Selling Techniques: Opening

Selling techniques can mean anything from tips and tricks on how to sell to any of the prevailing sales methodologies that sales and marketing “gurus” have come up with over the years. I will deal with the last in another article but here I want to give you the best of general sales practices from my own experience and well as many I dug up in researching these articles. What I am planning to do is provide a breakdown of various techniques that form each of the steps of the standard sales process. I will include advice on how to complete each step in terms of best practices and the different approaches that are being used by professional salespeople today.

The sales process that I will use to highlight various selling techniques is different from my five step sales process and the Buyer's, Seller's and Marketer's Journeys that I have written about in a previous article on sales process management. The reality is that there can be any number of ways of defining a sales process and for the purposes of this series of articles I am going to focus on the following steps that form the components of what most people consider a “sale”: i) Opening, ii) Qualification, iii) Presentation, iv) Countering Objections and v) Closing. This article will focus on the first of these and I will elaborate on subsequent steps in subsequent articles!

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• Selling Techniques: Qualifying | Presenting | Overcoming ObjectionsSales Process ManagementFive Step Sales ProcessSales and Marketing for “You”Cold Calling TechniquesCold Calling TipsSelling Techniques Consultant

Selling Techniques: Opening Up Opening

Once you have a list of prospects to call as well as a message, my cold calling scripts page takes you through the steps of a typical sales call: Greeting, Permission, Introduction, Quick Next Step, Benefit Statement, Qualification, Set Next Steps. What you are trying to do is engage the customer in a dialogue and take them step by step through the sales process with their consent. The key to it is focusing on their need or the benefit you are going to provide which is what motivates your customer and drives the sales process forward. Here are some tips and selling techniques to keep in mind when you first talk to customers. Bear in mind that most of these are phone tips and that in-person meetings take on a whole different dynamic to which many of these pointers may not apply:

i) People are People

Don't be scared of making calls and if you are then make them anyway! At the end of the day you are going to be talking to a person like yourself and you have to ask yourself, what is the worst that can happen? The worst is that they will swear at you and hang up and in 10 years of phone sales – including telemarketing! - that has happened to me just a handful of times. If you ask permission as I mention below and if you are professional then for the most part you can hang up gracefully if a person is not interested without feeling bad. There are no selling techniques for getting over the fear of calling except calling (and the fear never goes away, you just learn to deal with it!)

ii) 8 Possibilities

Be aware going in that there are only 8 possible outcomes when you call someone. Either the person you call “clicks” with you or not (subjectively, you will see them as being “nice” or “not nice”!). Either they are interested or not. Either they are a good fit for your business or not. When you add up all the various combinations you get 8. The last part you cannot control but you can control the first 2 to some degree and apply sales techniques here. You need to learn people skills – and being humble! - in order to be able to get along with more people. You also need to be able to talk about customer benefit and value points in order to engage interest

iii) Prepare

You should do your homework in trying to learn everything about your customer beforehand, especially if this is a big sale or an enterprise customer. You never know what little fact that comes up in a conversation can turn things in your favour. Also, your researching your customer beforehand demonstrates your professionalism and builds much need credibility and trust. In addition your preparedness should include knowing answers to all of the common questions that come up in sales discussions around your product or service. As you gain experience you will quickly figure out what these are

iv) Be Presentable

This is one of those sales techniques that seems like common sense and yet many salespeople do not follow. Being presentable is key in face-to-face meetings but is also important over the phone. Many phone sales professionals and experts will tell you that if you are dressed professionally then you will feel and sound more professional. In person you should avoid anything that stands out and simply try and be tasteful and professional. Overdressing is better than underdressing and it is rare to get told off for showing up in a tie

v) Be Professional

It is important to make eye contact in person and not to hesitate or waver when you are on the phone. Remember that you are there to do your customer a service and simply to ask them some questions to see if you can help them. Your voice and everything about you should exude confidence. You are the expert! Don't talk too fast or too much. On the phone a great technique is to lower the tone of your voice to begin with which will slow you down as well as make you sound more professional (it is a trick used in TV production!). As much as possible, try and stay in control of the conversation by asking questions and letting the customer do most of the talking

vi) Ask Permission

I have already mentioned this as a crucial first step in phone sales and I want to talk about this most valuable of selling techniques again. The first thing you should do after introducing yourself is ask something like, “May we chat for a few minutes?” This is simply being polite and will elevate you above the majority of phone salespeople who do not show this consideration. Another question is, “Are you the person responsible for...?” This question makes sure that you do not waste time talk to the wrong person. As a general rule, you should only speak with someone who has authority to make a sale or affect a decision.

