Module 8: Identify Your Customers

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Successful Selling

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Successful Selling
Selling Process

Almost all selling follows a particular sequence of steps. It’s a simple but logical framework that has been the accepted model for almost a hundred years. [2]

Salespeople have adapted the specifics of the process as culture and technology have changed, but the fact that they’ve followed the same basic model has for so long testifies to its effectiveness. The selling process is generally divided into seven steps [3] that, will empower you to sell and satisfy your customers.

You may have been surprised if someone told you that movie scripts, regardless of the genre, all follow the same basic formula-the same sequence of events-almost down to the minute: after three minutes, the central question of the movie is introduced; after twenty-seven more minutes, the main character will set off on a new path; fifteen minutes more, and something symbolic will happen; and so on. [1]

It’s hard to believe that The Fast and the Furious would follow the same formula as The Notebook, but once you know what to look for, you’ll see that the structure holds up. In the same way, almost all selling-regardless of the product-follows a particular sequence of steps.

The sales process is adaptive, which means that each situation may be different and salespeople have to adapt and understand what is important to each customer and where each is in the buying process.

In order for a salesperson to use adaptive selling, he or she must thoroughly understand the steps in the selling process and how each works to can use them effectively. While the basics of the selling process have remained the same over the years, the methods of communication and the way people interact are quickly evolving with the use of the interactive capabilities on the Internet. Each selling step now includes much more collaboration between customers and salespeople (and even between customers) with the use of social networking, consumer reviews, wikis, and other community-based tools.

Technology allows salespeople to learn more about their customers at each step, and therefore provide more relevant and powerful solutions to customers at each stage of the buying process.

Whether you’re buying a gym membership or a car, cell phone service or a new computer, the situation may be different, but the steps in the selling process will follow the same pattern.

In fact, you’ve probably used a version of these seven steps yourself before without even realizing it. It is also the process that US companies like IBM will use to sell servers to a corporation, that Accenture will use to sell consulting services to a technology company, or that the Coffee Brewers Company will use to sell espresso machines to coffee shops.

Let’s say you want to buy a gym membership. You walk in and ask to speak to the membership director. After some small talk he tells you about the gym’s amenities and gives you a tour of the facility. Then, you sit down to discuss pricing options and payment plans.

If you have any questions or concerns the membership director will attempt to address those. If you’re satisfied with his responses, and the price and product meet your needs, you will probably decide to sign a contract. Once you’ve signed, someone from the club will probably follow up with a call in a few weeks to see if you’re satisfied.

Imagine you run a new restaurant. You get a call from a salesperson who asks if you’re satisfied with your ovens. She explains that the ovens she sells heat up quickly and use energy more efficiently and gives you an estimate of your annual savings on energy costs. You’re interested, but you’re concerned that the ovens might not cook food evenly. The salesperson says you can lease an oven for a trial period. After two months, the salesperson calls to ask if you’ve been satisfied and she offers you a discount if you sign a contract to purchase.

Prospecting and Qualifying
Before planning a sale, a salesperson conducts research to identify the people or companies that might be interested in her product.

This step is called prospecting, and it’s the foundation step for the rest of the sales process. A lead is a potential buyer. A prospect is a lead that is qualified or determined to be ready, willing, and able to buy. The prospecting and qualifying step relates to the needs awareness step in the buying process. In other words, in a perfect world, you are identifying customers who are in the process of or have already identified a need.

Undoubtedly, when the salesperson called the target customer to discuss his ovens, she asks questions to prospect, or determine whether he has the desire and ability to buy the product or service.

What happens if the customer is not interested in the salesperson’s product, or he’s interested but his business is struggling financially and doesn’t have the resources for a big purchase? Perhaps he is only an employee, not the manager, and he doesn’t have the authority to make the purchasing decision. In this case, he is no longer a prospect, and the salesperson will move on to another lead.

Salespeople qualify their prospects so they can focus their sales efforts on the people who are most likely to buy. After all, spending an hour discussing the capabilities of your company’s ovens with a lead that is about to go out of business would be a waste of time.

It’s much more fruitful to invest your time with a qualified prospect, one who has the desire or ability to buy the product or service.

Preapproach and Approach
The preapproach is the “doing your homework” part of the process.

A good salesperson researches his prospect, familiarizing himself with the customer’s needs and learning all the relevant background information he can about the individual or business. [5] A salesperson will learn important information about the business beforehand. They will come prepared with a specific idea as to how their service could help the prospect and gave a tailored presentation.

First impressions (e.g., the first few minutes of a sales call) are crucial to building the client’s trust. [6] If you’ve ever asked someone on a first date (yes, this is a selling situation), chances are you didn’t call the person and start the conversation off with the question, “Hey, do you want to go out on Saturday night?” Such an abrupt method would turn most people away, and you probably would not score the date you were hoping for.

Similarly, as a professional salesperson, you would almost never make a pitch right away; instead, you’d work to establish a rapport with the customer first. This usually involves introductions, making some small talk, asking a few warm-up questions, and generally explaining who you are and whom you represent. [7], [8] This is called the approach.

There’s a good deal of preparation involved before a salesperson ever makes her pitch or presentation, but the presentation is where the research pays off and the idea for the prospect comes alive.

By the time that they present the product, the salesperson will understand the customer’s needs well enough to be sure they are offering a solution the customer could use. At this point, the customer is using the information that is being shared as part of his evaluation of possible solutions.

