personality types will go a long way to determining whether you build a positive relationship with them and ultimately, whether you can make a successful sale.

Different People


I am in the middle of preparing some training for a client and am looking for example clients we can use for role playing.  It is so easy to find relevant information on companies, even those who are operating in more exotic locations like Sudan and Iraq!  Knowing what your customer is doing is absolutely essential before you go to meet with them.  You obviously will not know everything but you should know what they have publicly announced, what their basic operations are etc.  If you don’t do this, you run the risk of at best, wasting your time and your customer’s time but at worst, looking foolish and never being allowed back in the building!  It is definitely time well spent.

Customer Research


At every stage of the sales process, you need to sell the next step.  When you call a customer for the first time, you need to earn the right to be heard.  If you ask for someone’s time, they need to know that their time will be well spent.  Before you go into any meeting with a customer, know what it is that you want out of the meeting – whether it is just another meeting, a presentation or an order.

If you know what you want, you can ensure that you ask the right questions and make the right suggestions to get it.  Coming out of a meeting having had a good conversation but with no next steps means that your sale is going nowhere.  Plan your route to success and you will have a greater chance of succeeding. 

Sell the next stage


If you search for a toilet brush on Amazon, there are over 1000 results.  That is a lot to choose from!  Too much choice can be a bad thing.  Deciding between two things can be difficult, between 1000 is much harder.  There is a temptation to do nothing!

Most sales opportunities are lost to no decision rather than a competitor.  To make a sale, you need to persuade your client to change from what they are currently doing to what you have to offer them.  When you are trying to persuade your client to adopt your solution, you need to know why they should change, not just why they should adopt your solution.  This means that you need to know what they are doing and what pain this is causing them because if there is no pain, there is no reason to change.

Too much choice


No matter how many times you have seen a client and think that you know about them, always check their website and their news before you go to see them.  The last thing you want when you turn up at a client’s office is to not know what has just happened.  Quite probably, nothing has happened but you never know.  If some major news has been announced, then it may well have an impact on your opportunity, either positively or negatively.  Being as prepared as you can for a meeting means checking everything beforehand. 

Customer Research


More sales activity means more sales.  It is a very hard statement to argue against – basically because it is true.  When I was a sales manager, I was always encouraging my team to get out and talk to clients.  If you never talk to anyone, it is unlikely that you will ever make a sale so the more people you talk to, the more sales you will make.  So, if you are struggling for sales, get active and get more people active.  They may not always be very effective, but they do need to be active.  Things will start to happen, sales will be made and then you can start to think about doing this more effectively.  However, it all starts with activity.

Sales Activity


Sales is often described as an art rather than a science, usually by people who want to maintain an air of mystery about what they do and not be challenged about their methods.  A good sales process is critical to sustained successful selling.  It needs to be built around a generic process but adapted to fit your company, your products and your customers.  If you don’t have a process, you can end up wasting time and money chasing opportunities that will never close or customers that will never want your product.  A good process allows you to learn from previous sales, whether successful or not, and to improve the process over time. 

Sales Process


If someone starts to negotiate with you, it is usually because they want to buy from you.  They may not have said as much, but they generally don’t negotiate for fun!  It is therefore one of the best buying signals that you can get.  It may seem that they are making objections, but they are testing to ensure that they are happy with everything.  Buying is generally an emotional decision, the objections come from their logic trying to dissuade them.  Don’t take the objections personally, take them as a sign that you are doing your job well.

Negotiating


If you want to develop your business and win customers, just having a single approach is not sufficient. Calling them up and asking for a meeting works but is time consuming; advertising is simple but you get no feedback; workshops can provide lots of useful feedback and opportunity but getting customers out of their offices is difficult.

The answer is that each of these activities is needed and all of the time. Doing any of them in isolation will not be as effective as doing them all. One off activities may generate some immediate interest and opportunity but without constant efforts, the interest will tail off and you will need to start all over again with a big effort.  You must always be looking for new customers, even when you are busy.

Business Development


Customers can be a pain, can't they? Asking questions that they should know the answer to, demanding just a small change to something you have already agreed or making completely unreasonable requests. No matter what they ask. you should always respond and respond positively. While they may be a pain today, they will be a loyal customer tomorrow if you treat them well. Treat them poorly and the chances are that they will stop being a customer. It’s the science of reciprocity – if you do a good thing for someone without necessarily being asked, they are more likely to do something good for you in return. I have lost count of the number of times in the last few years that people have done a good thing for me because I went out of my way to help them in the past.

