The two key questions that sales professionals most often ask us are: 1) How can I close more sales? and 2) What can I do to reduce objections?
After more than sixty years in the sales training business, we've learned the answer to those questions is pretty straightforward. Frankly, you learn how to sell.
That's not the answer most people expect to hear, but it's one we truly believe. No matter how much we want to find otherwise, there's no magic formula that eliminates objections or increases closing ratios. Overcoming objections and gaining commitment are both logical outcomes of a successful sales process. You want to meet a good closer? Find a good salesperson who truly understands how to sell.
It's often hard to believe that top performers need to learn how to sell. Yet we have encountered an extraordinary number of experienced and successful sales professionals who have discovered our statement to be true. In fact, by consistently practicing and applying proven principles, they've been able to increase sales and earn more money than they ever thought possible.
That tells us the Sales Advantage process is a proven way to build relationships and enhance your sales career, no matter how long you've been selling.
Don't get us wrong. We're not saying that learning the sales process is easy. And we're certainly not implying that we can sell today the same way we sold ten years ago — we can't. It's a different world out there. Customer attitudes have changed. Technology is breaking down barriers between nations but creating different kinds of barriers between our customers and us. Companies are downsizing. Territories are expanding. We'rebeing asked to generate more sales with fewer resources. And it doesn't stop there.
These issues represent a variety of daily challenges. For example, it's tough when a customer promises a signed contract on Wednesday and she buys from a competitor on Tuesday. It's frustrating to handle service issues on a day when we plan to do nothing but prospect for new opportunities. It's hard to realize that, after months of building a relationship with a "decision-maker," the actual decision-maker is someone we've never met. Sure, technology and globalization are changing the world of selling. But honestly, most of us are more concerned about how to overcome the hurdles we face on the job every day.
Learning how to sell using the Sales Advantage tools and principles will increase the odds that we'll overcome these challenges successfully. How? By learning to see the buying and selling process from the customer's point of view. With that ideal as our foundation, we'll then learn to use timeless and proven tools. These tools will help us build credibility, uncover the customer's Dominant Buying Motive, and develop strong business relationships that lead to referrals and repeat sales. In the end, when we offer a solution to a customer, we'll be more confident that it is the right solution, instead of just hoping it is.
Look at it this way: How can we sell the total value of our products and services if we haven't learned how to gather information in a way that tells us what's important to the customer? How can we maximize our prospecting efforts without a strategic approach for finding and evaluating new opportunities? How can we get past frustrating barriers, such as voice mail, if we don't know the basics of good account penetration? How can we be prepared to address objections if we don't fully understand the customer's primary interest and buying criteria? When we consider these questions, it becomes pretty evident why a thorough understanding of the entire buying and selling process is a critical element in any successful sales career.
As you embark on your voyage to improve your sales skills, you will understand why learning how to sell using an effective process gives you an edge in the marketplace. If you become committed to making these tools and principles a part of your selling strategy, you will stand out from thousands of salespeople who simply sell on instinct. Your prospects and customers will view you differently when you meet with them. Instead of thinking, "Here's another salesperson," they'll think, "Here's someone who can help me. Here's someone I trust."
As you read this book, we would like to offer four suggestions to help you get the maximum benefit for your time invested:
KEEP AN OPEN MIND
Our real life examples come from people who live in the selling trenches every day. They know what it's like to leave twenty messages for someone and never get a return phone call. They were once skeptical about trying a new approach, but did it anyway and got results. They've hit sales plateaus and found ways to overcome them. The bottom line: Every successful selling tool mentioned in these examples has been tried and proven by a sales professional somewhere in the world. If they can do it, so can you. Open your mind to the possibilities.
