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The Sales Process

Article Index

Most business owners would like to focus all their energy on daily business operations and serving existing client demands. It's critical to your success, however, to focus on gaining new business from current and potential customers in order to grow and sustain your company. In fact, successful entrepreneurs spend about 40 percent of their time in marketing and selling activities.

sales cycle


Selling: It's a Process

If you've moved from an "employee" role that didn't involve much selling to owning a business, you've probably had little exposure to the process of selling. If you are experienced in sales, you might want to take a moment to glance over the information here to energize your sales skills.

The selling process has six key steps.

  1. Prospecting
  2. Initial Contact
  3. Sales Presentation
  4. Handling Objections
  5. Closing the Sale
  6. Follow-Up and Service after the Sale

Virtually every sales interaction will follow these steps, whether it lasts several minutes or several months. We'll look at each step seperately and you can access any step with the table of contents links at the top right of the article...


Step One: Prospecting

Finding qualified prospects for your products or services is the natural first step in the sales process. Try doing a Google search if you want more information or ideas for "finding qualified prospects."

Once you've identified prospects, you'll want to learn all you can before you approach them. "Fact finding" will help you:

  • determine your sales approach and plan your sales calls
  • determine which products and services best suit particular prospects
  • uncover reasons why you should not pursue some prospects, saving you valuable time and resources



Step Two: The Initial Contact

  • When the prospect initiates the contact - Prospects will visit you during normal business hours if you have a store or business location. If you do not have a store, they might contact you by phone, mail, email, or through your Web site to request information, ask questions and/or to make a purchase. Prospects might also call at odd hours to find out when you're open or where your store is located. Be sure your answering machine message, answering service or Web site answers these questions.
  • When you initiate the contact - One of the most common initial contacts is a "cold call" conducted by phone or in person. A cold call refers to a contact made with prospects who have not indicated they desire the call. It's obviously much more efficient–and most say more successful–to conduct cold calls on the telephone rather than to drive around town, but you might have a reason that warrants an in-person cold call on occasion.

These tips may help you turn cold calls into warm prospects:

  • First, determine your objective and the purpose of your call. Your purpose may be to make an appointment, to inform, to question, to talk to a certain person, to sell, etc. Additionally, determine if you want to close the sale on the first call or simply pave the way for a later call or sales presentation.
  • Try to do a little homework before the call. If you know someone who may have insight or information about the prospect, call him or her.
  • Send a fax or mail some information prior to the cold call. Reference the information in the call, but don't open with, "Did you get the information I sent?" This allows the prospect to simply say, "no," just to get you off the phone. Instead, try something like, "I sent you some information by fax yesterday; I'm following up to provide additional information"
  • When you're ready to make the call, make sure you have all the materials you need at hand. For example, if the purpose of your call is to make an appointment, have your appointment book open and a working pen or pencil in front of you.
  • State your purpose quickly–within 15 seconds.
  • Get prospects interested by asking questions that make them think.
  • Make statements that build rapport and confidence.
  • Use humor–people love to laugh.
  • Be sincere.
  • Be friendly–people like to buy from people they like.
  • Keep your eye on the prize–never lose sight of your objective, regardless of the outcome of the call.




Step Three: The Sales Presentation

Many sales people feel the most exciting part of the sales process is presenting products or services to prospects. Finally, the vast amount of knowledge you have about your products, services and your company comes into play!

A few tips from sales pros about sales presentations are listed below:

  • Don't be afraid to be excited about your product. If you're not, your prospect certainly won't be!
  • During presentations, focus on the benefits of your products and services. Benefits are different from features, which are characteristics such as size, color and functionality. Benefits answer the customer's question: "What's in it for me?" Benefits are what cause people to buy.
  • Set objectives for sales calls. Write the objectives on index cards and keep the cards handy to make notes as you think of items to add.
  • Be on time for sales appointments. If you are unavoidably delayed, call before the appointment to let the prospect know your estimated time of arrival.
  • Be prepared for your call. Have your sales kits, sales tools and answers ready.
  • Be relaxed during sales calls. If you're tense you might make prospects uncomfortable, which is a state that's not conducive to buying!
  • Let prospects talk 90 percent of the time; they'll tell you how to sell to them. You just need to listen.
  • Use testimonials. Your best selling tool is a reference from a satisfied customer.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for the business.
  • Invite prospects to interact with products. For example, encourage customers to try a watch on, operate a device or smell the bubble bath.
  • Limit the choices during a sales presentation. Most experts advise sales people to show prospects only three options at a time. Too many options may prove overwhelming and prospects won't choose anything!
  • Adapt your sales presentation to your prospect. For example, a travel agent would provide different types of information about a cruise package to a couple going on their first cruise than to a couple that has been on dozens of cruises.
  • Rate yourself after sales calls. Determine what you did well and what you need to improve upon. Develop action steps for improvement.
  • Always follow through on promises.
  • Determine your prospect's hot buttons and work them into your follow-up plan.
  • Follow up, follow up, follow up. It often takes five to 10 exposures to get a sale.



