Lesson 4: Sales Techniques

The Basics of Sales Techniques

Startup sales can be tough. Even if you’re a seasoned salesperson, at some moments in the startup sales journey, you will need some sort of support or guidance. Perhaps the key to any sales process is communication. When you’re selling a product or service, the way you communicate is crucial, regardless of whether it’s face-to-face, over the phone or via an email.

How do you know who to communicate with? Handily enough, that’s our first point! Let’s take a look at an approach that should get you started with sales.

1. Find customers

You aren’t going to do business with everyone. And even if you were, you have to start somewhere. You have to focus somewhere to build up that momentum we talked about.

First, create a list of potential customers. It should be large enough to give you the opportunity to really delve in and repeat the process a couple of times. If your target market is too small, your odds of success decrease. You may have to merge two similar target markets to make the numbers work in your favour.

A market (as a whole) refers to people or organisations with the ability to purchase your product or services. However, even though a market could purchase your product, they are not all prospective customers. You need to break the overall market up into various segments, or target markets, consisting of customers who have characteristics in common that will make them more likely to buy your product.

How do you describe a target market? Start by understanding their demographics, psychographics (needs, wants and values) and digital habits.

Demographics are the tangible, reasonably fixed elements of a customer. When you know who your audience is and where to reach them, you can go forth and sell to them.

Target market vs. target audience

Your target market is all of the people who might actually buy your product. A target audience is a specific grouping of people within the target market at whom an actual marketing message is aimed. Brands commonly have more than one target audience.  

Depending on your objectives, you will probably target different types of consumers. For instance:

  • Existing customers
  • Competitor’s customers
  • New leads
  • Influencers and thought leaders
  • Business partners
  • Industry experts.

2. Be prepared

Knowing your products and services is an essential sales skill.  If you understand your products’ features, you can present their benefits accurately and persuasively, and your customers will respond to your enthusiasm.  

Customers are more inclined to trust salespeople who show confidence in themselves and what they are selling. You can build this confidence by:

  • Increasing your knowledge of your products or services
  • Drawing on your own experience of using the products or service
  • Listening to the feedback from your customers
  • Visiting the manufacturers
  • Being aware of what your competitors are up to.

The first step is to get them to try your offering. This can be difficult task, so here are some tips to help you:

  • Lay out your argument clearly and concisely.

For example, our “new cookies” have the same great taste you’re used to, but they have 50 percent fewer calories and contain no fat. Clearly, taste is a matter of personal opinion, but a lower caloric content and no fat are facts. That should convince at least some people that your product is a healthy alternative and worth trying.

  • Try to use demonstrations that highlight the value of your offering, especially if the benefits are visible

For something like a weight loss product, before and after photos may be useful.  Presenting the results of tests you have conducted can change people’s opinions, especially if these tests have been done by a third party.

  • There are people who are always willing to try new things. If you provide incentives and offer free samples, as long as they satisfy, these customers will be more likely to purchase your product or service in the future.
  • If the right people are seen using your product or service, others may be persuaded to give it a try.

For example, Nike will often donate equipment to high-visibility athletes or teams. The athletes who wear the running shoes are “influencers”, and seeing them wear the shoes will prompt others to purchase this or another Nike.

  • Try and get endorsements from prominent/influential people.

Think of authors, who often get experts in their field or genre to write a blurb, which they place on the back cover of their book. That way, people who respect the opinion of the experts will buy the book.

As you engage with your customers, you can use your knowledge to lead them through the sales process and make their experience an enjoyable one that they’ll want to revisit.

If you are an intrapreneur – pushing innovative ideas from inside a company you already work for – think how much easier these first two stages are! You already know exactly who to talk to and, probably, what kind of argument will convince them.

3. Your first meeting

At some point, you will be able to meet your first customer in person. This is your golden time! Make sure you understand what success looks like for them so that you can discuss your service or product in a way that shows how it will help them be successful.  As of this meeting, you need to deliver on what you said you were going to do and begin to build a relationship.

