Sales Skills

by Jeremy Cassell and Tom Bird

In a nutshell

1. What is selling?

Sales is sometimes thought of as a part of marketing, although the skills associated with each discipline are quite different. In this topic, we will be focusing on selling face to face and on the telephone. There are essentially two models of selling, and you and your business are likely to adopt the one that best fits your market.

  • In transactional selling, the focus is on finding prospects with a requirement, to develop relationships, focus on features and benefits and to take orders for the desired products or services at an acceptable price to all parties.
  • In consultative, solution or relationship selling (all synonyms), the salesperson develops a greater understanding of the challenges faced by the customer and there is likely to be a tailored solution. Questioning and listening become more important than communicating features and positioning statements.


2. How important are your beliefs?

Your beliefs underpin a lot of your actions in selling, either consciously or unconsciously. Top salespeople tend to share certain positive beliefs.

  • 91 per cent believe that they and the customer have equal footing in the commercial relationship.
  • 76 per cent believe the sale starts right at the beginning of the sales cycle and 52 per cent believe the sale never ends.
  • 69 per cent believe that problem solving is one of their core strengths.
  • 67 per cent believe that they are outstanding at relationship building.
  • 64 per cent believe attitude in selling is more important than skill.


3. What is the sales process?

The main benefit of having and following a sales process is that you can monitor and measure your performance at each step. This enables you to focus on developing better results at each stage of the process, thereby improving your sales and your consistency. There are seven stages to the process:

  • Prospecting to identify potential customers
  • Identifying their needs
  • Presenting your solutions
  • Understanding and meeting any objections
  • Negotiating
  • Gaining commitment and agreeing the deal
  • Managing the account.


4. Who are your buyers?

Recent research into 2,705 buyers across six countries produced the following comments:

  • ‘Unwilling to listen’
  • ‘Won’t take no for an answer’
  • ‘Lacking knowledge about their products’
  • ‘More interested in commission than what I need’
  • ‘Doesn’t understand my circumstances’.

The key finding that stood out from the survey was this: 61 per cent of buyers said sales representatives were transaction-orientated only and did not understand customer needs.


5. The value of good planning

Almost every aspect of what you do could benefit from a plan. With planning, you can be more objective and thoughtful about what you need to do to achieve your goals, ensuring that you do not miss out anything that could make a crucial difference.

  • By taking the sales target and dividing it by the average order value you can arrive at the number of sales you need to make. Using current conversion rates, you can come up with a total number of prospects that you need to contact.
  • Outstanding salespeople make time to plan their meetings so that they maximise the chance of achieving their objectives from them.
  • Once you have a plan that is good, it is best to implement it rather than try and improve it from 85 per cent to 90 per cent perfect.


6. How do you influence effortlessly?

The two foundations of influencing are credibility and rapport. In most sales situations it is unlikely that anyone will buy anything off a salesperson unless she has demonstrated credibility and built rapport.

  • The keys to building credibility include acquiring as much knowledge as possible about the customer, adding value, effective preparation, enthusiasm, responsibility and reliability.
  • Keys to building rapport include chatting, matching and mirroring, looking interested, friendliness, humour and listening.


7. Essential questioning skills

According to a study by the Sales Career Training Institute, salespeople typically spend too much time pitching and not enough time asking the right questions to discover the prospect’s/buyer’s real concerns and issues, as well as the hot buttons they need to press to get someone to buy.

  • Be curious.
  • Have a clear outcome for your questions.
  • Let the conversation flow naturally.
  • Use both open and closed questions.
  • Make your questions understandable.
  • Ask questions that help you pinpoint the dominant buying motivations.
  • Avoid offending your buyers!


8. Listen and learn

Listening should be an active process in selling and if you develop this muscle, you will improve your ability to influence others.

  • Value the other party.
  • Listen to what is not said.
  • Limit the time you speak.
  • Avoid thinking about what you are about to say.
  • Listen to the other person’s point of view.
  • Repeat and reflect.
  • Take brief notes.
  • Maintain eye contact.


