Sales Skills

by Jeremy Cassell and Tom Bird

What is the sales process?

Definition

Process can be defined as ‘a series of actions or steps in making or achieving something and it implies progress towards a desired end result’.

However you sell (online, face to face or on the telephone), it is likely that there will be a series of steps that you can, or do, follow that take you from an initial conversation with a prospect through to the closing of a sale. There may be some specific nuances and process steps, depending on the nature of your market, product, service and purchaser. The simple sales process described here can be applied in a wide variety of sales environments. Use it as a tool to raise your awareness as to where you can better spend your time to develop the results that you want, knowing that there may be some adaptation required on your part.

The main benefit of having and following a sales process is that you can monitor and measure your performance in each step. This enables you to focus on developing better results at each stage of the process, thereby improving your sales and your consistency.

  1. Prospecting
  2. Identifying needs
  3. Present solutions
  4. Meet objections
  5. Negotiate
  6. Gain committment and agree deal
  7. Manage the account

1. Prospecting

Here, the term is used to encompass all of the activities related to defining, targeting and developing prospects for your product or service. This stage of the process breaks down into three (consecutive) actions.

Identifying possible prospects

Before you can attract prospects, you need to identify a prospect profile. There will be a number of questions, depending on your situation and market, but they are likely to include variations of the following:

  • Who, specifically, will buy from me?
  • Why, specifically, will they buy from me?
  • Where, specifically, will I find them?
  • How, specifically, will I know them from other people who are less likely to buy from me?

‘Specifically’ is critical to the outcome: the tighter you can define your prospects, the more focused and successful your sales efforts are likely to be.

Targeting possible prospects

Having identified possible prospects, you need to target them effectively. What is the best way for them to receive a compelling message about what you are offering – one that enables you to start a dialogue?

Developing prospects

You need to qualify them in or out of your sales process, making a decision on how likely they are to buy from you. So you need to establish qualification criteria – aspects that you know to be true or untrue for most people who would buy from you.

What are some common problems?

  • Not being really clear on the prospect profile, so you waste time talking to people who may be unlikely to buy.
  • Not doing enough: when sales are good, you might ‘ease off’ on prospecting activity. This leads to a ‘feast or famine’ result.
  • Not qualifying early enough: if you don’t qualify your prospects objectively, you will have too many people going through the other stages of the sales process and will not be able to manage them all effectively.

What are your key priorities?

  • Make sure you engage in enough prospecting activity: you must make time for prospecting if you are to achieve consistent sales results. It is not simply something to do when the sales are not coming in.
  • Be objective in your qualification of prospects: be realistic and make decisions on objective criteria.

Outcome

The outcome from this first stage of the sales process is qualified prospects that enter the sales pipeline, to be managed through the other steps of the sales process.

2. Identifying needs

This step in the process is about discovery. Before somebody makes a decision to buy something, they need a good reason. The product or service will either do something that they want or it will prevent something that they do not want. In either case, the reasons for taking the action you want them to take must outweigh the reasons for inaction. They need to see the value in what you are offering.

Discovery

Find out more about the prospect and their specific needs through questioning and listening skills.

Build the motivation to make a buying decision

Asking more questions will help turn a need into something that motivates the person to take action – to want to buy. They need to see the benefits of taking action.

What are some common problems?

  • If you don’t ask enough questions, you move too quickly into discussing your product or service and you cannot link it effectively with their needs or give them a big enough reason to take action.
  • If you make assumptions, thinking you know what they need and what is important to them, you either do not ask or you ask closed questions, which reduce your rapport and credibility with them.

What are your key priorities?

  • To understand their needs fully: this will enable you to personalise how you present the solution to them in the next stage of the process.
  • To have helped them build a compelling reason to take action: they must be motivated to act before you position your product or service to them.

Outcome

A motivated prospect, who understands why they need to take action.

3. Present solutions

Presenting your solution involves building a compelling case which confirms why your solution is the ideal fit for the prospect and their needs.

  1. Articulate benefits: be clear on how your product or service answers the prospect’s needs, specifically.
  2. Gauge their reaction objectively, so you can assess their interest and know where you need to focus.
  3. It may be necessary to provide a written proposal, which could be either a formal proposal or something much more succinct.
  4. You may need to present to an individual or a group.

What are some common problems?

  • Making assumptions, which might include that the prospect knows why your product or service is the best, that you know what is important to them and how they buy this type of product or service
  • Communicating features – what the product or solution does rather than how it benefits the prospect
  • Not presenting to the right person(s) – not taking account of other decision makers or possible steps in the buying process

What are your key priorities?