AIM FOR EVOLUTION, NOT REVOLUTION
Because the Sales Advantage covers the entire sales process, it contains numerous principles and tools. We're not asking you to try all of them at once. In fact, we encourage you to apply them at a pace that's realistic for you. Try one new thing. Get comfortable with it. Then try another. And another. And continue until you eventually evolve your selling skills to a higher level of performance. Dale Carnegie always said, "The 'sure thing' boat never gets far from the shore." In other words, don't be afraid to take a chance and try something new. At the same time, don't overwhelm yourself by making too many changes too fast.
TRY THE ACTION STEPS AND SELLING TIPS
We all like a little immediate gratification — things we can do right away that might have a positive impact on our results. To that end, this book contains action steps and helpful tips you can realistically apply in your job today. Whether you sell products, services, or ideas, we hope you will find these suggestions useful.
All the while, don't lose sight of how these ideas fit into the process as a whole. The bullet point lists are helpful, but they alone will not help you build the kinds of relationships necessary to develop unique customer solutions and sustain a lucrative sales career. Your long-term success largely depends upon your commitment to understanding the process and your ability to consistently practice using the Sales Advantage tools in every selling situation.
Many of our graduates tell us that a major benefit of the Sales Advantage is being able to use their own styles and abilities in line with our proven processes. With that in mind, remember that these principles and methods are not about a mechanical approach to selling. They are about making the sales process second nature for you, so you do them intuitively — just like driving a car.
If you become mechanical in applying the principles, it will be obvious to your prospects and customers. Your style of selling is the right style for you. Be confident in your own abilities. It's the process we want you to understand and apply. Ultimately, the specific tools and language you use are your decision. Even though the way you sell and the way your coworker sells may be totally different, you can both apply what you learn here and become even more successful.
No matter who you are, what you sell, or how long you've been selling, understanding and consistently applying these concepts has the potential of making a tremendous difference in your sales career.
It won't be easy to make changes in your routine. But if you want to increase your sales effectiveness, offer better solutions to your customers, advance your career, and maximize your income potential, you must make the commitment to step out of your comfort zone and do something different.
As Mr. Carnegie himself said: "To raise yourself to a better position, you've got to do something special. Make some extra effort. It won't be pleasant all the time. It'll mean hard grueling work while you're at it, and it will pay off in the long run."
J. Oliver Crom VICE-CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD
Michael CromEXECUTIVE VICE-PRESIDENT
Copyright © 2003 by Dale Carnegie & Associates, Inc.
I don't think anybody is cut out to be a salesperson or anything else. I think we've got to cut ourselves out to be whatever we want to be.
— Frank Bettger
When it comes to the importance of sales professionals in today's marketplace, Red Motley sums it up best: "Nothing happens until somebody sells something."
That may seem like a bold statement, but look at it this way: Would the driver for an international freight company have a job if somebody hadn't sold the products being delivered? Would the construction worker have a job if a site developer hadn't sold the City Council on the idea of a retail store? Would the aerospace engineer have a job if an account executive hadn't secured a new contract for commercial jets?
Those are just a few examples of how powerful the sales professional's role is in driving the world economy. You could say the same thing about virtually any business. In fact, next time you see a truck on the highway, drive past a construction site, or board an airplane, you can smile and think to yourself: "All of this activity around me is happening because of what I do."
To us, that's exciting. Salespeople are leaders. They truly make things happen. In the minds of customers, they are the face of the company. And those who succeed in building strong business relationships are often paid very well for their efforts.
Despite the impressive rewards that await top sales performers in most industries, many salespeople don't reach their full potential. Why? Because they don't understand the fundamental process of buying and selling.
Think about the game of golf: A lot of people play, but very few really know how. We can even draw the same comparison when it comes to photography. Most of us can take pictures, but not many of us have the knowledge or skills to become a published photographer.
Selling is the same way. A lot of people know just enough about selling to make a decent living. But most people don't know enough about the buying and selling process to truly excel in a sales career.
That's where the Sales Advantage comes in.