9. The importance of building trust

If you think about the psychology behind selling, trustworthiness is of critical importance. Would you buy something from someone who you did not trust? And yet how do you guarantee that a customer/prospect will trust you? We would argue that trust comes from three core areas:

  • Competency (ability or skill), so improve your skills with regular training
  • Integrity (being honest, sound, moral) – demonstrate consistency with your promises, actions and behaviours
  • Benevolence (disposition to do good) – promise less but deliver more.


10. Meeting objections

An objection is a reservation or concern about some aspect of a service/product that may prevent a sale taking place. The old adage here is correct – objections can be buying signals. There is a four-step process for handling objections successfully. It is known as the 4A model:

  • Acknowledge the person who has made the objection – ‘thanks for raising this; I can understand why this is an important area for you.’ Empathise and ensure they recognise you are treating this ‘issue’ seriously.
  • Audience– throw open, if appropriate, to the audience, if there is more than one person. Ask some questions to get clarity and give you a bit of time to think:
  • ‘On a scale of 1-10 how important is this?’
  • ‘Does everyone else share this concern?’
  • Answer
  • Ask


11. What’s in it for me?

Too often, we promote features when it is benefits that our customers are buying. We buy petrol to go places not because of the value of the liquid itself. Nobody who bought a drill wanted a drill. They wanted a hole.

  • The knack in representing benefits is to focus on the specific problems and issues of the customer in front of you.
  • You will be focusing your sales efforts on the ‘USPs’ (if you can think of any) and the ‘key differentiators’.
  • The ‘same as’ and ‘worse than’ features are likely to be some of the objections you may face.


12. Writing sales proposals that get you work

To produce a document that gets the result you want, follow ten steps.

  • Spend some time identifying what the decision maker would like to see in the proposal.
  • It is best to pick a date that is realistic and then complete it ahead of time. In this way you are under-promising and over-delivering.
  • When you start writing the proposal, ensure that you focus on the customer. Use their language and identify their concerns and their challenges.
  • Spend some time brainstorming. Identify lots of things you could include and then start paring the total down to a manageable chunk of information.
  • Create a basic template that you can adapt for each proposal.
  • Write well.
  • Ensure you can back up what you are saying.
  • Your proposal should, ideally, include all options – including what the competition is or may be offering and the consequences of doing nothing.
  • Have a strong executive summary, including a call to action.
  • If you are able to present aspects of the proposal formally, your chances of winning the work are immediately strengthened because you can answer queries and back up your recommended solutions with additional information.


13. How do you best present solutions?

There is a six-step process to effective preparation for a formal sales presentation.

  • Identify what you hope to achieve. Do this by visualising an ideal outcome.
  • Find out as much as possible about your audience before you begin your preparation so you can plan your whole presentation from their point of view.
  • Brainstorm – use an ideas map to brainstorm your topic.
  • Focus on the start and the finish.
  • Rehearse and practise.


14. Developing and managing customers

Both you and the customer have invested a lot of time and effort in getting to the point of making a sale. But, as with most relationships, if you do not invest a little time in maintaining and developing the link, the quality begins to suffer. If you are to be truly effective at managing customer relationships then you need to bear in mind the following five key points:

  • Avoid making assumptions
  • Be proactive – forwarding useful articles, making introductions and seeking additional contacts within their organisation
  • Set relationship goals, such as increasing trust
  • Consider how you move the depth and value of the relationship forward
  • Manage difficulties when they occur.


15. Managing difficulties

Difficulties in sales relationships include

  • Late delivery to a customer
  • Having a particularly aggressive negotiation over terms
  • Giving the customer incorrect information by mistake
  • Not following through on a commitment.

The danger is that any one of these small difficulties might not seem too important and indeed, in isolation, it may not be. But if you ignore the pinches, then, over time, each pinch builds up on top of the others, which can seriously damage the relationship.


16. General good practice tips

All of these are proactive and important (never urgent) tasks, so the challenge for you is to make the time to do them.

  • Welcome new customers with a small gift or a letter outlining your commitment.
  • It is often beneficial to have an expectations meeting.
  • Get into the habit of following up meetings or telephone calls immediately.
  • It is always good practice to have an account plan.
  • Keep in touch in a range of value-adding ways.
  • Make the most of your face-to-face meetings.