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OWNER'S MANUAL

One Killer Sales Skill You've Forgotten to Use

The more sales training you've received, the more likely that you've forgotten the most important sales technique of all.

Every small-business owner, regardless of his or her formal role, is also involved in sales. That's why many small-business owners constantly seek to improve their sales skills.

But some sales training and strategies can do more harm than good, especially if the techniques you adopt take you away from doing what works best for you.

Here's an example.

My wife wanted a new car. She likes sports cars, so we went to a dealership to check out a BMW 135i. The salespeople were hanging out in the lot--as car salespeople without customers are wont to do--so they all watched us cruise through several rows of cars before parking in front of the 135is.

A younger salesman broke away from the pack and hurried over. It was obvious he had been trained to follow a sales-process checklist. "Qualify your lead" was first on his list.

That didn't go well for him--my wife isn't really into divulging personal financial information--so he moved on to "Determine customer needs" and asked what we were looking for in a car.

Without being rude (she has a real knack for a courteous deflection), my wife asked a few questions. He struggled to answer them, probably because he kept trying to reengage his sales process.

That didn't go too well for him either.

Then he surprised us: He stopped talking, took a deep breath, and said, "I'm sorry. I really suck at this. Wait here, and I'll go get someone who can actually help you."

My wife melted--as wives who are businesslike but also caring are wont to do--and said, "We don't need anyone else. You're doing fine." (He wasn't, but what the heck.) "Tell me," she asked, "have you driven one of these?"

"Oh, yeah," he said, brightening visibly. "They're really fast…and I probably shouldn't say it, but they handle better than an M3." Then he looked around to make sure no other salespeople were nearby and said, "Even if you don't plan to buy one, you should at least drive it. They're a blast."

She did. It was. And she bought one.

Initially, he tried to be a qualifying, relationship-building, features-and-specifications-spewing, commitment-gaining, close-the-deal-and-leave-no-money-on-the-table sales superstar.

That approach may work for some people, but in his case it meant giving up his biggest strength: He stopped being a young, enthusiastic, friendly guy who loves cars.

He stopped being himself.

Think about your sales techniques. Do they take you away from your strengths?

If you're naturally introverted, don't try to channel your inner Matthew Lesko. Where selling is concerned, listening can be even more effective than speaking.

If you're perceptive and have decent instincts, don't be afraid to skip the qualification process. In our case, we parked a relatively expensive vehicle in front of a row of 135is, so any salesperson could safely assume we had the means and the interest. (In fact, the car you drive onto a lot probably says more about your means than any of the answers you provide to qualifying questions.)

After "Hello," the salesman should have said, "Tell me which one you want to drive, and I'll grab the keys."

If you're naturally relaxed and informal, don't try to be professorial or authoritative. Speak the way you speak to friends. Be genuine, and your prospects will respond.

Play to your strengths. Don't try to be something you're not. Instead, focus on being a better, more effective version of you.

That's the best sales strategy of all.

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Last updated: Sep 24, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

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



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