  • Articulate the benefits in the prospect’s terms: use their words from the discovering need’s phase to link your product or service to their requirements.
  • Uncover any additional steps or information needed to progress the sale.
  • Influence the decision maker so that the value or benefit of your product or service outweighs the ‘cost’ of doing nothing (this might be in emotional or hard business terms).

Outcome

To convince the buyer of the benefits of your product or service and identify what you need to do in order to close the sale.

4. Meet objections

A lot of sales training courses talk about ‘overcoming’ or ‘busting’ objections, but this implies they are barriers rather than enablers to your sale. An objection is often simply a request for more information. Objections are a natural part of the sales process and they show the prospect is interested and considering how they could take your product or service forward.

  1. Surface and welcome objections: if you do not surface objections you cannot handle them effectively.
  2. Fully understand them: you will need to ask more questions to understand the objection clearly.
  3. Address them correctly and fully: you need to take them seriously and make sure you answer them.
  4. Check with the prospect: do not move on until you know the prospect is satisfied that the objection has been addressed.

What are some common problems?

  • Avoiding objections, perhaps because you fear them and so try to avoid dealing with them
  • Failing to deal with them effectively – giving an answer without checking that it has truly addressed the prospect’s concerns

What are your key priorities?

  • To welcome objections: how you feel about them will impact on how you handle them. Think of them as requests for more information.
  • To take the time to address them fully, not with a cursory answer that you think might do the job
  • Not to move on before you know they have been addressed: unless you address the objections the prospect will still have doubt in their mind – moving on too quickly will reduce your chance of making the sale.

Outcome

You’re aiming to leave the prospect with no substantive reason not to buy, to enable you to start the negotiation/asking stages with no outstanding issues (other than terms).

5. Negotiate

The ideal is to have the prospect emotionally bought into your product or service before you start negotiating. If they have agreed, in principle, to buying, then the negotiation is about the terms. If you negotiate too early, it can link the purchase decision to the terms, making it likely that you will need to discount or make other concessions.

  1. Reach agreement on the terms, which can encompass many things other than price; negotiation relates to gaining agreement on the total package (whatever that might be).
  2. Trade concessions: to agree terms you may need to give something to the prospect (an increase in payment terms, for example). In return for this, you would ask the client for something (to commit to purchasing a certain quantity, for example).

What are some common problems?

  • Don’t assume you’ll need to negotiate: this leads to talking discounts before they are requested. Salespeople can be far too accommodating!
  • Thinking it is all about price: do not deduce their intentions from your fears – buying is often not about price, but emotion.
  • Not linking the product to the value it brings for the prospect: you constantly need to make this link and not get into discussing terms in isolation from what the purchase will bring the customer.
  • Giving rather than trading: don’t give in to requests for discounts or better payment terms without asking for something in return. This can set a precedent in the relationship.

What are your key priorities?

To reach an agreement that works well for both parties, not one that just works for you or the prospect

Outcome

To clear the way to securing the sale

For more, see the topic on Negotiation

6. Gain commitment and agree deal

If you do the other stages of the sales process well, with rapport and credibility throughout, this is the easy part.

  1. Check that you have met all of the objections: before you ask for the order, it makes sense to check that all of their questions have been addressed to their satisfaction.
  2. Choose how best to ask for the sale: think about what would work most effectively.
  3. Ask!

What are some common problems?

  • You might uncomfortable about asking for the sale and this might lead you either to put off asking for it or make your request sound more like an apology.
  • If you ask too early, before you have met all objections, you might get a ‘no’.

What are your key priorities?

  • To consider when to ask and how to ask
  • To gain commitment!

Outcome

To secure a sale in which all parties win

7. Manage the account

For some people, each sale will be to a new customer, but for a lot of people selling is about creating a relationship that might lead to more than one sale. If this is the case for you, then managing the customer relationship is an important stage of the sales process. It is five times easier to sell to an existing customer than to win new ones, so that means it is well worth managing the account.

  1. Focus on the relationship: if a customer feels you are only interested in selling to her, she is unlikely to see value in the relationship and may well go elsewhere in future. Stay in touch as regularly as is appropriate. Make sure you know the right people in the customer’s business and form relationships to help develop your position.
  2. Look to add value; how you do this will differ, depending on your market, but successful account managers look to add value to their customers every time they can.

What are some common problems?

  • Not making time for it: this is an important task, but never urgent, so it’s tempting to focus on other things.
  • Focusing on only one person leaves you exposed. What if they leave? Where is your relationship then?

What are your key priorities?

Develop the relationship to greater levels of trust: you need to set goals around developing the relationship so that you erect barriers against the competition and maximise the chances of future business.

Outcome

This depends on your particular situation, but you are looking for a broad and deep customer relationship built on trust, which will yield additional sales.

Fo rmore on this, see the topic on Client Account Management

Success is a process more than a realisation.

Anon