A company that isn’t selling is dying; that may sound melodramatic, but I have seen ordinarily rational and capable C+ executives go into a panic when sales are down and watched as that panic spread like a wildfire through the organization, damaging the company in ways from which it may take years to recover. If your job is selling, a slump in sales can put tremendous pressure on you. Here are some tips to help you be a more successful salesperson:
Build a network.
For my money the single greatest payoff for the investment in time is in building and maintaining (which is not the same as working) your network. Help your network to know and understand what you do. The more vague an understanding the people in your network have of what you do the less likely you are to get on the bid list or receive a hot tip.
Maintain your network.
Too many professionals treat their network like a stamp collection; always delighted when they can add some new contact on LinkedIn. Maintaining a network is like growing a garden, you need to periodically weed out the personal from the professional. I have a great friend who owns a U-haul rental branch. He is happy and successful, but he will never buy the things I sell. He’s a personal contact, not a professional contact. If you don’t recognize the difference you end up wasting too much time trying to stay professionally connected to people you shouldn’t be.
Face-to-Face (F2F) means just that.
Perhaps your company tracks Face-to-Face meetings in some sort of sales database and if so every salesperson in the company knows how to juke the stats so that it looks like you are having meetings when you are actually having conference calls or even just an email. Get out there and get in front of people, it is the single best way to uncover opportunities and get the inside track on the industry, an email or a phone call just isn’t the same.
Related: 3 Benefits of Meeting Face to Face
Not every F2F requires an aggressive sales pitch.
Many times I go to breakfast, lunch, dinner, or drinks just to socialize with a client or prospect. It’s useful to talk to them about what they are up to at work and at home. More often than not the conversation usually turns to a business opportunity and results in a proposal.
Don’t apologize for selling.
I used to sell to a top executive who ultimately went out on his own and started a small communications firm. As it happened I had a substantial budget for communications and since he was affordable, reliable, and produced great work (not to mention he was fun to work with) I generally sourced the work to him. But in the change from being my customer to being my vendor he got a bit weird. When he would present a quote he would always say, "I know this looks like a lot but…" Personally I thought it was a fair price and had even budgeted higher, but for whatever reason he felt obliged to apologize for making a profit.
Be confident in your offering.
The key to confidence in what you sell is to know your weaknesses and turn them into strengths. If you are the most expensive offering, be sure you can defend why and that defense better not include the expense of running an office, making copies, and the wages you pay. Instead, you say “we’re the most expensive because we have the best people.” If you are significantly cheaper than the competition, be able to explain why. “Everyone will tell you they have the best people and we like to think we do too, but we are able to deploy the best people because we have tightly controlled business systems that allow us to use the best people to do the work that most requires their talents. In other words, not only do we have the best people we are organized in a way that allows you to get the greatest value from these highly talented professionals." And if you’re the cheapest in town and can’t really compete with bigger and frankly better firms you say, “we don’t spend our money on fancy offices and high-priced staff that you have for whose salaries you end up paying in hidden fees, we’re less expensive because the money you spend is used on your project, not on a bloated bureaucracy."
Delegate cold calls and paperwork.
Behind every wildly successful salesperson is a team of prospectors who not only identify leads but who qualify the leads. We too often worry about the sales funnel, which leads sales people to deceive executives into thinking that sales are eminent when those sales are complete fiction. By having a team charged with stocking the top of the funnel, other members weeding out the real from the pipe dreams, and led by someone who can close the deal, the sales funnel becomes a real tool that executives can use for planning.
Never sell on price.
One of the best salesmen I have ever worked for told me to never sell on price, because there is always somebody out there who will pass an inferior offering as the same as your product but for a much lower price.
Too many sales people are hung up on price they believe that they are asking too much and the customer will see sticker shock. I have been on both sides of the table -- buyer and seller -- and in both cases I have been very open about money. It’s not exactly like I’m asking for intimate details of the prospect’s sex life, I’m asking (or in the case of buying, revealing) the amount of money the customer is prepared to spend. In many cases the customer may not know what to expect, so it’s appropriate to set the expectations up front. Ask questions like, “how much have you budgeted to spend on this project?” or “do you have figure in mind?” Understand that some customers won’t tell you -- that is an indication that you haven’t built enough trust in the relationship. Also, be prepared to give a ball-park figure based on the scope explained to you.
Don’t submit proposals you have no chance of winning.
This sounds like a no brainer, but too often we spend a small fortune and stress out the sales team producing artful proposals that were never going to be considered in the first place. Before submitting a proposal don’t be afraid to ask if you are just being asked to fill a “three quote requirement.” Also ask who else has been invited to bid on the project -- this isn’t top secret information -- and learn as much as you can about the history between the two firms. If the company has a 20-year track record of awarding business to Company X, there really isn’t much that you can do to steal that business away.