Axio Development

How to articles – Sales Skills

Sales Skills

Today we will cover all of the steps in the process of developing professional sales skills and how they fit together, from making the initial contact with potential customers, through to getting the order and following up with a view to getting repeat business. At all stages it focuses firmly on building and developing the relationship with customers so that they see us as solution providers and problem solver, not just sales people.

Step 1. Use of the telephone

The first step of effective sales skills is to set appointments effectively and consistently. Telephone techniques, ways to deal with ‘gatekeepers’ and what the best methods are for the initial contact are all important.  Relying solely on email or other social media too much will not deliver the levels and numbers of appointments needed for an effective sales person. Here are some tips for effective appointment setting using the telephone:

  1. Keep It Short. That means less than two minutes maximum. Experience teaches that the longer we talk on the phone, a) the more questions he/she will ask us, b) the more information we provide, the more possible objections we are giving the person, c) the more information we are giving away that we shall actually discuss in a potential meeting
  2. Commit The Time. If we cheat ourselves on the time allowed for making telephone calls, we will not achieve the required number of appointments. We must block out a specific time in our diary to make these calls. If say we want to have one hour of appointment setting, this time must not include preparation, searching the web for phone numbers etc. IT should just be a straight 1 hour with one call after the other.
  3. Get organised. The telephone calls must be prepared at least the day before on a planning sheet. This means that we can make rapid telephone calls and a good discipline is not even to put the telephone down between calls.
  4. Attitude Of Expectation. Making appointments by telephone is a question of attitude. The key is to sound confident and as if you expect to speak to the person concerned. Never say “Can I speak to Mr ….. please”, just “Mr …… please” – it sounds authoritative and as if you know the person. Always use the person’s Christian name as well as his/her surname with the person who answers, but not with the customer unless you know them.
  5. It’s a Numbers Game. Achieving success getting appointments is primarily down to mathematics again e.g. 9 calls, get through to three, appointment with one. Keep a record of Dials (the number of times you pick up the phone), Talk To’s (the number of times you get through to the actual person you wanted to) and Appointments Made.

You will inevitably find that some days you can make 50 phone calls and get no appointments, whereas another day you will make 3 phone calls and get 3 appointments.  Do not be disheartened, just hit the target number of calls you set for the day.

Step 2. Get their attention! Book the Appointment

OK, you got through. You now have 30 seconds to live or die in terms of generating enough interest to get to talk further or make an appointment. You therefore need to have a benefits based attention getter ready.

  • Introduction – “Mr Peter Jones?” (“Is that Peter” if you know him) “Yes” “Hi, it’s Andrew Davis (your name) here from (your company)”
  • Reason To Talk/Meet – it’s important that you have this prepared. It should be based on what you know about his needs and how your product or service will meet those needs.
  • Once you have got their attention you then must state that the best way for them to understand what you can do for them is through a face to face meeting
  • Give the option of two or three different time for appointment – do not ask “are you happy for us to meet up” as this is a closed question which will likely get you the answer “no”.

Step 3. The sales meeting

At this point you are in front of the customer. You do not have any idea what is important to him/her at this point so it is no use talking about you own products and services before you know what they want.

This is where the most successful sales people spend most of time – using their sales skills to explore the gap between where a customer is now and where ideally they want to be. Establishing not just what they want but why in the context of what is going in the market, the business, the team and for them as individuals. The higher the sale value, the more time is usually spent here in order to establish real value in your solution. Here are a few tips:

  • The best questions are open ended: Who, What, Why, Where, How, When.
  • Although you may have experienced similar scenarios with many customers over many years, this may well be the first time this customer is thinking this through. So, allow them time to answer; your job is one of coach helping them to think clearly about the issues they face.
  • Type out a list of structured questions and keep it with you in a see-through folder It is perfectly acceptable to say, “I have prepared a few questions for this conversation/meeting – do you mind if I refer to them from time to time?” In fact it is the sign of a professional
  • Work to recognize their buying motives but do not act on them at this point
  • Make notes

Step 4. The sales proposal

Before you present anything of your products and services you must summarise what you have heard and get the customers agreement. You should start by saying:

  • This is where you are now
  • This is where you want to be
  • These are some of the barriers as you see it (if any)
  • These are the consequences if you don’t do something about it (now and future)
  • These are the benefits you would enjoy by bridging the gap
  • These are the indicators that will tell you improvement is being made
  • This is the value of those improvements

Then ask “Is that about right? So in summary, it is seems both important and urgent to do something about it!”

Now you are ready to move on to sounding the prospect/client out about the outline solution you have in mind.

“The outline solution I see will probably involve…” Now you can come in with what you believe is the right product/service for them. You may need to go away and work on this in detail if it’s a high value sale and present it back at a further appointment.

Step 5. Warning signals and handling objections

Picking up on warning signals and objections is crucial and this then leads into negotiating with the customer. The ability to negotiate effectively can make or break a sale.

General principles of dealing with warning signals and answering objections:

  • Understand completely before answering. Ask, “Why do you say that?”
  • Empathise with emotions, overcome with facts
  • Genuinely put yourself in their shoes
  • It is not a battle or an argument – even if you win, you will lose
  • Keep your answers short
  • You have three options: Ignore frivolous objections. Delay if they will be dealt with later, you don’t know or need more information. Deal with immediately if they are serious or near closing
  • Soften the objection by re-stating it using your own words, then deal with it. For example – Expensive: “I agree it will involve a bigger investment”. Late: “I appreciate it will arrive an hour or two beyond the ideal”.

Step 6. Agreeing the sale

Agreeing the sale should not be the “big part” of the selling process where we take a deep breath and prepare for a battle! If you are struggling here, again it is probably because you have not done your job properly earlier on in the sale. In fact, if a customer, especially involving a large piece of business, perceives we are trying to manipulate them with closing techniques, they will resist, switch off and regard you as unprofessional.

Phase 1: In terms of a thermometer, this first phase is to check whether the customer is cold, warm or hot! A trial close is simply asking for an opinion.

  • “How do you feel about this idea up to now?”
  • “What are your initial thoughts up to this point?”
  • “What do you like about what you have heard so far?”
  • “Based upon our discussions so far, how does it sound?”

Cold: If you are met with a cold response, it is most likely that you have not really uncovered a strong enough need. Go back into the questioning stage.

Warm: If you are met with a warm response, check to see what they like so far and what, if anything, may be causing them to hesitate. The customer may need more convincing with additional evidence.

Hot: They are nearly ready to buy. Keep eyes and ears open for buying signs.

Phase 2: Once the signs are “hot”, we can ask more assumptive questions:

  • “How soon will you need it?”
  • “Ideally which colour do you want?”
  • “Does it matter what day it is delivered on?”
  • “What is the best way for you to pay?”

Phase 3: Finally, we can move into the third phase – from the “sell to the tell”:

  • “OK, this is what we need to do.”
  • “I will contact our distribution manager and tell him the date you want it delivering.”
  • “The next step is for me to meet the other people involved – what will be the best date?”
  • “I just need to get the paperwork completed. Could you just sign here please?”

These steps for in developing effective sales skills are easy to understand but not so easy to apply. They take determined effort and practice and the ability to try again when things don’t go well. Once mastered though you will be seen as a professional sales person, someone who cares about what the customer wants and needs – in other words a resource and problem solver not just someone who wants to sell them something. For more information about our sales skills training go to:

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