From the July 1997 issue of Startups

5 Surefire ways to make the sale

You've given a terrific sales presentation and have your prospect's undivided attention. He nods approvingly as you explain how your computer-consulting services will save him time, reduce his paperwork load and cost him 30 percent less than your leading competitor. You place your company's one-page contract on his desk, hand him your pen and suggest, "Sign here."

Then it comes: The big "no." "I'll think it over." "I'm just considering all my options." "I'll have to get back to you." "Let me review my budget first." "I didn't realize you were brand-new in the business."

Are you dead in the water? Not at all. More than likely, what you're hearing isn't a decisive turn-down, but a simple objection. Your prospective customer might sound like he's saying, "No deal," but chances are he wants something more: more information about your company, more proof of your technical abilities, more confidence you'll have a compatible working relationship, more assurance your product or service will meet his needs. Finding out what's blocking him from taking action is the key to turning a sales objection into a sales opportunity.

"Sales objections are not negative, but positive and necessary parts of a successful sale," writes Tim Connor, author of Soft Selling: The New Art of Selling, Self-Empowerment and Persuasion (see "Sales Resources" below for ordering information). "They are a request for more information, a stall, or even a buying signal." The next time you encounter a buyer's objection during your sales presentation, you can turn his "no" or "maybe" into a "yes" by following these five important steps:

1. Check your attitude. How you approach a buyer can be as important as what you say. If you're nervous and uncertain about your product or service, your prospect will easily pick up on your insecurity. If you appear indifferent to his needs, he might wonder why you bothered to make the sales call. But if you're enthusiastic and proud of your product or service, you'll raise its value in your prospect's eyes.

You can maintain a positive mental attitude during your sales presentation by visualizing your success before you make the call. Picture yourself giving a dynamic presentation and your customer signing a contract. Savor how the accomplishment feels. That's what star athletes do to ensure their victory when they compete.

2. Discuss benefits, not features. A customer isn't really interested in what your product or service is; he's interested in what it can do for him. Therefore, translate your product or service's features into benefits. Will your product or service make him more money, reduce his overhead, save him time, make his workplace safer, make his job easier or gain him status in the business community?

Let's say you're selling roofing materials to business owners. A factual description of your product is: 220-pound, fiberglass DuraStay shingles with a 20-year warranty on materials and installation. Those facts are important to your prospect, but don't stop there. Tell him what your product can do for him: "Because they're fiberglass, they'll stand up in any weather. And because they're DuraStay, they're guaranteed." Or, "Your DuraStay roof is guaranteed to be leakproof for 20 years. If you even suspect a leak, we'll inspect it and fix it, absolutely free."

If you're selling a service, you can also discuss customer benefits, says Denise Schoenherr, co-owner of Special D Events, a special-events planning firm in Troy, Michigan. "When we present our services to a corporation, we want them to feel comfortable and secure with our working relationship," she explains. "We tell a prospective client we'll work as part of their team, communicate with their employees, attend their meetings and represent the event as their own. This way, we answer any concerns a client has about not participating in the decision-making process about how their event will be handled."

3. Offer a solution. When your customer objects to a point you make during your presentation, don't argue with him. You're trying to help your customer solve a problem, you're not trying to persuade him to do something he doesn't want to do. Simply repeat the objection, use a deflective phrase to turn it around (such as, "Ms. Prospect, other customers have had the same concern, until I had a chance to . . ."), then offer a solution in terms of benefits to your customer: Your product will save him money, give him security, make his work easier and so on. End your answer with a question: "Have I clarified that point for you?" or "I think we've found a way to solve that problem, don't you agree?"

You can also win your prospect over by offering a solution to his needs before he decides to officially become your client. "We're a service business," explains Schoenherr. "So we show a prospective client what that means. I'll often ask, `Is there something we can help you with now?' I tell them, for example, I can call hotels to see what rates the company can get for an event they're considering. Then we keep in contact with the company, and as the time approaches for their big event, the company will be inclined to hire us because they know we're here to work on their behalf."

4. Assume you already have the order. The easiest close in the business world is when your customer says to you, "Why don't we go ahead with this?" Since this doesn't happen often, you can move your discussion toward a profitable conclusion by acting as if your customer has already said "yes."

Some entrepreneurs do this by filling in the contract as they move through their presentation--asking a customer for his company's mailing and billing address, number of employees and other pertinent information. By doing this, you're indicating to your prospect you expect to ultimately complete the transaction with his signature. Or you could take a more verbal approach: Smile, look your customer in the eye and say, "Let's see what it will take to put this transaction together."

5. Brush up on closing tactics. You'll be more at ease asking for the order if you've rehearsed a closing statement. Stephan Schiffman, author of Closing Techniques That Really Work (see "Sales Resources" on page 62 for ordering information), says the simpler the closing statement, the better.

He suggests: "Mr. Prospect, it seems to me that we could really benefit from working together. What do you think?" Can you expect your prospect to smile, shake hands and sign the contract, though? "If you've done your work properly," says Schiffman, "that will happen a good portion of the time."