In the beginning this could mean listening with your full focus to what your new client’s struggles are. They may be a hidden agenda. Try to see things from your customer’s perspective, really listen to what is going on in their world. 

Make sure you are very clear about the problem you are trying to solve. Ask them what they need, and ask why they need it, until you understand exactly how you are going to be of service to your new customer.

If you have an expectation exchange, you will be able to take your new client from their pain point to a promise.  Get to know them, their needs, and their business practices. By understanding their business, the personalities involved, and their buying motivators, you will begin to establish the trust needed to assist them in addressing their core challenges.

What’s an expectation exchange? Exactly what it sounds like – tell them what you expect, but, importantly, find out what they expect. Sometimes customers aren’t even sure of what their pain point is; it’s up to you to figure it out.

Research shows that people tend to make up their minds about the rest of the conversation (and you) within the first few seconds of meeting. This decision is based on your tone, manner, approach, and even your dress and the inflection of your voice. You might be able to change their impression later, but it’s a lot easier to make a positive impression the first time around.

Let’s look at some points to keep in mind to ensure that your first impression (and second, third, and fourth impressions…) is the best possible one.

Value first, price second

One of the cardinal rules of sales is to start discussing price only after your prospective customer fully understands the value of your product or service. Research indicates that people use cost as a gauge for quality. If you bring up cost too early in a conversation, a prospective buyer might believe your product/service is too expensive and out of their reach or too cheap to do the job.

Sell the solution, not the product

We keep on coming back to this point, but it’s crucial. To optimise sales and drive growth for your startup, you need to focus on the pains and gains you’re solving for your potential customer. Selling a solution leads to trust and, over time, a dedicated customer following.

Target Your Opportunities. Slowly

Having too many options can get confusing. We suggest starting with five to six target companies to focus on. This means you can learn a lot about them to better identify those pain points. Once you’ve made some progress with those five or six, you can expand your search.

Prepare for a meeting, and then prepare again.

Before a sales meeting, make sure you know who you’re meeting with. Why they might be interested? What aspect of the product/service solves a specific challenge for them? The more you know, the better. Come up with all the possible questions you think they might ask and prepare the answers before the meeting. If a prospective customer asks a question you genuinely don’t know the answer to, tell them you’ll have to get back to them. Don’t make up something on the spot!

Don’t Push

Desperation might not repel your friends and family, but it’s certainly not going to win over any large corporations. If you feel a prospective customer hesitating, make sure you’re the first to say “I can see this might not be for you right now. Can I get back to you another time?” It’ll earn you respect, and they’ll be sure to remember you next time.

The second best answer is a quick no

No one likes rejection, but it’s part of life and learning. Be prepared for a few “no’s” along the way, respect the people who give them to you, and move on. Nothing is worse than moving through the sales cycle, preparing like crazy, and refining proposals only to have the prospect say no right at the end.

Make room for PR

Traditional advertising relies on your marketing material to do the selling for you. While this is not a bad idea, a startup needs to build credibility in the marketplace. One of the best ways to do this is through the brand building and endorsements that good PR offers. Local industry publications and blogs can help boost your business, and unlike traditional media, PR endures beyond the dates of an advertising campaign.

Always be helpful

Some of the best sales strategies are built around providing genuine support and help for customers. From prospecting leads to cashing in the sales cheque, you need to make time to educate customers, research their challenge, and position yourself as a proactive problem solver.  Obviously, you don’t want to throw your sales goals out of the window to bend over backwards for a client, but you’re more likely to lead your customer to the best solution for their business if your primary goal is to help them.

4. Be the last to speak

Research indicates that top-performing sales people spend approximately 46% of the time talking and 54% listening. In comparison, average sales people spend up to 68% of their time talking, and the worst-performing sales people spend a whopping 72% of their time talking!

Holding your opinions until the end of a meeting is a skill. Listening allows you to understand the position of your potential customer – their needs, wants and objections. Furthermore, the benefit of being the last to speak means that it gives everyone else the feeling that they have been heard and contributed. Be sure that you are speaking to and working with the decision-makers of the company so that you know you’re hearing the concerns of the people who are most invested. Have on hand a list of questions to ask that will elicit more than a yes or no answer.  You could start with background questions about the business to put everyone at ease.

