SALES

2 Secrets to More Effective Selling

How discipline and credibility can make the difference between success and failure for you -- and your business.
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For years, I've resisted it. Turned a blind eye toward it. Rebuked it, even.

After all, the idea of "being in sales," with its attendant visions of Glengarry leads and used Oldsmobiles, is hardly one with great appeal.

But while many businesspeople reject the idea of being perceived as "salespeople", the cold reality is that, like it or not, we're all in sales. We're all selling something. Ourselves. Our ideas. Our initiatives. Our team. Our business. Our brand. And so on.

While there is an abundance of educational information on effective sales techniques--from readying and aiming to preparing and pitching to consulting and closing--I'm astounded by how often "salespeople" of all stripes misread their prospects, misallocate resources or simply miss their target altogether.

Here are two ways to increase your odds of success, no matter what you're selling.

1. Chase fewer prospects.

"Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough." -- Josh Billings

Let's face facts. Not all sales "at bats" are created equal--and furthermore, no one (or company, or brand) is right for everything, or everyone.

That said, consider how you might be more strategic in in how you define and pursue prospects. Analyze your historical sales efforts. Identify which prospect criteria lead to not just wins, but "great wins"--conversions that lead to long-term partnerships, mutual respect, referrals, profitability--whatever is vital to you and your business. Study every variable that can help you be more targeted and thoughtful in when, where and how you actively invest sales resources--and develop the discipline to walk away when the odds aren't in your favor.

Our marketing agency has a lifetime sales "win" rate of over 75 percent--that's not a typo, and it's far from an accident. Rather, it's a byproduct of a clear understanding of who we are (and aren't), a strong profile of which engagements will be a good fit (and won't), a defined set of criteria to use in defining what brands and organizations are good prospects (and are not), and the discipline to walk away when we are pretty sure we aren't the right partner for the assignment (even when times are tough).

I've written an entire column on the discipline of saying no--to be fair, it's not easy, particularly when your business is heading south or management expectations are high. But when you say no, you're not just closing the door to an opportunity. You're also saying yes to a world of other (ideally, higher quality) opportunities.

2. Focus On Being Respected, Not Liked.

WILLY [with pity and resolve]: "I'll see him in the morning; I'll have a nice talk with him. I'll get him a job selling. He could be big in no time. My God! Remember how they used to follow him around in high school? When he smiled at one of them, their faces lit up. When he walked down the street..." [He loses himself in reminiscences.]--Death of a Salesman, Act One

OK, yes, the truism is certainly true--people like doing business with people they like.

But in a world of increasing options, expectations and information, any "salesperson" worth their salt needs to be more than likable -- they need to be respected.

Research has demonstrated that credibility is not just a "nice to have" in effective personal selling, but that it actually leads to deeper processing of a sales message--meaning higher acceptance, higher stickiness and higher affinity (Aaker and Myers).

Gut check time: How are you selling? Are you reflexively relying on old tips, tricks and techniques--or are you bringing real value to your efforts? How well do you understand your prospect's situation, challenges, opportunities, market, and so on? What expertise are you bringing to the table? Bottom line, what can you uniquely provide or do to become an irreplaceable, respected business partner?

As Charley notes in act two of Death of a Salesman, "The only thing you got in this world is what you can sell." Harsh? Perhaps. But in sales--as with almost anything in today's business climate -- we are ultimately measured by our ability get the job done, period.

So get to work. Sharpen your aim. Strengthen your story. And embrace a more enlightened version of selling that you (and your employees, colleagues and prospects) can truly feel good about. Even better than a coveted Glengarry lead, no?

IMAGE: Thomas Barwick/Getty
Last updated: Jun 26, 2014

CURT HANKE | Columnist | Founder and CEO of Shine United

Curt Hanke is the founder and CEO of Shine United, a 41-person advertising and digital agency headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin, serving such clients as Harley-Davidson, Wisconsin Cheese, Mizuno Running Shoes, Entwine Wine, and Winston Fly Rods.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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