How Not to Make a Sale

September 29, 20166min

When asked to describe the typical salesperson, people generally wouldn’t paint an especially complimentary picture. They may think of Del Boy from the classic TV series Only Fools and Horses, a fast-talking shyster always looking for the next victim to take advantage of. Or perhaps they’d refer to the classic vision of a used car salesperson, pricing high and putting the pressure on to get a sale as quickly as possible.

But salespeople like this would not last long in the business world. Here, salespeople are often selling high-value items that are a significant investment for a company; these could range from IT systems to gas pipelines and everything in between. These are not simple over-the-counter sales that are over in a matter of moments; it can take months, or even years, to close a deal from the first interactionwith a potential client.

So if you want a successful sales career, here are three habits you want to avoid:

Keep talking

Research we conducted with YouGov found that 85 per cent of business decision makers believe that a good buying experience involves a salesperson listening carefully in order to understand their requirements. Yet only 39 per cent of them experienced this during their last significant sale.

If a salesperson isn’t listening it usually means they’re talking, often about the product or service that they’re trying to sell. Sellers should be very careful not to get carried away talking about the features their product or service has, because they run the risk of giving the client irrelevant information, or even irritating them in the worst case scenario.

For example, if my number one concern when looking at cars for the company fleet is that they’re safe,but the seller talks extensively about how they can be customised in various ways, this will not help them advance the sale and may even annoy me enough to take my custom elsewhere.

Ask any old questions

You may think that asking questions and getting someone talking means you’re half way to a sale already, after all, you’re not doing the talking, right? Wrong. A client’s needs are not all the same; they are likely to have some requirements that are far more important than others.

Our research found that 61 per cent of business decision makers believe asking questions is important, but just 25 per cent experienced this the last time they were being sold to. But not only are salespeople not asking enough questions, they’re not asking the right questions that extract the right kind of information to make a sale.

Successful salespeople use a four-stage questioning model to gain this information:

  1. Situation questions gather background and the context of the sale
  2. Problem questions explore the customer’s dissatisfactions and concerns
  3. Implications questions develop apparently isolated problems by examining their knock-on effects in the business
  4. Need-payoff questions, which invite the customer to explore the benefits of solving their problems and, having done so, to express an explicit need for a solution.

Make a quick counterproposal:

The sale is going well and you’ve reached the negotiation stage. In complex business sales, this can be a major undertaking and there usually needs to be give and take on each side to reach a mutually agreeable solution – you’re not looking to ‘win’ against your client.

Our global negotiation research found that skilled negotiators make counterproposals only half as often as average negotiators.

Making an immediate counterproposal is like saying: “I’m not listening to you. I have targets to hit and I’m sticking to them.” Rather, you should explore the underlying reasons why the initial proposal was unacceptable to the client and what they would find of value.

It may be surprising to some how much science can be applied to selling, but it’s really all about using the correct verbal behaviours and applying them as appropriate. Successful salespeople are those that rigorously explore and expose their clients’ needs and build the value of their product or service in meeting these needs.

Interesting links:


Tony Hughes

Tony Hughes

Huthwaite International has been in business for over 40 years and works with companies around the globe to deliver long-term, tangible results through their behavioural change methodologies. They've spent decades researching which key behaviours deliver outstanding sales performance and continue to analyse and learn from the very best sales professionals across the globe.




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