If you've been selling for many years, perhaps by instinct rather than structure, this book can help you realize why you're succeeding. At the same time, it shows you what you're not doing — or doing unnecessarily — that's keeping you from achieving your full potential. If you're new to sales, this will give you an essential foundation upon which to build a successful and lucrative sales career.
We'll share numerous tools that can enhance your relationship with the customer. Will we use all of these tools in every sales discussion? Absolutely not. Every selling situation is different.
Keep in mind that selling is not about manipulating people into buying. It's about creating an atmosphere that's conducive to customers making a favorable decision for everyone involved. After all, nobody likes to be sold. But we all like to make good buying decisions. That is why our philosophy for selling is one of Dale Carnegie's most quoted human relations principles:
Sales Philosophy"Try honestly to see things from the other person's point of view."
Sounds like common sense doesn't it? But common sense is not always common practice. It is often very difficult for salespeople to see things from a buyer's perspective. We often don't know their internal policies, politics, challenges, and processes. Many salespeople do not actually use the products and services they sell. In fact, many of the people who influence the buying decision don't use them either. Purchasing agents are a good example. So, it is critical for us to really understand the perspectives of everyone who has a role in buying.
This philosophy improves the customer's trust, enhances your reputation, and builds solid customer relationships. Selling according to this philosophy, in conjunction with your personal selling style, will energize you. It will significantly enhance your results and help you feel proud about being a sales professional.
Most salespeople who are successful ultimately realize that selling is a process. A proven process will give us predictable results. The process outlined below has been proven and can help any salesperson improve results.
The Sales Process
1. New Opportunity
3. Initial Communication
5. Opportunity Analysis
6. Solution Development
7. Solution Presentation
8. Customer Evaluation
Successful salespeople tell us that one of the keys to their performance is to follow a repeatable, proven process that gets consistent, positive results. The process outlined here has been tested extensively in a wide variety of products, industries, and cultures. It works. Adjust and adapt the process for your business and you can see the results.
The first three elements of the sales process represent every activity that leads up to that all-important first meeting. We must identify the new opportunity, do our homework through pre-approach, and initiate communication with the prospect before gaining an interview. These are essential activities in the sales process, and they take place in almost every selling situation. If we don't do these activities effectively, we haven't really earned the right to take our prospect's time.
Once we get into the interview, we must know how to build rapport and find out specifically what people need and want. As simple as that sounds, many salespeople don't understand their customers' true issues. Why? They don't know how to ask the right questions.
When they interview customers, they only ask surface-level questions. Consequently, most salespeople don't uncover the primary interest areas and the Dominant Buying Motive (the emotional reason people buy). These two key pieces of information are critical to developing a truly unique solution that stands apart from the competition.
While the interview is the heart and soul of the sales process, there are many things we have to do after that meeting in order to develop solid customer relationships. So beyond the interview, the selling process represents the activities necessary to turn our prospects into customers. We develop the solution, present it to our prospects, help them evaluate it, gain commitment, and follow up to ensure satisfaction. This part of the sales process is when we truly demonstrate our ability to step into our customers' worlds. We see things from their point of view and provide solutions that no other salesperson can provide.
Which part of the process is most important? All of them. Look at it this way: If we can't get the discussion started, how can we present a solution? If we get the first meeting but don't gather information effectively, how can we be sure we've offered the right solution? If we gain commitment but don't follow up, what are the chances of repeat business? Clearly, if any piece of the process fails, the relationship can collapse. Does every sale go through these phases? Not necessarily. But most of them do. In fact, selling is often repetitive and, in many cases, very predictable.
SOME ELEMENTS OVERLAP
We'll find that many elements of the sales process overlap into more than one part of the sales discussion. For example, it's likely that we will use effective questioning techniques several times in our interaction with the customer. And in virtually every part of the process, we'll find Dale Carnegie's human relations principles to be a critical element in our success.
