Fellow sales professional and consultant Marvin Montgomery agrees that there is a negative stigma surrounding the sales profession. “Sales people think anyone can get out there and do this,” he says, adding, “Most don’t do it the right way.” For a small business with limited resources, inefficiencies in the sales process can have a dramatic effect.
So, what is the right way to approach the sales process? Becker and Montgomery identified five ways your business development program can be driven to new heights.
1. Identify prospects, not suspects
Entrepreneurs have a limited amount of time on their hands and should not be wasting that precious time on suspects; they should be going after prospects, Montgomery says. How can you tell the difference between the two? It helps to ask the following questions during the initial contact:
- What is the timeframe for when the product or service must be delivered? If the timing doesn’t work out for both parties, then there is no sense moving forward.
- Does the customer have the budget for the product or service? Again, if there can be no agreement on pricing, then the sales person is not talking to a prospect; he or she is dealing with a suspect.
- Is this person a decision-maker? Ideally, your sales team will be most efficient in working with people who are in a position to make a decision and aren’t just gathering information.
“Sales people need to look at the initial meeting as an exploration meeting,” he says. “You’ll both explore if there is a need to partner up together.” And if there isn’t a need to partner, make sure the customer leaves the meeting feeling good about potential business deals in the future.
A lot of people simply think selling is selling, Montgomery says. That’s the wrong way to go about it. He believes selling is listening. It’s not the job of a small-business sales person to do an info dump. It’s the job of this person to identify whether there is a need for their product or service.
“It’s all about asking questions and listening,” he says.
Becker agrees that sales people should engage potential customers in conversation. “I bet if you ask all of your questions and listen to the customer, they will tell you what they want,” he says. “People want to be helped, not sold.”
Montgomery says it’s best for sales people to engage in “active listening” to help force them to pay attention. This can include note-taking and can also be as simple as leaning forward during the conversation. “Acknowledge that you understand what is being said,” Montgomery says.
3. Ask for the business
Once the sales person has a clear understanding of the customers’ needs, it’s time to start closing the sale. That begins with asking for the business, Montgomery says.
Becker says it’s best to be direct at this stage of the process. He points to how doctors approach patients: Doctor’s don’t waste time talking about family matters; they ask pointed questions to determine your health. In the same way, sales people should ask direct questions to try to zero in on the deal.
“Get to the point,” he advises. “You don’t need to dance. You don’t need to play games.”
4. After the meeting
Regardless of whether a sale is made, it’s important for small businesses to rely on the one natural advantage they have over their larger competitors: the personal touch.
“Be real,” Becker says. “Have a high emotional intelligence. If you are truly empathetic and put the customer first, they will never forget you. Do the right thing. Don’t just talk a good game, but pretend you have just one client: How do they want to be treated?”
5. Practice, practice, practice
Becker and Montgomery agree that small business owners need to be continually refining their sales game. In the same way Lebron James practices the fundamentals of the game of basketball, sales people need to practice their own fundamentals.
“A lot of sales people come to the game not prepared and they think the best way to sell is to endear themselves to the customer by talking a lot and doing a lot of small talk,” he says. “That’s the last thing you should do.”
Instead, in the same way musicians have a musical score laid out in front of them during a concert, entrepreneurs shouldn’t be afraid to bring notes to a sales meeting, Becker says.
“Sales people are supposed to cheat,” he explains. If you have your questions already written out, that allows you to focus on Step No. 1: listening.