Sales are the lifeblood of any business. Without a steady flow of sales, your business will dry up and die, no matter if you’re the CEO of a big business or a single freelancer, working on your own.
Making sales is tough: it takes courage, tenacity and creativity, and sales mastery is arguably the most important business skill of all. Here are 23 tips on sales, to help you with the magical process of “rain making”.
Get the right people to sell
Hire them, build them up, do whatever you have to, to get the right people to be selling for you. There are two types of people in the world: those who can sell and those who can’t. Without good salespeople, you will not have customers or a business. If you’re the rainmaker in your organisation, you need to become the best salesperson you possibly can, even if it’s not your natural environment. Ignore sales at your peril.
Always be honest. Integrity sells better than anything. If, for example, you can see a client doesn’t actually need what they are wanting to buy from you, let them know (and try to sell them what they do need). Never oversell your services or products, because that will ultimately undermine you. Honesty is the best (sales) policy.
Learn to take rejection
You’re always going to hear people say no (or not even bother to reply); it’s just part of the selling process. You’ll need to pick yourself up over and over, and don’t give up. Don’t let rejections debilitate you; learn from them by gaining as much information you can about why the answer was no and let rejections make you stronger.
Teamwork makes the dream work
At Flow Communications, where I work, we have a team approach to sales. Anyone in the company who is interested can be on the sales team, and we regularly have more than half of all employees closing a sale in a quarter. Different people are good at different things, and sales is multifaceted, so it makes sense to approach sales as a team.
There are accomplished presenters, for example, who can communicate well, people who are excellent at spreadsheets and costing, and good designers who can make a sales pitch visually compelling. People work to quarterly sales targets and help one another to get there – it’s harnessing the power of collaboration, rather than competition.
Have a dedicated sales process
Define and communicate your sales process clearly, and automate the parts that don’t require humans (for example, you can record sales and generate quote numbers digitally). Have defined methods of capturing leads, producing quotes, and measuring successes versus rejections and project progress, all the way to invoicing and collection. Sales can be a chaotic environment – your processes should be clear, resilient and supportive rather than a contributor of chaos.
Be enthusiastic about all sales. Even if a sale is very small, it can lead to bigger things. Very few large sales are made off the bat – usually, it takes time to build up to larger sales, as sales connections are largely built on relationships of trust.
Good relationships are a key sales tool
Treat every interaction with a client or potential client (i.e. everybody) positively, as any interaction can lead to a sale. Be responsive to people and, ideally, position yourself as their partner. Never take relationships with clients for granted, and always treat clients as people, not just buyers. Get to know them, including who their families are, and what their hobbies and dislikes are. Practise empathy with your clients. Schedule catch-ups with them with no agenda to sell them anything, just to actively listen to them and to get to know them. The bottom line is people do business with people they know, trust and like.
Always do your best
Always do your best work for a client. Never cut corners. Even if you lose money on some jobs, think about the lifetime value of a contract.
Recency is the tendency to remember what you’ve seen recently much better than what you’ve seen in the past. Relevancy is how important the information is to you. Harnessing both are crucial to sales. People who are the most top of mind with the most useful solutions win the most sales. So be present, and find ways to engage with your customers often. Call, send messages (though don’t nag or bug, which is a sales turn-off), consider a regular newsletter that reminds them of who you are and what you can offer.
Beautiful design sells
At Flow, we put a lot of effort into producing presentations and sales documents that look beautiful, and that are tailored to clients – for example, incorporating their corporate colours and branding. This signifies to a client that you see them, appreciate them and understand something about them.
Proactivity sells. When we do customer surveys at Flow, one of the main pieces of feedback we usually get is that our clients wish we were more proactive. Share industry insights and trends with your clients, and come up with new ideas for their brands regularly. It is not always easy to be proactive, and to be meaningful, it is inevitably time-consuming, so build it into your business processes to ensure it isn’t sidelined.
Identify and connect with decision-makers
It’s important to get in front of the decision-makers. You can have the best relationships in the world with junior people (and you should, because they, too, can be influential), but unless you are dealing with decision-makers, your sales efforts will be limited.
Respond to enquiries as quickly as possible, ideally within an hour or two. People want to deal with well-organised, responsive people. Remember, if you’re dealing with the person for the first time, you can only make a good first impression once.
Know your stuff
Believe in what you are selling; have information about what you are selling; do your research; know your stuff; show that you understand the sector; have background info and insights; collaborate with colleagues for relevant case studies.
Show, don’t tell
Instead of telling prospective customers how your services or products would benefit them, put yourself in their shoes and look at it from their perspective. What problems can you solve for them? Use case studies and tell stories about others who have benefited in a similar way.
Walk the fine line between nagging and following up with a client. Too often in our business, we put together good proposals, deliver them and forget about them. Schedule follow-ups so you don’t let all your hard work go to waste.
Keep your promises
Do what you say you are going to do. If you promise a proposal by the next day, deliver it. Make sure what you sell your client actually works for them, so that you turn them into brand ambassadors. Remember, others’ word-of-mouth is the most powerful and inexpensive form of selling.
Remember the ‘how‘
Clients care about how you are going to solve a problem and find a solution; how you are going to make a difference to them. Don’t just punt products or services.
Have a dedicated time set aside for prospecting. Think of an old-world gold miner, with his sieve and pan, looking patiently for nuggets. He had to dig up the ore first. Make sure you’ve got enough ore to keep you going.
Contracts are key
The devil is often in the detail. Be sure to read contracts carefully and not be tempted to sign on the dotted line before going through the Ts and Cs. Where you can, draft the contract yourself, as this is often a time-consuming process for a client and can delay a sale closing. If your client drafts the contract, review it carefully. Read your contract properly and check back on it once you’ve started to work together – there are often opportunities hidden in it.
Be proactive with costing for a request for proposal. Do research and suggest to clients different alternatives that they actually need, instead of just naming a price.
Invoice early and timeously
Finding the right time to invoice can be tricky – do it too early or too late and risk not being paid promptly. Sales, in its purest definition, is money in the bank (not just a signed quote or an invoice for work). So, make sure that all your work isn’t in vain and you are paid as quickly as possible. For a service, consider asking for 50% upfront, or a series of tranches, so you don’t have to wait right until the end for payment. This also helps to minimise the risk of bad debt. At Flow, we don’t start a new project such as a website or a social media or public relations campaign until we have received 50% upfront.
Exude confidence, though not arrogance. Believe in yourself and what you’re selling. People buy attitude and approach as much as products and services. You might not always feel confident, so if necessary, fake it until you become it!
Tara Turkington (@TaraTurk1 on Twitter) is the CEO of Flow Communications (www.flowsa.com), one of South Africa’s leading independent agencies. Founded in 2005 in a small spare bedroom, Flow now has a permanent team of approximately 60 professional staff, with more than 700 years of collective experience in communications.
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