Reciprocity


Following up

A few weeks ago, we got a quote from a company for laying a wood floor in our house.  We spent quite some time with the company, explaining what we wanted and getting three quotes based on different options.  They came to the house, spent time measuring the rooms etc and then sent us the quotes.  This was the last that we heard from them.  They have never once followed up to see whether we wanted to proceed or to understand why we didn’t.

Always follow up on a quote.  Show that you care about the customer.  They may just have forgotten to get back to you, they may be waiting for another quote.  If they do accept your quote, that’s great.  If they don’t, you should ask why.  Find out what was it that persuaded them to use someone else.  This is very valuable information and can be used to help you do better next time.  Whatever you do, don’t just leave a quote hanging out there!


Recently, I received an email from a company telling me that my company is one of the most sellable in my market place.  Given that my company is just me and has no assets, I find this a little hard to believe.  The company is based in Manchester but the emailer told me that he would be quite happy to meet me for a coffee, despite the fact that I am based 200 miles away. 

This is a great example of a complete lack of customer research.  There are some basic things that make a company sellable, a track record of service, great products with IP / patents etc.  Failing to identify that I have none of those is inexcusable for a company whose sole purpose is to help companies get sold.  Before you approach any company, make sure that you are certain that they are likely to be a good customer.  Failure to do so could become costly with the new GDPR regulations.  Randomly contacting people without a legitimate business reason is a potential offence so you need to be absolutely sure that you have one before reaching out to people.

Customer Research


Whenever we engage with a potential customer and they show some interest in our product, there is a tendency to pursue them at all costs, no matter whether they say no after a while.  We invest our time and emotions in opportunities and it is sometimes difficult to give them up when they are lost.  We carry on chasing them even though we are wasting our time.

Walking away from lost opportunities is hard but an important thing to do.  If you know that a customer has decided against your product, continuing to chase them wastes your time and risks future deals by annoying them.  You are better off walking away, learning why you lost out and applying that learning to the future.  Continue to engage with the customer in a non-sales way so that they will consider you next time.  There are, as they say, plenty more fish in the sea!

Walk Away


I was at a sales and marketing exhibition recently.  Walking around, looking at booths, I was amazed by how few stands made it easy for me to understand what the company did.  One company had "Augmented Monetisation" as a feature on their booth.  Intrigued, I stopped top ask what this meant.  The person that I spoke to had no idea and was completely unable to explain it to me.

There are some very basic things that companies need to do.  Firstly, make it easy for your customers to know what you do, don't make them hunt for the value of your product.  Secondly, make sure that everyone knows what you do and can articulate it.

Make it Easy


Gary Player is famous for having said “the more I practice, the more lucky I am”.  There are a lot of sales people who are believed to be lucky, turning up just at the time that a customer needs their solution.  There is no doubt that there is always some luck involved but there is a lot more practice and skill involved as well.

Researching your client in advance should give you some good clues as to their potential needs and the possibility that they could need your solution.  The more you look for the right signs, the more you will see the most relevant ones and the more successful you will become.  Practice asking questions that draw out the right information to enable you to determine the true nature of your client’s problems.  Do this on a regular basis and you will get better at spotting the clues.  All professionals practice their skills, there is no reason why a sales person should not.

Practice


Recently, I wrote a reference for a sales person who used to work with me.  One of the things that I wrote about was his enthusiasm for what he was selling.  He was always genuinely excited about the products that he was selling.  This enthusiasm is infectious and encourages the client to want the product more.

The tone that you have makes a big difference to the quality and outcome of your meetings.  If you are positive and enthusiastic, your customer is more likely to be.  If you are circumspect and quiet, your client might think that you don’t really believe in your product.  If you don’t believe in your product, how can you possibly expect your client to?  Project confidence and belief that the product is going to solve the client’s problems.

Enthusiasm


Value is not determined by those who set the price. Value is determined by those who choose to pay it.  This is why it is so important for a sales person to think like their customer.  The simple process can be described as the customer has a problem which is costing them money, you have a solution which can solve the problem, if the solution costs less than the problem, you can make a sale.

Clearly, as the sales person, you know what you would like to charge for the solution.  To find out if it is less than the cost of the problem, you need to not only understand the problem but the impact on the customer.  Many sales fail to be concluded because the cost of the impact is never determined and so the case for the change can never be made.

Remember to ask about the cost of the problem when you discuss it with your customer.  Find some way to calculate its impact and compare it to the cost of your solution.  As ever, try to make it as easy as possible for the customer to adopt your solution.

