With businesses large and small steeling themselves for a difficult year, Lisette Howlett, from Sandler Training in London, gives her top tips on how to win business in 2012 by improving sales techniques.
With the economic climate for 2012 looking gloomy to say the least, it's easy for businesses to feel that their main objective this year is to simply ride the wave and stay afloat. However, it’s important to remember that even when times are tough, there are still endless opportunities that can be seized and that aiming high is always the best approach to help businesses realise their aspirations.
“Just think about Apple, which turned its fortunes around during the middle of the dot.com boom and the numerous recession start ups – not to mention the strong financial results recently posted by luxury retailers, John Lewis and Waitrose. What this demonstrates is that whatever your business, it is possible to buck the trend and take control in 2012. By starting the year with the right approach to sales and by implementing the best techniques, the opportunities to win business are endless.”
Sales is a process built on a series of skills that can be learnt, developed and grown over time - and that cross-industry sales issues, can be overcome even in financially challenging times such as these.
Putting together a prospect plan
It’s always worthwhile to invest time in putting together a watertight sales plan, to define the sales focus and agree best practice. So before you even think about sales outreach, take time to look at the stages you need to go through in your sales process and try and quantify the activities you need to be doing to put yourself in front of prospective clients. This is part of breaking the large annual sales down into manageable bite sized pieces.
Then, have a think about who is your ideal prospect – it's a lot easier to go out to find clients when you know exactly what you're looking for. Once you have a detailed profile of your ideal client it will help you when asking for referrals and deciding on whom to target in networking meetings.
Have a system
Even with a simple sale, there are many complex elements that can change. You need to have a basic structure so that you can monitor and measure your results – as well as make adjustments as necessary.
A part of this is setting time aside to debrief after a prospect meeting and documenting your learnings. If the interaction went well, what can you take from that to replicate in other meetings? If it didn’t go well, what is the one thing you could have done better and can you practice it through by yourself for the next time?
The “people element” – you and them
It’s inevitable that if you sound, smell, look, act like every other salesperson your prospect has ever seen, this is how you will be treated. So from the beginning it’s imperative you personalise the whole experience. If they are doing it, do the opposite.
Firstly, remember that people are most interested in themselves and the problems they encounter. Talking about you and the features/benefits of your product is a one-way track to protracted sales, stalls and objections and ultimately failure. The amount of sales you make is proportional to the amount of information you gather, not the information you give. One of the greatest skills you need to master in a sales environment is to be an effective listener. By talking knowledgeably about their problems, you will hold your prospects attention and ultimately, enable them to engage with you.
When we meet with prospects we want to hear a yes. That's only natural. We also feel in difficult times, beggars can’t be choosers. But sometimes if you're in front of 'the prospect from hell' you need to make a judgement call as to whether it would be beneficial to turn them into a client from hell - or simply walk away. Unfortunately some people cannot be pleased – and to boot they can take up huge amounts of your time and resources and then pay you very little in return.
Sometimes it pays to be discerning. In the business world there will always be time wasters; the trick is to spot them early and not let them waste your most valuable resource – your time. The best sales strategy has a screening process whereby the fit between your prospect's needs and your solution is a “win win” for both parties.
The sales meeting or the sales calls do not have to be a gritty, hard-won, exhausting experience. You may need to be gutsy for a few seconds at a time, but learn to relax and bring some humour into things. If you enjoy what you doing, it comes across in your speech, body language and your whole presence.
We are all human at the end of the day and the whole process is infinitely more enjoyable when the buyer and the seller treat each other with equal business stature. This should be and needs to be an adult-to-adult conversation. But this requires change on the salesperson’s part. As we all know change is difficult but if you always do as you have always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. And if you want 2012 to be the year when you win more business and give your sales the boost they need then the change needs to start with you – and you’ll soon see that with a little time investment, planning and a change in attitude then this could be a pivotal year for your business.