These rules may sound basic, but even seasoned sales pros sometimes need a refresher. Make sure you've mastered the process.
A number of the many emails I receive each week are requesting basic "how to sell" information, especially for business-to-business sales.
Here's a quick summary of how it's done, based upon a conversation with Bill Stinnett, author of the bestselling book Selling Results.
1. Research the Customer
Before you call on a customer, use the Internet, social media or business contacts find out as much as you can about where the customer is today. You want to understand what's going on with his or her business, where the problems are, how happy the company is with the products it currently uses.
2. Deepen Your Understanding
When you initially meet with the customer, ask open-ended questions to fill in the details you couldn't learn through your online research. Find out how the company currently does things that you might help it do better, and how it goes about purchasing the type of products you're offering.
3. Discover Where Your Customer Wants to Be
After you've got a solid picture of where the customer is today, gradually transition the conversation so that you're asking questions about his or her vision for the future. What would things be like in a perfect world? What's worked so far, and what could work better? And how would he or she feel if certain problems were solved?
4. Decide Whether You Can Actually Help
Once you've understood what's going on, take a few moments to consider whether you really can help this customer. Do not proceed with the sale unless you're 100% convinced that your offering will truly help the customer achieve a goal or solve a problem.
5. Present Your Offering as a Solution
Based upon what you've learned in the previous steps, craft a solution that helps the customer transition to a better future. Present only those elements of your products and services that are part of that tightly focused solution. Don't confuse the customer by introducing irrelevant features and functions.
6. Ask for the Next Step
Once you've gone through steps 1 through 5, you've positioned yourself to ask for the next step--or, if there is just one decision-maker, close the deal. It's always better to do this sooner rather than later; ideally it would be just after you've positioned your solution. That way your solution is fresh in the customer's mind.
Yes, I realize that this process is probably second nature to many readers of this column. Even so, it may be a good refresher--because mastery of this basic pattern is what largely determines whether or not you'll be successful selling whatever it is you have to offer.
GEOFFREY JAMES writes "Sales Source on Inc.com," the world's most-read sales-oriented blog. His new book, Business Without the Bullsh*t, will be published in early 2014. To get weekly blog updates, sign up for his free "Insider" newsletter. @Sales_Source