I’ve read many books, articles and blog posts on how to succeed in sales and telemarketing. Countless opinions are offered on the subject.
Most of these opinions are, however, repetitive and are rarely challenged. For example, we’ve all heard axioms such as these:
The customer is always right.
Don’t talk. Just listen.
Focus on the customer’s problems, to the exclusion of everything else.
Practice humility at all times.
Talk up your product or service and downplay those of your competitors.
Speak with customers as you would with friends and family members.
Don’t give up with any customer until you win the sale.
Always be closing.
I question these clichés. Sometimes they’re useful. Often they’re not.
Here are 10 alternative sales tactics to consider. Please view them with good humour and an open mind. They may make the difference between recurring failure and enduring success. Perhaps they will even encourage you to check in on one or two of your long term beliefs to see if they are still valid.
1. Value yourself and your customers equally
Believing ‘the customer is always right’ and placing customers on a pedestal can potentially diminish your own confidence. And confidence is vital to positive influence and persuasion.
Yes, the customer is important. So are you. So is your organisation. A successful business relationship facilitates a win for all parties.
Just as you need to understand customers’ needs, values and wants, you also need to have pride in your business and the quality of your products or services. Sales success is the culmination of satisfying all stakeholders, not just one.
As social media and sales commentator Gary Vaynerchuk suggests in an interview with Steli Efti:
The worst salespeople are just out for themselves, and that’s why we see a lot of bad salespeople. The second-worst type of salesperson is one hundred per cent in the camp of the customer. They’re doing something that’s not benefiting their business. To me, the best salespeople provide value on both fronts.
Long-term sales relationships are only sustainable when both the salesperson and the customer are generating ongoing value for each other and for themselves.
2. Encourage two-way conversations
Sales trainers will often tell you to shut up and let customers do all the talking. I respectfully disagree.
The best salespeople are, and always have been, articulate. They are interesting and engaging conversationalists.
Of course, you should always facilitate opportunities for customers to explain their needs, desires and challenges. To do this, however, you’ll need to talk – at least to ask the right questions.
If you’re silent and fail to guide the interaction, it’s likely to veer off into areas of no practical use to you or your customer. You may come away feeling that, while you’ve enjoyed a pleasant chat, you haven’t uncovered the issues that will help you and the customer evolve the business relationship.
When a customer agrees to a sales conversation with you, they’re probably seeking advice. It’s your responsibility to ask the right questions and ultimately provide this advice, based on your specialist knowledge and the efficacy of your products or services.
3. Prioritise outcomes over problems
I’ve heard many ‘experts’ say the key to selling is to identify and empathise with customers’ problems. The salesperson’s role, they argue, is that of a problem-solver.
The difficulty with this approach is that, once a customer begins focusing on the negative aspects and details of their situation, they tend to fall into a pessimistic mindset. They find it tough to eventually switch their attention to positive outcomes and solutions.
Much better, in my opinion, to begin by concentrating on a vision of what the customer ultimately wants – their “better view” of the situation.
At the outset, ask customers to describe the ideal outcome they desire. In this way, you can work with them to identify strategies for achieving it. You can also explore the ways your product or service can serve as a catalyst for this.
In the process, it’s interesting to observe how the apparent seriousness of problems and obstacles naturally diminishes.
4. Sell with pride
People like to buy from experts. It’s up to you, therefore, to elucidate your relevant personal credentials and the qualities of your company, its products and services.
In one way or another, you need to convince customers that you and your organisation have the skills and know-how to help them achieve their desired outcomes.
Think of yourself as an authority figure in your industry. It’s a good thing if the sales conversation resembles a lesson given by a teacher to a student.
You don’t need to speak with false humility. Instead, position yourself as a trusted advisor. A leader. Engage with the gravitas and sincerity of an erudite expert.
As consultant and author Alan Weiss likes to say, “if you don’t blow your own horn, there is no music.”
5. Know when to give up
Be quick to assess whether your product or service is the right fit for individual customers. When you decide it’s not the right fit in a specific situation, be quick to acknowledge this fact.
You don’t have to persist and pursue every prospective customer until they say ‘no’. If you do that, without discrimination, you’ll just gain a reputation of being one of those archetypal ‘annoying salespeople’.
Use your sensory acuity – assess what your eyes, ears and feelings tell you about the needs and wants of the person in front of you.
When it’s the truth, don’t be afraid to let a prospect know that you are not the right solution for them: there’s no point trying to sell meat to a vegetarian.
6. Don’t agree with customers about everything
If you’re in business-to-business sales and you identify that a customer’s organisation has an operational deficiency that your product or service can fix, it’s your responsibility to say so – even if it risks hurting their feelings.
In the long run, you’re doing what’s best for the customer. They’re likely to eventually thank you for your honesty.
When you simply agree with customers every time they articulate a misunderstanding or even prejudiced opinion, you’re not doing them any favours. Your value lies in your independent, knowledgeable perspective.
It’s a trust-building exercise. Most customers will ultimately realise that, by telling the truth, you have the courage to potentially jeopardise the sale for the sake of doing what’s right. After that, they’ll know you can always be trusted to provide objective, helpful advice without fear or favour.
7. Praise your competitors
Whenever a salesperson is quick to disparage a competitor’s products or services, customers become sceptical. And scepticism diminishes trust.
Much better to honestly praise your competitors. Acknowledge their achievements.
You don’t need to say your competitors are superior to you and your business. But be honest, positive and objective.
Position your competitors, and your industry as a whole, as being of a high standard. Then, when you explain the ways in which your offering is even better, customers will likely be impressed by the overall positivity of your message.
They’ll appreciate your candour and fairness. Their trust in you will be enhanced. They may give you the sale as a direct result of their respect for your behaviour.
8. Acknowledge your limitations
We all have strengths and weaknesses. When you’re self-aware, you’ll know how to capitalise on your strengths and delegate the tasks you’re not so good at.
Be real. For example, don’t pretend that you possess specific technical knowledge that you actually lack. Instead, tell your customer that you’ll come back to them with accurate information. Then get the information from a true expert within your organisation.
In this way, customers will know you can be relied on to tell the truth and that your business, as a whole, is a trustworthy source of useful, relevant expertise.
9. Encourage customers to feel obliged
You can induce customers into feeling a sense of obligation to you, simply by treating them so well they wouldn’t dream of buying from anyone else.
Customers will eventually feel indebted if, from the outset, you’re the one in the relationship who continually gives – things like time, advice, resources and referrals – while they’re taking. They’ll feel compelled to consider your needs and will want to reciprocate.
As Robert Cialdini argues in his seminal book, Influence: the psychology of persuasion, reciprocity is one of the key principles of influence. It’s a natural, fundamental human response to generosity.
Enjoy the process of helping customers repeatedly. The ultimate mutual reciprocity will contribute to building the relationship. And a strong relationship is a necessary prerequisite to making the sale.
10. Relax about the close
Don’t worry too much about how and when you can close the sale. Focus instead on building a mutually respectful business relationship. Concentrate on offering a solution that perfectly meets customers’ needs and delivers the results they need.
If you’ve done this effectively, you won’t need to think about asking for the sale – there’s no reason the customer wont proceed to the close on their own accord.
Be patient. The development of each sales relationship as a marathon, not a sprint.
Keep the lines of communication open. Keep providing useful advice. Keep the faith. Customers will learn to trust you and will ultimately bring the sale to you.