Selling takes discipline, a system, and an ability to communicate and understand people. Do you think selling is a science or and art? What do you think it takes to be successful in sales? Can you be trained to be a great sales person?
I once had a sales associate tell me he didn't like selling...he thought it was better to wait until the customer came to him ready to buy...needless to say he didn't last long. One of the biggest fears many people have is selling something to other people; many people say they don't want to come across as pushy. As a business owner and manager, you have to sell to survive. Good sales people sell without coming across as pushy. The strategy for effective selling has three stages: building a foundation, setting expectations, and following up.
People buy from someone they like. Some people are able to establish rapport faster than others. Take the time to build some common ground with the person you are hoping to potentially sell to. The shorter the sales cycle the more difficult this is, but it is still possible even in an environment in which the sales cycle is extremely short. The more common ground you can find in a short amount of time the better rapport you'll develop. This is the cornerstone of building a foundation and establishing rapport. With this solidly in place you can genuinely feel like you are helping your potential client and not pushing something on him or her. They in turn can sense that you genuinely care and want to help them with a need that they have.
Keeping a view of the big picture will help you stay focused and positive. The reality is that the person you are building rapport with may not turn out to be your ideal client. . .but they may know someone who is. Referrals are the best prospects and a great way to get referrals is to generate as many relationships as possible that have some form of reciprocity. A wise woman once said, "the nicest thing you can do for someone is be nice to the people they love." If you can find creative ways to do nice things for a person's children, nieces, nephews, significant other, and friends then you will be building an enormous bank of reciprocity. Not only that, but it also feels really good and you're making the world a better place.
Uncover The Need
There are probably many people out there who need your product or service. Some of them may know it. . .and some of them may not. The reality is that other business owners are probably going after the same clients that you are. A good approach is to use a two-prong strategy (attempt to sell to both types of people). It is obviously a little harder to sell to the latter category, but you will have less competition. With this latter group you first have to help them see why they need what you are selling. Once you uncover the need with probing thought-provoking questions then (and only then) you can focus on how you can meet that need better than anyone else.
You can only help people that want to be helped. Visualize a lifeguard swimming out to help someone who is drowning. If the person doesn't want your help or is not fighting to save herself/himself then you won't be able to help them or even worse they may drag you down to the bottom of the lake with them. The more receptive someone is to your product or service will determine what expectations you both will have going forward. The ability to successfully gauge interest is the first step to setting expectations.
Expectations Of Frequency
Whether people say it or not they have expectations about everything in life. Figuring out what those expectations REALLY are is an adventure and not easy. The challenge is to figure out what people really mean when they say something. Getting to the point where you can decipher that or interpret what that actually means is worth the effort. In order to not come across as pushy or feel pushy you need to find out how often the potential client would like for you to contact him or her about what you have to offer. Here is the secret to success. . .ask. That is the only way to find out. If the answer is ambiguous then ask a couple of questions to clarify what he or she means. Then set something in stone. For example, "I'll call you Tuesday the 25th at noon." If this feels shaky and awkward then the foundation you built up to this point may not be strong enough. Sometimes the only way to tell if something is strong enough to support what you put on top of it is by testing it.
Expectations Of Type
Everyone has a preferred method of communication. The only way you will ever know is by asking. A great question to ask someone is how he or she would like for you to contact them (call, text, email, etc.). People will appreciate your thoughtfulness and you are setting the expectation at the same time. If the person tells you they prefer emails then you can follow up immediately with, "how often would you like for me to follow up with you in case you are extremely busy and can't get back to me at that moment?"
Keep It In Writing
As much as possible keep your follow up in writing. Whether this means texts, emails, letters, etc. This creates a paper trail and oftentimes a paper trail comes in handy. There's an old cynical joke that goes something like this, "what's the difference between love and email. . .email lasts forever." With a paper trail (email, text, or mobile messaging apps) you can confirm that your follow up has been sent, delivered, and in many cases read. This will come in handy many times when the client says you never followed up.
Keep It Direct
By keeping your follow up direct with the client you don't have to worry about your message getting lost in the shuffle of life or lost in translation. This is essential because the client can't say he or she didn't get your message because someone else didn't deliver it. There are circumstances in which a client may say that they prefer you follow up with someone else (assistant, spouse, etc.); this could be a good thing or a bad thing. Some people recognize that their assistant is more trustworthy with follow up items then they are. . .in this situation working with the assistant is probably better. However, there are times when being passed off to the assistant is one way of blowing people off; attempt to feel this out over time.
Keep Friends Close. . .Assistants Closer
There is a way to make being blown off a good thing; if you're able to turn an assistant into a friend then you're in a great position. Abraham Lincoln once said, "don't I defeat my enemies when I make them my friends?" If you see gatekeepers or assistants as enemies then you've already lost; attempt to turn them into friends and have them help you in the follow up process with the person you are attempting to sell to. A great way to do this without coming across as too pushy is to figure out a creative way to do something nice for the people the gatekeeper cares about (e.g. a hat for their child or a gift card for ice cream on a hot summer day).
The Customer Is Always Right
You're bound to make a mistake every once in a while during these three stages of polite persistence. Apologize to your client and try to refine what they want in terms of communication. In this setting it never hurts to ask. It shows three things: you realize something is wrong, you're listening, and you care. All three of these things are extremely effective with your customer.
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The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.