Value


Cold Calling

A man from an exhibition called and left me a message this week.  He just asked me to call him back, no reason why, just wanted me to call him.  This is an exhibition that I am planning to go to so I am at least a little intrigued as to why he is calling.  However, I’ve not called him back because he hasn’t given me a compelling reason to. 

Just leaving a message for a prospective client is not sufficient to get them to call you back.  They are busy with their own work and need to have a compelling reason to want to call back.  If you can’t give them one, then its not worth leaving a message.  Think of the single biggest reason why a company should want to talk to you and tell them that.  If they still don’t call back, the chances are they don’t see a current need for what you have.  This can help to qualify whether they are a good prospective customer or not.


Negotiation

Negotiation is a process of movement to reach an agreement that is fair to both sides.  It is critical to remember that it must be fair to both sides otherwise it is not a good deal.  You only reach this stage of the sales process when both sides want to do a deal.  For a sales person, this means that you have effectively won – you just need to agree the commercial terms.

People will not negotiate with you unless they believe that you can help or hurt them.  So, if your customer is negotiating with you, it means that they want the product that you have.  You should have qualified them well enough by this stage that you know they can afford it and what value it will bring them.  This gives you a strong position to negotiate from. 


Ranking Customers

Not all of your customers are perfect.  Some of them might be very difficult to work with.  There is a natural tendency to want to please everyone all of the time, no matter how badly they treat us.  As the saying goes, the customer is always right.

I don’t believe in this.  There are more customers out there than you can possibly manage.  Its perfectly reasonable to choose the best customers to work with and to avoid working with the difficult ones.  See www.paddilund.com for more on this.

Define a set of criteria by which you judge all of your customers and rank them.  Then chase the ones that come out top. 


Presentations

If you are going to make a presentation to a client, be sure that you know why you are presenting. If you simply want to raise their awareness of the products that you offer, then you can make a generic marketing presentation. The purpose of this should be to try to determine from the client whether they can see a need for your solution in their business.

A sales presentation comes late in the sales process and should be specific to the client you are presenting to. It should focus on their specific needs and how you are going to help to solve them. It should be part of the process of closing the deal, not a means of finding one.


Sales is a process and each stage needs to feed into the next one.  You can think of it as a journey and one that your customer needs to come with you on.  To do so, they must be convinced that the next stage is worth their time.  This means that you have to sell it to them.  Only at the end of the process will you sell your product.

For every stage of the process, consider what the next step should be, is it a first meeting, is it a presentation, is it a meeting with a executive.  Whatever it is, make sure that your customer understands why it is important and what they will get out of it.  They are giving up their time for you – there has to be some value to them.

Sell the next stage


Nudge Theory

Behavioural economics incorporates the study of psychology into the analysis of decision making.  Nudge Theory explains how small interventions can encourage individuals to make different decisions.  For example, we are more likely to donate our organs if we have not opted out rather than we have chosen to opt in.

In sales, most of our customers are not looking to buy our solutions today.  However, they are much more likely to buy our solutions tomorrow if we have been nudging them in the right direction today.  Try to incorporate some form of nudging into your monthly work.  It might be a simple email (like this one!) to remind the client of your products; it might be pop up adverts based on internet searches or it might be a coffee with your contact as you just happen to be passing by.

However you do it, try to remind your customers of what you do on a regular basis.


Personal Motivations

Everyone has personal motivations in their work.  When you are working with someone for a sale, the chances are that they are thinking about how the deal can help them with their goals.  Whether it is a promotion, new opportunity or a bonus, there will be something personal that is driving their behaviour.  If you can help them with their goals, you have a greater chance of making the sale as their success matches your success.

You are perfectly entitled to ask your customer about this.  You don’t need to be blatant about it – ask in an informal setting when it is just the two of you.  They are unlikely to open up in a room full of their peers.  However you can do it, you should aim to find out their motivation and how you can help them so they are more willing to help you.


Why are you unique?

Its highly likely in any sales scenario, that there is an alternative that the customer might choose to purchase.  There are many different types of smart phone for example and no one company dominates the market.  The reason that a buyer selects one product over another is related to the uniqueness of their product – what is it that they do that no one else does?  If there are no differences, then price will be a factor but if you are offering something unique, you need to ensure that the customer knows about it.

For each feature of your product that is unique, you also need to know why this matters to the customer.  If it doesn’t matter, it is not worth highlighting.  However, if you have something unique that is important, then you need to shout it from the roof tops.  To know what matters to the customer, you need to understand their needs during your research.