Sales Skills

by Jeremy Cassell and Tom Bird

General good practice tips

Here are some general ‘good practice’ tips. Most take very little time and produce a disproportionate benefit. All of these are proactive and important (never urgent) tasks, so the challenge is for you to make the time to do them.

Welcome new customers

Get the relationship off to a good start by formally welcoming the customer where appropriate. This might be with a small welcome gift, a letter outlining your commitment or something else that makes them feel valued. And, no, this is not the same as sending your standard terms and conditions of sale!

Expectations meetings

Once a contract has been signed, and especially where you will be interacting a lot with the customer around the delivery of the product or service, it is often beneficial to have an expectations meeting. The details of a working relationship between customer and supplier are often not discussed explicitly and this makes it more likely for one or other party to not meet the other’s expectations. Having an explicit conversation around how the relationship and interaction will work is well suited to a consultative sales approach and can head off possible difficulties before they occur. Also, once you have had a conversation about, for example, how quickly you will respond to telephone messages, it makes it easier to refer to these agreed standards and expectations when a difficulty does arise.

Examples of topics to include in an expectations meeting are

  • How we will communicate – how often, telephone, face-to-face and so on
  • Agreeing to raise problems immediately they occur
  • What we will deliver, specifically
  • What we need from you, specifically
  • Agreement to review how the relationship is going.

Immediate follow-up

Get into the habit of following up meetings or telephone calls immediately. The follow-up could be as simple as confirming a meeting and outline agenda, following a telephone call, or e-mailing the customer your understanding of the actions and timescales, following a meeting you attended.

Account planning

The specifics of this will vary widely, depending on your circumstances, but it is always good practice to have a plan. Without an account plan, you lack direction and focus. If you need to interact with other people in your company in order to sell, then a clear plan helps them see where you are headed and their part in the bigger picture.

At its most basic, an account plan needs to consider what your goal is with the customer over what period of time, along with the key actions that you need to take. More comprehensive account plans might include information about the following:

  • Contact details for influencers and decision makers in the account
  • How each of them feels about your company
  • Individual action plans to influence decision makers
  • Information about the client and their priorities and challenges.

Staying in touch

Although it is good common sense to stay in touch with customers, we often do not do this as regularly as we should. As long as the relationship is built on you adding value, the customer is unlikely to object to staying in touch and it is important that your customers know that you are thinking of them. There are a number of ways of doing this other than the ‘I’m just calling to stay in touch’ approach:

  • Send them a newsletter
  • Have formal meetings
  • Invite them for a drink or to a social or corporate event
  • Invite them to a networking opportunity
  • Give them a call on the telephone (‘I just saw something in this month’s... and thought you might be interested...’)
  • Send magazine or web articles that might be of value or interest to them
  • Send them a birthday card
  • Inform them of changes in policy or management
  • Give them an opportunity to meet your boss
  • Call them to make sure they received the order; find out what they thought.

Meeting management

Meetings represent a significant investment in your time (especially if you have to travel to the customer), so make the most of this investment by following some simple but important points:

  • When you arrange a meeting, make sure you propose an agenda and give the customer an opportunity to comment on it; this shows you are interested, professional and keen to maximise the use of time
  • Always confirm a meeting by email – especially if it has been arranged a long time in advance
  • Think about ways in which you can add value in every meeting
  • When the meeting starts, clarify that the agenda is still appropriate and the amount of time you have for the meeting
  • Be clear on the desired outcome or objective for a meeting; this focuses the participants on achieving it and helps prevent a meeting drifting off track
  • Summarise the actions, responsibilities and timelines at the end of the meeting and confirm by e-mail.