Very few businesses can survive without the act of selling – or promoting – their services or products. But the art of selling is far from simple
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The success of a business is measured, to some degree, by the quantity of sales of its product or service. Despite the truth this simplistic approach holds, it does not do justice to the challenges that come with identifying, speaking to, and then selling to your customers.
Chris Gale has led numerous sales teams over a 40-year career and made it his life’s work to try to understand what turns a nameless target audience into loyal customers.
What SMEs are bad at
For the past nine years, Chris has been offering his services to Xceeda Group, a transformation consultancy. Working for and with SMEs has given Chris an acute understanding of their strengths and limitations.
‘SMEs like to go where they feel safe. Ask them about their business and they’ll talk about their product or service until the cows come home. What they’re not good at is asking questions. “Who is my customer? Where do they hang out? What are they trying to achieve”. SMEs tend to go out into the marketplace and blast their product features and hope someone will buy it.’
One way to avoid this scattergun approach is to find your audience and speak to them directly, which relies on knowing who they are. Chris says that once you have built a persona for your typical customer, or a few of them, you can go out and start looking for them. Doing this requires some work. There are agencies who will do it for you, but it’s worth figuring out your margins first as this will inform whether prospective sales will cover the cost.
The art of not selling
While many salespeople within an SME can reel off all the qualities of their product, Chris argues that they often struggle when it comes to negotiating as it’s not something they’ve prepared for. While pace and momentum are key as the customer can easily be distracted by a different product once they start thinking about making a purchase, it’s important that the individual selling maintains their integrity as a consultant and trusted advisor rather than chasing the sale. Instead, staff should be authentic, genuine, and collaborative to help the consumer fulfil their needs.
‘Everything we do in sales is preparation for negotiation and it’s not something people have been trained in. There is a whole psychology behind it. People don’t want to be sold to. Sellers need to be able to recognise buying signals, when the customer has stated a position, how to start negotiating, and create mechanisms that manage that customer journey.’
Chris goes on to challenge traditional sales structures by saying, ‘Individual targets or quotas don’t work. If I have a target, I’m going to manipulate a situation in any way I can to sell my product, so I don’t lose my job. It drives all the wrong behaviour and can tarnish your brand. Company-wide targets on the other hand are fine, they can help you fix broader issues.’
Chris instead advocates for selling with RESPECT:
Rapport: relate, empathise, build trust.
Explore: ask questions to understand wants, needs, desires, fears, and values.
Summarise: check-in regularly to ensure constant alignment.
Present: propose the solution or opportunity and ensure it aligns to the stated needs.
Explain: answer questions, resolve objections, and clear the way so the customer journey is comfortable and seamless.
Confirm: mini closes to ensure alignment and agreement.
Transact: conclude or move the sale forward with commitment to SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) actions.
All sales-conscious businesses will have some type of sales pipeline but managing that from start to finish is where many SMEs fall short according to Chris.
‘SMEs don’t lose sales because they’re not great, they lose sales because they don’t have the resources or mechanisms to connect with their customers at every step of the journey.’
Chris argues that this is an area that SMEs need to invest it. Once a prospect enters your pipeline, someone needs to know about it and inject value into every step of their journey. There are countless CRMs, such as Pipedrive, that will digitise this for you, but you need people inside the business driving this mechanism.
‘It costs about ten times as much resource to find a new customer as it does to get a repeat purchase from an existing one. This is why we need to constantly be asking those questions, “where are they in the pipeline? Who are they and what do they want? Have we connected with them at every stage? Are we pushing value into every step to help when it comes to negotiations? Have they bought from us before and when will they need to buy from us again?” These are the things big businesses are great at but smaller organisations struggle with.’
Chris says that while it may be uncomfortable to do and may not seem like the most impactful use of budget, it is these mechanisms that need to be a priority for sales-driven businesses. The more data you build and connections you make, the better you will understand your customer and understand how to speak to your audience.
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