I’ve encountered many people who cringe at the very thought of having to sell as part of their job. Once upon a time that included me too. Work on long-term clients? Fine. But actually sell as part of the interaction, or have sales conversations with prospective clients? Rather run a mile or even ten. Fortunately I got to work in an environment where selling was not just expected but respected – and accepted as a fact of business life. So anyone who thought it wasn’t for them soon learned otherwise.
Truth is, we’re all selling.
Whether you’re incentivised by a bonus, commission-only pay, or on a payroll, you’re going to be in selling situations a lot of the time.
Think about when you’re in buying situations in your personal life: in a restaurant, buying shoes in a shop, booking a hotel online, looking for a new place to live. How do you decide what to buy – and what not to? Chances are, it comes down to elements such as how much you know, like and trust the person or organisation. Recommendations can go a long way. Same goes in corporate life: the scale may be very different but people make these decisions on similar criteria.
Here’s your challenge: prepare to sell at the very next meeting you have.
It may be with a new boss, a high-profile client, or a peer in another department – whoever this meeting is with, be aware it may well require you to sell in some way, such that this person feels confident and comfortable doing business with you. You don’t need sales schtick or smarmy patter – you need to earn their trust.
1. Observe social niceties. Check the culture: in some cultures social chit-chat may seem intrusive; in others it’s essential. Ask how they’re doing, or about last/this coming weekend. Find out about their hobbies. You may well be surprised…
2. Notice what makes them tick. They may be very task-focused, keen to get down to business and get things done. Or they may be very relationship-focused, keen to build strong bonds with people.
3. Ask the right questions. Use ‘What…?’ ‘How much/many…?’ ‘Where…?’ ‘When…?’ ‘Who…?’ open questions to explore points in more detail. Beware overusing ‘why?’ as it can come across as too challenging or – depending on how spoken – like whining child. So, use different question forms to get there, such as ‘What was the thinking behind that?’, ‘How did that work out?’
4. Listen for what’s really important to them. Time? Budget? People? Reputation? Quality?
5. Beware volleying endless closed questions. When we’re new to selling situations (or worse, think we now know it all), we can get stuck in a rut of asking lots of closed questions. The respondent is closed down, only able to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Closed questions have their uses – to check the facts, reflect back and summarise. Best to limit them and use more open questions to explore and find out more.
6. Follow up. After this forthcoming meeting, follow up promptly, even if it’s just a quick email to thank the person for their time and to confirm what you agreed. For important meetings, set time in your calendar to follow up.
7. Be useful. Don’t just keep constantly contacting someone to ask them if they’ve got news on your pitch or badgering them to make a decision. Send them something useful – an article on a relevant topic, a link to a blog post you’ve written, or a book by an author they mentioned.
You may find this post useful: ‘How to influence if you’re not an expert (yet)’
Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’
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Image: Hidden Man, DepositPhotos