THE PROCESS IS PREDICTABLE,
BUT THE SITUATION ISN'T
If we're selling in an industrial environment with long sales cycles, the pre-approach may take place over several weeks. Not only that, we may have several interviews with a customer before we actually present a solution. On the other hand, in retail situations, there's very little — if any — pre-approach work that can be done. And, in contrast to large equipment sales, we may never have contact with the same customer again beyond the initial meeting.
The point is, we need to recognize that each selling situation is unique. Some salespeople will go through each element of the process several times a day. Others may only go through them a few times a year. The key is to understand how the eleven parts apply in your unique situation, and then act accordingly.
UNDERSTANDING THE WHOLE PROCESS IS ESSENTIAL FOR SUCCESS
Mastering one or two skills alone won't generate the same results as understanding and mastering the entire sales process. Even though we want to practice them one step at a time, the power of the Sales Advantage is fully realized when we pull them all together.
Let's say we're stranded on a deserted island. The good news: There's an old airplane on the island that actually flies. The bad news: We have no idea where we are, and no map to help us reach our final destination. Even though we have tools available to get off the island, we don't know where to go once we get in the air. If we decide to leave, we merely fly on chance and hope for the best. We may eventually get home; we may not.
The same theory applies to selling. Understanding and applying the principles of the entire buying and selling process leaves nothing to chance. Just as we wouldn't fly an airplane without a flight plan, we shouldn't try to sell without developing a sales strategy that encompasses every relevant part of the sales process.
Kevin McCloskey, sales representative with Quantum EDP in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, talks about how applying the Sales Advantage principles makes a difference in his selling strategy.
"I had been in sales for three years and never had a template to follow when approaching potential clients," said Kevin. "This unorganized approach quite often left me tongue-tied and unable to communicate effectively to the client what my services are.
"Now that I understand selling as a process, I am able to understand the customer's true requirements and expectations and then communicate effectively the value-added service I can offer. As a result, my success ratio has increased considerably. I feel I can now control and understand the sales cycle, which inevitably makes me a better, more professional salesperson."
McCloskey's success speaks for itself: Only six weeks into practicing the Sales Advantage principles, his activity increased so dramatically he had to hire an assistant.
Jack Maloy, northeast district manager with Tetra in Blacksburg, Virginia, says that applying the sales process and relieving "the pressure" on the customer enabled him to get significant additional shelf space for his company's products. He also says he created a new kind of excitement in a family-owned retail account.
"Treasure Island Aquarium and Pet Center is a family-run business that has three locations. Over time, I had slowly gained their trust in regards to the pet business, but had not had any luck in getting them to implement Tetra's full 'Nutrition System.' The customer has always been very cautious in reviewing new products and programs. So I realized that if I continued to ask for the sale on each visit, I might risk losing his trust.
"So instead of thinking about closing, I decided to review the entire sales process. I started by making an unannounced visit to one location, just to stop by and say hello and see how things were going. No selling involved. I began to ask probing questions, knowing the customer's answer would most likely be positive.
"Because I was listening and was truly interested in his opinion, the customer then became interested in what I had to say, especially in how he could increase sales with current customers. I then provided him with the 'solution': our full Nutrition System. He had a few objections. But, because I was following the steps of a logical buying process, I was prepared for them and we quickly overcame them. I was able to secure his commitment. Both Treasure Island and Tetra will benefit from this partnership."
Entrepreneur Bruce Hughes, vice president of Repro Tech, Inc., in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, believes learning the sales process has taught him how to "overcome anything."
"After leaving corporate America, I decided to purchase part ownership in Repro Tech, Inc. Besides me, there was one employee at the time — my business partner Deborah Bruss. Her expertise was administrative and mine was service and repair. Neither of us had any previous sales experience. Needless to say, I didn't know that selling had a process to it.
"Since we had very few customers, along with bills to pay and families to support, I needed to have a customer base. How did I plan on getting customers? You got it — cold calling.