vii) Be Precise

You should be able to describe what you do in a single, succinct sentence. People often practice a 30 second “elevator pitch” without being able to describe what they do with one breath. Unfortunately, that is all the time you will have on the phone once you have told your prospect your name and where you are calling from. If you do not grab their interest in the first 10 seconds they will most probably say they are busy or not interested and hang up. In order to engage them you should mention your unique differentiator or say something like, “We help companies like yours save money on your assembly line by automating routine processes.”

viii) Persuade

A lot of the time people will try and end the call with you without even listening just because most people have an aversion to sales calls. In cases like this you might say, “I am not trying to sell you anything, I just wanted a few minutes of your time.” This is technically true because you are not trying to sell them on that phone call. Or say, “I understand a lot of people don't like getting sales calls like this but I just wanted a few minutes of your time.” Or you can say, “Is it okay if I send you some information to go over?” and “I will touch base quickly next week to gather your thoughts!”

If a prospect listens to your “pitch” - which may just be a couple of value points! - and says they are not interested then it is likely that they simply do not trust you yet. It may be that they get a lot of calls or it may just be that they are busy. Whatever the case, DON'T LET THEM HANG UP without using one of the most valuable selling techniques out there which is what I call the Silver Bullet:

“Mr. [Customer], if I could should you a way to [achieve benefit] and [achieve benefit] as well as [remove pain] and [remove pain] all for an unbeatable price, would it be worth it for you to give me a few minutes of your time?”

Your silver bullet should contain the main benefits you provide and problems you solve and be worded like I have above. You can add superlatives likes “best”, “highest”, “most” and make your solution sound like it is the best thing since sliced bread, so to speak. This is where you can pour your guts and passion out and oversell to your heart's content because you have nothing to lose. I have rarely had anyone – busy executives included! - turn me down when I used a silver bullet.

If a person does give you a few minutes then you should begin with the qualification process by asking a few of your predetermined qualification questions. A great way to start off the qualification process is to ask a general question like, “Can you tell me about your [x,y,z] process (or current environment)?” Gently probe to find out their key pains and what they would like to change if they could. In a first call you can keep it short and end with, “We might be able to help you with that.” Send them some information and schedule a follow-up detailed call.

ix) Be Persistent

Many people think that selling techniques are all about learning how to persuade people but in actual fact it is just about having a few catch phrases and then using them when necessary professionally, politely and persistently. You should never argue with a customer as you will rarely get someone to change their mind that way. However, there is something about the way you can word phrases in order to elicit a positive response from a customer. Ask me about this if you are interested in how to do this

If you really have something that could be of great value to a prospect them this should make you passionate about winning them over. Once again, most people will have the same questions, concerns and objections and will say the same thing to you. As long as you are prepared for these in advance you will be able to overcome the majority of the resistance you face as long as the other person is willing to listen

x) Be Personable

What I have found and what many salespeople will tell you is that in sales you often have to alternate between being professional and being personable. Being too serious will not allow you to connect to your customer and neither will laughing and joking too much. However, by sprinkling your professionalism with occasional dashes of humour and lightness, you will seem more real and your customer will be able to relate with you

xi) Build rapport

You should this with your customer right away and one of the best ways to do this is to crack a joke. Believe it or not, this rarely fails and is a great ice-breaker, regardless of whether or not your customer finds the joke funny (a joke that falls flat can actually sometimes win you more points by making you seem vulnerable!). At least they will know that you are a good natured, friendly person. In terms of selling techniques for building rapport, simply try and have a genuine conversation with people rather than just read a script. The best indication of whether or not your customer is engaged is how much they talk

xii) Plan Your Process

I like sales and marketing guru Jeffrey Fox's advice: “Show the chain and sell the link.” For the most part, you are not going to be trying to sell a customer with one phone call. Rather, you will have a planned out sales process which may be i) introduction,  ii) send information, iii) schedule qualification call or in-person meeting, iv) product demonstration and so forth. Therefore your first call may simply be to introduce yourself, ask for their email address to send them some information and schedule a follow-up call or in-person appointment. At each step in the process you will say something like, “If [next step] looks good then we will [next next step]”

You should have different predetermined outcomes and selling techniques based on who you end up speaking with and what their personality is like. It may be possible to begin having a qualification conversation with an interested and congenial prospect on the very first call and at least ask a few questions to determine whether or not they are a good fit for your business. Alternatively, you may get a busy executive on the phone who asks for information via e-mail and refuses to engage further. At that point you might end with, “Is it okay if I touch base with you next week to gather your thoughts?”

Get help with Selling Techniques or share your expertise and experiences!

• Selling Techniques: Qualifying | Presenting | Overcoming ObjectionsSales Process ManagementFive Step Sales ProcessSales and Marketing for “You”Cold Calling TechniquesCold Calling TipsSelling Techniques Consultant

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