Some sample questions might be:

  • What problems are you facing?
  • What are your expectations?
  • What is your budget?
  • When do you want to get started?
  • What would you view as success? (Or: What do you want the end result of this to look like?/ What do you want to be able to do?)
  • What is the next step?
  • What else can I do to help?

Being the last to speak gives you time to establish some sort of rapport and hopefully a fruitful two-way dialogue. Allowing potential customers to ask questions and voice their opinions will provide you with some really great customer insights that could help you refine your product or service offering. And remember – always make sure the customer has finished speaking, has answered your questions in a way that really gets to the root of their problem, and has nothing more to add before you propose a solution!

5. Proposing a solution to the customer

We just mentioned proposing a solution. What should that look like? Your presentation should offer a summary of key points that explains the benefits of your product or service. You should provide facts that can help the person decide whether to become your business’s customer. Give them tips and share your knowledge.  

Remember: People buy benefits, not features. They don’t care about lists of ingredients as much as they care about the benefits those ingredients will deliver. Answer your new customer’s question, “What’s in it for me?” Okay, your new TV has super-HD and surround-sound for days, but what does that feel like for the customer?

People start to own a product when they hold it in their hands, take it for a test drive, carry it into a fitting room, or in some other way get involved in a tactile manner, so take a prototype of some kind in with you.

Make every effort to keep the conversation going by addressing queries and objections your client may have.  When your new client expresses their questions or concerns, try to find out more, paraphrase to show you understand, and then present a positive response. Mirroring or repeating what your client has expressed shows that you have heard what they have said and that you understand exactly what they need.  

Be aware that 50% of what is said is relevant and the other 50% is body language: stay relaxed, confident, and open. Fidgeting is usually a sign of stress.

Understanding the value of your product to the buyer also means that you can create an experience that makes them come back to you – and possibly pay a premium for it. Making a sale is as much – if not more – about the experience and what the product or service represents as it is about what you’re actually selling.  

For example, the cool factor of having an Apple product means that the average computer user is made to feel innovative and tech savvy. If you’re a driver, what better way to reflect success than a premium car like BMW?  McDonalds doesn’t promise healthy eating, but that you’ll love the taste and the convenience. These businesses sell the experience. Larock Frazer says “Products are 25% of what you sell. The rest is an intangible feeling.”

The truth is that behind every successful product is a killer sales pitch. Great ideas are a dime a dozen, but, as some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs know, it takes the hustle and grind of sales to build a business.

How to create an elevator pitch (source)

Watch this video to gain valuable knowledge on selling your business idea in 5 minutes.

6. Close the deal

Decision time!  Closing is a process that always ends with your customer’s agreement to take action. At the conclusion of every interaction with your customer, ask for an agreement on the action he or she will take. Keep in mind that closing is an agreement for action on the part of your customer, and make it your goal to close every interaction.

7. Evaluate

Knowing what works and what doesn’t gives you the opportunity to rethink your process. Adjust or get rid of what doesn’t work, and keep what does. If you hit your numbers, celebrate! Then look ahead to the next month. What’s the goal? What’s the plan? If you didn’t hit your numbers, determine what might need to be changed – and change it. Then add the missed amount to the coming month’s goal. You don’t want to give up on the overall goal by letting the past month drop.

This process will work over and over again. You’ll find that the momentum builds with each step, so it becomes easier and the results improve. Keep analysing.

As you move forward with your plan, you must monitor how well it is working. On the first day of each month, look back at the previous month. Building your database is imperative to the growth and success of your business. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How did it go?
  • What worked?
  • What didn’t work?
  • Did I hit my numbers?

Implementing a sales strategy keeps you focused and increases your chances of success.  Be persistent by staying connected and building relationships with the clients you have identified.  Help them help you.

Check out this video on the six principles of persuasion:

This TedX talk on the science of sales discusses the challenges startups face in creating a repeatable and scalable sales process.

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