"For the next six months, I experienced something I never had in the past: rejection. As we all know, rejection is part of selling, but at that time, I was not prepared for this new experience. I got to the point where I thought something was wrong with me. I started to fear knocking on doors or picking up the telephone to make appointments. But I kept at it. I kept saying to myself, 'There has got to be a better way.'
"Then, I came across the Sales Advantage. I learned that with proper training and attitude, I could become a very successful salesperson. I began to implement the process. Soon, I started seeing less and less rejection. Learning and understanding the sales process taught me how to overcome any objection, from the initial cold call all the way to getting the order signed.
"Our company continues to grow. We now have several employees and we serve many counties in the area. I have achieved goals that were once only a dream. I do not fear rejection or objections, but often welcome them. I still cold call every day, but now I enjoy it. I have the greatest job in the world. I love being a salesperson!"
Kevin, Jack, and Bruce are just three people out of thousands who have seen a significant boost in their sales results after they began applying the timeless fundamentals of the Sales Advantage.
Here's the bottom line: Learning and applying the right skills can increase your activity level, decrease your stress level, help you develop stronger customer relationships, and put more money in your pocket. Anybody who really understands how to sell will tell you the same thing.
While the sales environment has changed, the buyer's mind goes through the same process it always has. Nobody's going to buy anything unless he or she has a reason to buy. And when that reason becomes significant, we need to be there ready to provide solutions that meet that person's unique needs and wants.
The Sales Advantage: A Big Impact on Big Challenges
Our tools and principles have specific applications when it comes to the toughest challenges faced by today's sales professionals. Here are some of the most common challenges identified by our participants and trainers, along with an explanation of how the tools and principles can help us achieve better results.
CHALLENGE: INFORMATION OVERLOAD
In today's marketplace, customers are inundated with direct mail, telephone solicitation, faxes, voice mail, and e-mail — everything we can imagine to make that first point of contact. For that reason, customers know more about our products and services than ever before.
The Internet presents other challenges. For example, a customer in the United States can get online and hire a consultant from Europe. Consequently, instead of competing only against local companies, we're competing against organizations from all over the world.
One of the best things that has happened for salespeople is a more informed customer. Why? In most cases, we aren't spending our valuable time educating our customers. Therefore, we can focus more on the application of our products and services in the customer's environment rather than simply sharing features and benefits. Today's informed customer wants to know, "What's it going to do for me?" The salesperson who understands how to sell at the application level can answer that question effectively.
CHALLENGE: WORKING WITH GATEKEEPERS
Getting past a secretary or receptionist has been a challenge for salespeople from the beginning. But today, the popularity of voice mail brings yet another challenge: getting through to a human being. The combination of human and electronic gatekeepers makes it more difficult than ever to reach our customers.
True, customers do not want to be deluged with people trying to sell them goods and services. That'll never change. But they are willing to talk to people who can offer realistic solutions to the challenges they face.
Sales professionals who apply the Sales Advantage principles find ways to penetrate those walls by talking in terms of the customer's interest. With that ideal as a foundation, we build strategies to work with gatekeepers. Then, no matter what happens, we implement the strategy we have prepared. We'll see why voice mail can be a bridge instead of a barrier for sales professionals who know how to use it. After all, instead of risking that our messages be thrown away or written inaccurately, we can now leave our own compelling message, with our own excitement level. We actually have more opportunities than ever before to speak directly to the customer, even if it is through a voice recording.
CHALLENGE: THE DARK SIDE OF TOTAL QUALITY
Total quality management did great things for internal processes and employee empowerment, but it presents challenges for salespeople. Team-based decision making often means longer buying cycles. It also means that an increasing number of the actual decision-makers are removed from the buying process.
Nowadays, it's rare that we find a selling situation in which we deal with one buyer and one set of buying motives. In many cases, when we're dealing with project teams, we're dealing with information gatherers. Often they appear to be, or even assume themselves that they are, the ultimate decision-makers. But most of the time, we'll find out there's another layer in the organization, someone we haven't even spoken to. And it doesn't matter how smart we are or how many probing questions we ask, we still may be surprised to find the real decision-maker is someone with whom we've never met.