Step Four: Handling Objections

During the sales process, you'll probably meet a familiar obstacle: the objection. Objections are prospects' statements about why they don't plan to buy your product or service. It may be a statement such as, "I don't need that service right now," or, "I already buy those products from ABC Company."

Don't be afraid of an objection; it's simply part of the sales process. In fact, objections oftentimes are a signal that the sale is progressing and you're getting closer to "yes." Objections are oftentimes a prospect's way of saying: "I'm not convinced yet; but I could be!"

Anticipate objections. Rehearse answers to standard objections. Learn to ask questions of prospects to drill down to their real objections.

Here are a few proven techniques for overcoming objections. Remember to treat every objection with respect and diplomacy.

  • Employ the "yes, but" technique. Agree with your customers (the yes) and then offer them new information (the but).
  • Question prospects when they make statements about why they won't buy or what they don't like about your product. Ask "why" they feel as they do; this will help you get to the root cause of their concerns.
  • Restate the objection so the customer can hear it. This tends to reduce the magnitude of an objection or allows prospects to modify your statement (really theirs) to get closer to the true objection.
  • Tactfully respond directly to the customer's statement. You might even contradict your customer. Use this approach carefully, however. It will offend some while proving to be the best approach for others.





Step Five: Closing the Sale

Although you should never be shy about "asking for the business," prospects will probably give you some signals when they are ready to become customers! Familiarize yourself with the following readiness signals:

  • Asking about availability such as, "How soon can someone be here?"
  • Asking specific questions about rates, prices or statements about affordability.
  • Asking about features, options, quality, guarantees or warranties.
  • Asking positive questions about your business.
  • Asking for something to be repeated.
  • Making statements about problems with previous vendors; they might be seeking reassurance from you that you won't pose the same problems.
  • Asking about follow-up service or other products you carry.
  • Requesting a sample or asking you to repeat a demonstration for them or for others in their company or family.
  • Asking about other satisfied customers. You should have a list of satisfied customers ready to give to prospects who ask. (Make sure you've already contacted your customers and gained their approval for providing their names!)

You might try these techniques to help prospects make the decision to buy.

  • Quit talking when you ask a closing question. Give prospects the opportunity to say "yes!"
  • Offer an added service, such as delivery.
  • Offer a choice, such as "would you prefer the blue or green one?"
  • Imply that you have the sale with positive statements such as: "I'll have it gift-wrapped and delivered for you."
  • Offer an incentive such as a 10 percent discount for purchases made now.
  • Create an urgency because the item is the last one in stock. (This better be true!)
  • Lead the customer through a series of minor decisions that are easier to make rather than one large decision. For example, a travel agent may get to "yes" through a series of questions such as: "Would June or July be best for travel? Would your prefer a five-day or seven-day cruise?"
  • Don't give up too soon! Learn to understand prospects' buying styles; some people take longer than others to make a decision.
  • And don't forget, you can ask for the order more than once if necessary.




Step Six: Follow-Up and Service after the Sale

Congratulations! You've made the sale. Now what? Some sales people believe that follow-up after the sale is just as important as making the sale. That's when your relationship with a customer really takes hold.

Building long-term relationships with customers allows you to leverage or make additional use of your initial investment of time and money spent selling to that customer. In other words, you don't have to spend time prospecting, qualifying and conducting other pre-sales activities for that particular customer again.

You've heard it before: "There's no better advertising than a satisfied customer." Good follow-up and service after the sale will:

  • establish and maintain your good reputation,
  • build goodwill among customers and in the community,
  • and most importantly, generate repeat and referral business.

Finally, a few more tips to help you:

  • Continuously improve your sales skills, learn from others and stay open to new ideas.
  • Be sincere about your desire to help the prospect first–make money your secondary objective. This attitude will come through in every encounter and will help you build long-term relationships.
  • Make yourself a value-added resource. Become indispensable. Make industry news updates, creative ideas, and business advice part of the service you offer.
  • Be direct with your communication. Beating around the bush only frustrates people. Answer all questions. Never patronize.
  • Enclose your business card with every letter and note.
  • Thank people who refer prospects to you. If the referral results in business, send a thank-you gift also. (Make the gift appropriate for the value of the referral. Free or discounted services from you is often a welcomed gift.)
  • Give your customers your home phone number. Your phone will seldom ring, but the gesture will make a great impression.
  • Never lie. Don't badmouth the competition or say negative things about their clients.

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