9 Tips to Get Better at Selling Anything

Selling with integrity can win clients and bring in new business.
June 13, 2012

Robert Louis Stevenson once said: "Everyone lives by selling something." All of us are continuously selling either our products and services, or our ideas. But with the exception of consummate sales professionals, most of us are unaware of the psychology of selling in our daily lives and, it is safe to say, that most of us also cringe at the idea of using selling tactics and techniques that might be considered manipulative. This is, however, shortsighted. Rather than discount this body of knowledge, we simply need to use it with honesty and integrity, not to manipulate, but to win people over.

So, "do no harm" should always be the foundation of any sales approach. With this in mind, here are a few tips for refining your sales approach so that you successfully sell your products, services, or ideas.

1. View each sales approach as an experiment.

In This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts To Improve Your Thinking, Roger Schank, psychologist and computer scientist, states that experimentation is something that we all do, in every aspect of our lives. People who "don't see their actions as experiments, and don't know how to reason carefully from data, will continue to learn less well from those who do," Schank says. The scientists' approach of carefully considering the results of an experiment helps them to run the experiment again with better results. The same concept can apply to sales: Careful examination of our sales approach will help us discard what doesn't work and replace it with more effective techniques.

What do you continuously do that doesn't yield results? For example, do you waste precious hours responding to complex RFPs that you intuitively know are a time sink? What is your ROI on cold calling? Have you analyzed how much talking you do in a sales call versus listening?

2. Increase self-awareness.

Know how your personality influences your approach to others. For example, if you are highly extroverted, your usual approach might be to secure a face-to-face meeting during which you will cover a wide range of items, discussed from a larger perspective. However, if you are dealing with an introverted client, you may be more successful having a more in-depth discussion with fewer topics. Neither is right or wrong—it simply has to do with preferences.

Develop the ability to adapt your style to the circumstance. Observe and listen carefully to gauge your client's approach. This agility in your sales approach honors your client's needs and helps you be in the moment with that person.

3. Introduce "change-ups" in your sales presentation.

When you are presenting your sales information, you need to be mindful of your audience's attention span, which can be as short as 90 seconds! If you don't keep this in mind, you can be sure that your listeners will tune you out. To re-engage their attention, introduce a change-up; in baseball, a "change-up" is a ball thrown with little velocity when the batter is expecting a fastball. In presentation parlance, a change-up is any change in your normal pattern of speaking, such as a question, a rhetorical question, a demonstration, a relevant anecdote or an exercise. Planning in advance how you will maintain your audience's attention will boost your likelihood of delivering a successful sales presentation.

4. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Don't expect your clients to remember everything that you say. Introduce an important point at the beginning of your sales talk, explain it in depth in the middle and reinforce it again at the conclusion. Psychology studies show that people trust an idea more after it has been repeated a minimum of three times.

5. Update your sales approach.

Buyers today are more knowledgeable when it comes to accessing information, and require a different, more sophisticated approach. Victor Antonio, author, trainer and salesman extraordinaire, calls it going from old-school selling to new-school selling. The traditional approach is to focus on the features and benefits of what you are selling. Today, you are more likely to succeed by focusing on the advantages you offer over your competitor.

Advantages might be the physical or technical properties of your product, but more importantly, clients want to know about the financial advantages. Antonio lists three: Will it help increase revenue, or reduce costs, or increase market share? (For inspiration, watch Antonio's video Features And Benefits Are Dead; It's About Sales Advantages. Take a moment to watch all of the Sales Influence Moment videos on his site.)

6. Go beyond expectation in everything you do.

Psychologist Wayne Dyer said: "It's never crowded along the extra mile." Go well beyond expectation to give value to a client, before you even get the sale. Even if you don't get the sale, there are many benefits to doing this: Apart from the personal satisfaction that comes from a non-mercenary, professional deportment, you are likely to leave a trail of goodwill that builds your reputation and strengthens others' trust in you. Do the same after you have secured the sale. Often, people don't expect this. Dogged commitment to exceeding a client's needs puts you ahead of the curve. As Dan Pink put it: "There are massive returns to doggedness." The unexpected bonus in all of this is that you might also turn clients into friends.

7. Become a scholar of persuasion.

If you set your mind to learn as much as you can about the art and science of persuasion, you will have an unfair advantage over others in your space. Persuasion is not manipulation provided it is used with integrity. You can have a great product, service or idea, but if you don't know how to speak persuasively about it, your ideas will fall flat.

If you need help in this regard, consider the works of Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., a world-renowned expert in the field of persuasion.

8. Understand people's fears.

Fear is often an emotional response that can act as a barrier to your making a sale. Developing the empathy to understand your client's fears will help you to know how to address and allay these fears. For example, if you are selling a training program to a human resources professional, one of their fears is often that if the training is not well received, it will reflect negatively on their ability to select the right vendor. Knowing this, consider how you can put their mind at rest. You might need to provide concrete evidence of your successful past program in companies similar to your client.

9. Don't be needy.

Being needy is an emotional advertisement to others. It is something that people sense right away. It will translate itself in a myriad of behaviors that will hinder rather than help the sales process: continuing to sell past the buying signals; anxiety if you are unable to make progress; repeated contacts with the client; lowering of your price below what you are worth. After you have done all due diligence with a potential client, let them be.

While the sales process is ultimately a commercial transaction, it is also a human encounter. Moving from a mercantile approach to one that seeks to serve with caring, respect and integrity is perhaps the ultimate sales tool of all. As Ron Willingham, author and CEO of Integrity Systems, put it: "Integrity selling is doing something for people rather than to them."

What sales tactic works best for you?

Learn more in OPEN Forum's Sales Check-In 2012 series.

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