In applying the Sales Advantage principles to our selling strategy, we'll learn to identify different levels of prospects, which, in turn, helps us analyze whether the person with whom we're meeting is the decision-maker. If we aren't able to discover who the actual decision-maker is, we will work to identify the major influencer on the buying team. In either case, the Sales Advantage gives us an edge by showing us how to develop a solution around that person's Dominant Buying Motive — the emotional reason he or she will buy.
CHALLENGE: MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS
Every time we turn around, it seems as if we're hearing about mergers and acquisitions. Just when we think we've built a good relationship, our customer informs us that she's no longer the decision-maker. This is especially tough for salespeople who aren't in headquarters towns.
The Sales Advantage gives us insight into ways in which we can extend our reach within our customer's organization. We'll learn about developing internal champions and the importance of networking and referrals. Most important, however, are the customer-focused relationships we'll develop by practicing the tools and principles in every selling situation. These relationships will help ensure that our customers remain loyal and helpful to us even in the midst of organizational change.
CHALLENGE: PRICE BUYERS
With competition on the rise in almost every business, price seems like a bigger issue than ever before. In the competitive environment in which we are selling, to compete on price alone puts us in a dangerous position.
In some cases, price is a legitimate concern. But in almost every selling situation, price is a miserable place to sell. Many times, if the difference between gaining or losing commitment is based solely on price, we may not be effectively communicating the value of our products and services.
The Sales Advantage is designed to support our skills in selling products and services that are designed to meet our customer's needs and wants — not just to meet a price. When we learn how to effectively gather information, we can determine a customer's primary interest and Dominant Buying Motive. With that information, we are better prepared to provide relevant solutions unique to the customer's application. As a result, price usually becomes less of an issue.
Everyone in our society is time-sensitive. In the past, it was a lot easier to meet with customers for lunch or dinner. But today, they typically don't have time for such meetings. And when we do get to talk with customers, they are more inclined to establish time parameters that can be meaningless and arbitrary. Why do they do it? Not only are they perceiving a time crunch, they're anticipating that a meeting with us could be a waste of their valuable time.
Can we really blame customers for feeling that way? After all, most of the sales presentations they hear are not focused on them, but on what the salesperson wants to say to them.
Through the Sales Advantage, we learn to plan our meetings in a way that interests the customer. We learn that if we get our customers to do most of the talking, they quickly realize that something's different. When we engage people intellectually and emotionally in a meaningful conversation, time often becomes less of an issue.
CHALLENGE: COMPLEX PRODUCTS AND SOLUTIONS
In old models of selling, salespeople usually knew everything they needed to know to make a sales call. If they didn't, they had a catalog with them to help answer the customer's questions.
Today, many of us are selling products that are so complex, it's almost impossible to know everything. Some salespeople, especially those in highly technical fields, often get caught in "analysis paralysis." In other words, they try to learn everything possible about their company's products and services before they go out and sell. This often holds them back and keeps them from being productive salespeople.
In addition, solutions today are much more customized. Often, we have to rely on an engineer, supplier, sales manager, or someone from the research and development department to help us answer questions and develop solutions.
Virtually none of the customers we encounter, not even technical buyers, make purchases on facts alone. They buy what the products and services will do for them in their unique business environment. By learning how to sell the application of a product, and by appealing to the customer's Dominant Buying Motive, we can gain a significant edge in today's marketplace. This is especially true with industries in which the products themselves are complex, yet similar among competitors.
When we learn how to talk in the customer's language and demonstrate an understanding of how our product or service will work in his or her environment, we move to a level of selling that distinguishes us from the competition.