If you’re a real estate agent selling a house and your customers are an older, retired couple, you won’t take them to see a house with many bedrooms, several flights of stairs to climb, and a huge yard to keep up-nor will you show them around a trendy loft in a busy part of town. The presentation should be tailored to the customer, explaining how the product meets that person or company’s needs. It might involve a tour (as in this real estate example), a product demonstration, videos, PowerPoint presentations, or allowing the customer to interact with the product.

Handling Objections
After you’ve made your sales presentation, it’s natural for your customer to have some hesitations or concerns called objections.

Good salespeople look at objections as opportunities to further understand and respond to customers’ needs. [9] For instance, maybe you’re trying to convince a friend to come camping with you.
I’d like to go your friend says, but I’ve got a big project I need to finish at work, and I was planning to spend some time at the office this weekend. That’s no problem, you tell him. I’m free next weekend, too. Why don’t we plan to go then, once your project’s out of the way?

Closing the Sale
Eventually, if your customer is convinced your product will meet her needs, you close by agreeing on the terms of the sale and finishing up the transaction.[10]

This is the point where the potential gym member signs her membership agreement, the restaurant owner decides to purchase the ovens, or your friend says, “Sure, let’s go camping next weekend!” Sometimes a salesperson has to make several trial closes during a sales call, addressing further objections before the customer is ready to buy. [11]

It may turn out, even at this stage in the process, that the product doesn’t actually meet the customer’s needs.

The important-and sometimes challenging-part of closing is that the seller has to actually ask if the potential customer is willing to make the purchase. [12]

When the close is successful, this step clearly aligns with the purchase step in the buying process.

Following Up
OK, so you’ve completed a landscaping job for your customer or sold him a car or installed the software that meets his needs.

While it might seem like you’ve accomplished your goal, the customer relationship has only begun. The follow-up is an important part of assuring customer satisfaction, retaining customers, and prospecting for new customers. This might mean sending a thank-you note, calling the customer to make sure a product was received in satisfactory condition, or checking in to make sure a service is meeting the customer’s expectations.

This is the follow-up e-mail you get from Netflix every time you return a movie by mail. It’s Amazon’s invitation to “rate your transaction” after you receive your Amazon order.

Follow-up also includes logistical details like signing contracts, setting up delivery or installation dates, and drawing up a timeline. From the buyer’s perspective, the follow-up is the implementation step in the buying process.

Good follow-up helps ensure additional sales, customer referrals, and positive reviews [13] and actually leads you back to the first step in the selling process, because it provides the opportunity to learn about new needs for this customer or new customers through referrals.

The seven-step selling process refers to the sequence of steps salespeople follow each time they make a sale. The process gives you the power to successfully sell almost anything.
The first step of the selling process, prospecting and qualifying, involves searching for potential customers and deciding whether they have the ability and desire to make a purchase. The people and organizations that meet these criteria are qualified prospects.
Before making a sales call, it is important to “do your homework” by researching your customer and planning what you are going to say.
The approach is your chance to make a first impression by introducing yourself, explaining the purpose of your call or visit, and establishing a rapport with your prospect.
Your research and preparation pays off during the presentation, when you propose your sales solution to your prospect.
Your prospect will naturally have objections, which you should look at as opportunities to better understand and respond to his or her needs.
Once you overcome objections, you close the sale by agreeing on the terms and finalizing the transaction.

Think of a personal interaction in which you sold someone on an idea (e.g., a vacation, a choice of movies, or a date). Explain how the seven steps applied to this particular situation.

Consider the last major purchase you made. Did the salesperson use the seven steps? In what ways could he or she have done a better job? What eventually sold you on the product?

[1] Viki King, How to Write a Movie in 21 Days (New York: Quill Harper Resource, 2001), 34-37.

[2] William C. Moncreif and Greg W. Marshall, “The Evolution of the Seven Steps of Selling,” Industrial Market Management 34, no. 1 (2005): 13-22.

[4] Selling Power Sales 2.0 Newsletter, Selling Power, September 18, 2008,http://www.sellingpower.com/content/newsletter/issue.php?pc=868 (accessed June 21, 2010).

[5] Geoffrey James, “6 Things to Know about Every Prospect,” BNET, January 12, 2009,http://blogs.bnet.com/salesmachine/?p=705 (accessed June 9, 2009).

[6] Michael T. Bosworth, Solution Selling: Creating Buyers in Difficult Selling Markets (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995), 106.

[7] Paul Cherry, Questions That Sell: The Powerful Process of Discovering What Your Customer Really Wants (New York: AMACOM, 2006), 21.

[8] Neil Rackham, The SPIN Selling Fieldbook (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996), 40.

[9] William C. Moncreif and Greg W. Marshall, “The Evolution of the Seven Steps,”Industrial Marketing Management 34, no. 1 (2005): 14.

[10] Thomas A. Freese, Secrets of Question Based Selling (Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2003), 166.

[11] Dave Dolak, “Sales and Personal Selling,” http://www.davedolak.com/psell.htm(accessed June 10, 2009).

[12] William C. Moncreif and Greg W. Marshall, “The Evolution of the Seven Steps,”Industrial Marketing Management 34, no. 1 (2005): 14, 15.

[13] Dave Dolak, “Sales and Personal Selling,” http://www.davedolak.com/psell.htm(accessed June 10, 2009).