From THE HINDU group of publications
Thursday, December 06, 2001


Getting your selling right

M. Muhamed

We all want to expand our business. None of us want to stay at the small and medium level all the time. But, sometimes it might be better to stay at the same level and do things more meaningfully. Expansion is a tricky subject especially for salespeople looking to gain new customers. In this article, we will discuss some of the traps one can avoid when seeking to increase the customer base.

Are your salespeople talking too much? Sounds familiar? Salespeople who are too focused on their pitch end up dominating the time with a prospect. As a result, for every 60 minutes spent in front of a prospect, five minutes are spent selling the product or service and 55 minutes saying things that might actually be buying it back. Result: No order, cancelled order, or Ill think it over.

The 80/20 Rule (80 per cent of your business comes from 20 per cent of your clients) applies to selling as well. The goal should be to get the prospect to do 80 per cent of the talking, while you do only 20 per cent. The trick is in training them to do so. You probably require outside help, from consultants, in this respect.

Are your salespeople complaining that the selling is becoming like begging? Quite often, in recent times, salespeople fail to think of their time with a prospect as an interview to find out whether the prospect qualifies to do business with their company. Instead of asking questions that will determine whether it is possible to move the prospect to the level of a customer, salespeople often find themselves hoping, wishing and even begging for the opportunity to just show my wares and, maybe, make a sale. In selling, questions are the instrument to conduct a qualifying examination of the prospect. I have seen this happening in both B2B companies and even in recruitment companies. These recruitment consultants go begging for even one small assignment! I am not even talking of small time players here, but one of the top three firms in India!

Are your salespeople answering unasked questions? When a customer says something like, Your price is too high, salespeople often switch into a defensive mode. They will begin a lengthy speech on quality or value, or might even respond with a concession or price reduction. If customers can get a discount by merely making a statement, they will reason that they should not buy before trying something more powerful to get an even better price. Your price is too high, is not a question; it does not require an answer. Also, you need to train your salespeople adequately to overcome all possible objections.

Are your salespeople making too many presumptions? Most companies are no longer in the business of selling products but of providing solutions. This is fine, except that often salespeople try to tell the prospect the solution before they even understand the problem. The salesperson must ask questions up front to get a complete understanding of the prospects perspective. How many of us can claim that our salespeople are capable of doing this?

Are your salespeople failing to get a prospects commitment to purchase before making a presentation? Salespeople jump too easily at any opportunity to show how smart they are by making a presentation about their products or services features and benefits. They forget their true goal - to make a sale - and end up merely educating their prospects, who then have all the information they need to buy from a competitor. Yes, presentations may be necessary, but this should be planned carefully. Make your salespeople do prior study of the prospect and then decide.

Are your salespeople failing to get the prospect to reveal the budget up front? How can the salesperson possibly propose a solution without knowing the prospects priority on a problem? Knowing whether money has been allocated for a project can help distinguish someone who is ready to solve a problem from someone who is merely fishing around. The amount of money the prospect is willing to invest in solving a problem will help determine whether a solution is feasible, and which approach will be best.

Do your salespeople prefer hearing I want to think it over rather than No? Prospects frequently end a sales interview with the standard think it over line. The salesperson often accepts this indecision. It is easier to tell a manager or convince yourself that the prospect may buy in the future than to admit that the prospect is not a qualified candidate for the product or service. A no allows them to actually go on to prospects that are more promising.

Are your salespeople making too many follow-up calls? Whether because of a stubborn attitude that every prospect can be turned into a customer or ignorance that a sale is truly dead, salespeople sometimes spend too much time chasing accounts that do not qualify for a product or service. I am sure all of us have experienced this time and again. You really need to check on this from time to time.

Are your salespeople chatting about everything and avoiding starting the sale? Building rapport is essential, but not if the small talk does not end and the sale does not begin. Unfortunately, the prospect usually recognises this before the salesperson. The result: the salesperson is back on the street wondering how he or she did with that prospect.

Are your salespeople adopting a systematic approach to selling? When you find yourself ad-libbing or pursuing a hit or miss approach to a sale, the prospect controls the selling process. Salespeople who are disorganised in their presentation often leave a sales call confused and unsure of where they stand. This happens because they do not know where they have been and what the next step should be. Following a specific sequence and controlling the steps through the selling process, is vital to an organised, professional sales effort.

I have been talking to a number of business owners and consultants in the sales and customer service business and am always amazed by the number of prospects who tell me they feel heard for the first time. Clients want to know that we get it, we understand their needs, expectations and concerns when doing business.

(The author is Chief Consultant, Innovative Media, a knowledge management company. Feedback may be e-mailed to

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