CHALLENGE: INTERNAL SUPPORT
In today's selling environment, most of us don't handle all of our customer contacts. Our companies want us out there selling. So, once we gain commitment, it's up to the people on the inside to deliver. The problem: If we walk away and say our part is done, we could be asking for trouble. Inside support groups are often understaffed and overbooked. For that reason, we must have good relationships and a solid communication process with the internal people who are responsible for ultimately delivering to our customers.
In the follow-up portion of the sales process, we'll discuss how our human relations principles apply when we interact with others in our organization. We'll also look at reasons why it might be hard to engage the internal team. If we learn to understand those reasons and see things from the team's point of view, we are better equipped to motivate them toward the common goal of customer satisfaction.
Five Drivers for Sales Success
When we understand how basic principles and methods can help us overcome some of our biggest selling challenges, our first reaction is usually, "Wow, that's so logical. Why doesn't everyone do it?"
We can answer that question based on the literally hundreds of thousands of salespeople who have come through our sales training over the years. What we've found is this: While many of the tools and principles are based on common sense, they are not common practice. Why? Simply, most people don't put forth the extra time and effort.
That sounds rather harsh, yet, unfortunately, it's true. It's human nature. After all, learning the Sales Advantage tools and principles is one thing. But consciously and consistently applying them every day is another.
It's just like anything in life we know we "should" do, but choose not to. We know we should eat a balanced diet, but many of us don't. We know we should exercise, but many of us won't.
Thomas Edison once said: "Opportunity is missed by most people because it's dressed in overalls and looks like work." We sometimes say: "Sales is a lot of luck. That's luck, spelled W-O-R-K."
Without a doubt, hard work and dedication at applying the Sales Advantage principles truly separate the amateurs from the professionals. But there are also certain qualities — or drivers for sales success — that are inherent in the personality and work habits of top achievers.
Keeping a positive attitude isn't easy. But the saying, "If you can't change the situation, change your attitude about it," is almost a survival skill in the world of selling. After all, customers can hear a bad attitude in our voice, see it on our face, and even sense it in the things we do or say. Yet, we are constantly asked to do more, do it better, do it faster, and look happy doing it.
Eric Larson from North Aurora, Illinois, talks about a lesson he learned in attitude control.
"During my first month as a new sales representative for Varian Vacuum Technologies, my goal was to personally visit each major account. As I hurriedly met my twenty-second prospect of the day, I noticed that he was particularly uninterested in what I had to say. At one point in the conversation, he turned to me and said, 'I know about your company. I purchased some of its products over six years ago and they failed miserably. As far as I'm concerned, I'll never buy from your company again!'
"Fortunately, no one was around to see my jaw hit the floor. I graciously fumbled my way out of his office and spent a fair bit of time thinking about his remarks during the three-hour drive home that night. My pride, ego, and self-confidence took another hit when I investigated his claims and found they were true!
"A year later, I received a call from this gentleman. He was inquiring about some new products our company had developed. Even though I still felt somewhat negative toward him, I decided to put the experience out of my mind and focus on treating this person as though the past had never occurred. He cordially met with me. After another six months of developing trust and rapport, he purchased the first of two new systems.
"I learned to let go of the past, both my mistakes and those of my predecessors. I changed my attitude. I no longer see 'problem customers.' Instead I see 'customers with problems to solve.'"
Kathleen Nugent, account manager for Simco Electronics in Santa Clara, California, echoes Eric's viewpoint.
"I had an upset customer who called me and was angry over what appeared to be a misunderstanding. In his rage, he was threatening to never do business with us again. In the past, I might have become defensive. But I listened, and when he finally took a breath, I supported him. I said that I understood how he could feel that way. He quieted down a little and we hung up.
"The next morning he called back and apologized for being upset. He asked me how we could correct this situation. I came up with a solution and he is still doing business with us. This might not have been the result if I had not been able to control my attitude with him."
When was the last time you had the oil changed in your car? Why did you do it? What happens if you don't change the oil? Will your car continue to run properly? Or will you risk having more problems down the road by skipping this simple bit of routine maintenance?
The answers to those questions are fairly obvious. Most of us can relate to the reasons why we change the oil in our cars. Yet, we don't often recognize the importance of performing a little routine maintenance on our own selling skills.
Because the selling environment continues to change rapidly, the product peddler of the past is no longer acceptable. Today, we must understand technology, use electronic contact management systems, and have an innate ability to develop and deliver viable solutions. All the while, we must also provide after-sale service and maintain customer relationships.
Just as our car might break down if we don't change the oil, we risk that our sales career might run into problems over the long term if we aren't committed to continually improving our selling skills.
What happens if we have the right solution for a customer, but we don't communicate it effectively? We risk losing the relationship. That's why the ability to communicate through diverse media is a skill that successful sales professionals must possess. Increased limits on our customers' time usually means they spend less time talking with us, and for that reason, it is imperative that we know how to communicate clearly and concisely.
Most of us are being asked to do more with less. With that in mind, the ability to do multiple tasks in one day — and do them efficiently — is an absolute must for today's salesperson. This not only means we know how to organize our time well, it also means maintaining an effective contact management system. If customers call with questions and we can't readily locate information about their business, we might damage our credibility. What's more, for salespeople who travel, being organized on the road is often a matter of survival. Regardless of where they are, whether it's behind a desk or in the airport with a briefcase, they must have a solid and predictable process in place to handle customer communications and concerns.
Strong people skills go hand in hand with creating an atmosphere of trust and respect with customers, and that's a critical component of building lasting business relationships. Successful sales professionals realize that selling is about people and problem solving, not about pushing products.
Carl Ross, founder and former president of Lynx Golf Company, relates a story about using his people skills to exceed the expectations of an angry customer.
"I got a call one day from one of my customers, a golf pro, who had just received a box of four clubs he had ordered. Only, instead of getting four right-handed clubs as he had requested, we had sent him two right-handed clubs and two left-handed clubs. I was surprised we had done this, because we're very careful in our quality control. However, I verified with my customer that this was, indeed, the case. So I went to the factory personally, got him four right-handed clubs, and mailed them immediately, along with a couple dozen golf balls. I told him to just send me the other clubs when he had a chance and gave him my private phone number in case he had any future problems.
"That golf pro is my buddy now, and it's because of the relationship I sought to have with him. I didn't let his problem fester for six weeks. I didn't pass the problem to someone else and say, 'You take care of it.' I took personal responsibility for my customer's satisfaction. I'll make sure that a second mistake never happens. My solution may seem obvious, but I'm surprised at the number of salespeople who don't want to solve problems for their customers."
Carl's ability to build relationships comes naturally to him. For others of us, it requires a little more work on our people skills. Sometimes, we need to get out of our comfort zone and look for ways to be more customer-focused.
The Sales Advantage gives us those kinds of tools. And our ultimate success is determined by the commitment we have to using the appropriate tools in every selling situation.
You could be selling complex telecommunication solutions to a large company in Melbourne, Australia, or to the United States federal government in Washington, D.C. Perhaps you're selling Internet/intranet systems for a multinational company based in Manchester, England, or Taipei, Taiwan. Maybe you're a financial advisor in Mexico City, Mexico, or a staffing consultant in Brussels, Belgium. Or possibly you own your own website development business in a small town outside of Paris, France. Wherever you are and whatever you sell, understanding the buying and selling process can help improve your people skills and make an impact in your customer relationships. The key is, you can't be afraid to try new things.
Dale Carnegie said, "The difference between a successful person and a failure often lies in the fact that the successful man will profit by his mistakes and try again in a different way."
By using the Sales Advantage to your advantage, you can become more successful. Even if you make mistakes along the way, don't dwell on them. Learn from them and move forward. If you do, you'll discover a whole new world of selling — one that excites you, energizes you, and puts you in control of your own destiny.
Copyright © 2003 by Dale Carnegie & Associates, Inc.