Everybody Benefits

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, legally required benefits (such as Social Security and Medicare) cost employers an additional 8.5 percent over the base pay of their workers. Health-care benefits cost the average employer another 19.5 percent. So your $25,000-per-year employee is really costing you a minimum of $27,125 per year. If you offer health benefits, that figure rises to an average of $32,000 per year. No wonder it's referred to as the company's "salary burden!"

Think offering extra benefits is just too expensive for your small-business budget? Think again. With a little creativity, you can offer great benefits that cost little or nothing at all. Consider these ideas:


  • Many merchants offer "corporate customers" discounts on their services. You can secure discounts on oil changes, tires, food, entertainment, lodging and other goods and services for your employees. For example, Paramount Parks, Dollywood, Disney World, Universal Studios and the Biltmore Estate offer discounts on their various attractions, including lodging and food, through corporate customer programs. Sam's Club and Price/Costco allow all the privileges of membership, such as discounts on merchandise and services, to employees of its corporate members. Movie theatres, including General Cinema and AMC Theatres, provide reduced-rate tickets for many companies' employees. Don't forget to offer employees free or discounted prices on your own company products and services.


  • Ask a local dry cleaner for free pick-up and delivery of your employees' clothes. Or, ask a garage for free transportation to and from work for employees having their cars serviced there. Many businesses are willing to provide this service to capture--and keep--new customers.


  • Offer free lunch-time seminars to employees. Financial planners, health-care workers, safety experts, attorneys and other professionals often offer their speaking services at no charge. Education is beneficial for both your employees and your business. You'll probably even learn something useful at the seminar yourself.


  • Offer supplemental insurance plans that are administered through payroll but are paid fully by the employee. Carriers of health, life, auto and accident insurance typically offer these plans at a lower rate to employers, so everybody benefits.


  • Offer a prepaid legal-services plan administered through payroll but paid fully by the employee. Like insurance, the purpose of the prepaid legal service is to provide protection against the emotional and financial stress of an employee's legal problems. Such services include phone consultations regarding personal or business-related legal matters, contract and document review, preparation of wills, legal representation in cases involving motor vehicle violations, trial defense services and IRS-audit legal services.

The employer deducts the monthly service fee from the paychecks of those employees who want to take advantage of the service. Typical fees range from $15 to $25 per month per employee and cover most routine and preventive legal services at no additional cost. More extensive legal services are provided at a lower rate when offered in this manner, saving employees money.


  • How about an interest-free computer-loan program? Making it easier for employees to purchase computers for their personal use increases the technical productivity of employees on the job. The employee chooses the computer and peripherals based on the employer's parameters. (For example, the computer must be a Macintosh, and the total package may not exceed $3,000.) The company purchases the system, allows the employee to take it home, and deducts payments directly from the employee's paycheck. Although there is some initial capital outlay, it is recouped quickly. And any computer experience an employee can gain at home will likely enhance his or her proficiency in the workplace.


  • Offer employees the first chance to purchase excess inventory from your business at a significant discount via sample sales or employee auctions. Arrange these purchases in conjunction with regularly scheduled companywide "yard sales" for employees to buy and sell their personal belongings.

This is just a small sampling of inexpensive benefits you can offer your employees. You probably even have some great ideas yourself. Now doesn't that burden feel just a little lighter?

Creating A Company Library

If you're like many entrepreneurs who must dig through piles of paperwork every time you need information, you're wasting more time than you think. "Business owners who spend a half an hour per day searching for information lose three weeks a year," says Carol Berger, owner of C. Berger And Co., a Carol Stream, Illinois, library and information-management consulting company. "On the other hand, those entrepreneurs who have their information well-organized and accessible save a lot of time and increase business."

So get organized! The sooner you start a company library capable of growing with your business, the better. To do so, follow these guidelines:

1. Be willing to spend some time. Organizing may not seem as important as generating business, but a little time invested now will save you a lot of time in the future. If you have no time to create a system, consider hiring a consulting librarian. Call the Special Libraries Association at (202) 234-4700, or write to 1700 18th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20009, to find a consultant in your area.

2. Take an inventory. Take out all your records and separate them into two broad categories: internal and external. Internal information should consist of company records such as taxes and personnel files; external information should include reference books and periodical articles.

3. Analyze your materials and decide on a system. Once you've got everything in front of you, decide on an organizational scheme. Organizing by subject often works well (i.e., taxes, computer software books, research, statistical information).

4. Catalog and index. Label each item with a number or name, or a combination of both, and record it in a database. Recording the index on a computer allows you to readily access information by typing in keywords. Look for a software program that allows you to quickly access information, says Sue Savage, a former consulting librarian in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. She recommends Inmagic Inc. (617-661-8124) software for its ability to adapt to special collections--the type of industry-specific collections most small business owners maintain.

5. Be selective in what you keep. While sorting, develop a records-retention plan with guidelines on what should be kept and for how long. Berger's book, Your Buried Treasures: Can You Find Them? (C. Berger And Co., $7.50, 800-382-4222), covers how long certain paperwork should be kept. For example, you should keep building permits in your library for 20 years, but you only need to hang on to bank deposit slips for six years and canceled checks for 10. Save space by throwing out rarely used or unimportant information.

6. Maintain. Maintain. Maintain. No system is self-perpetuating. Keep things running smoothly by regularly filing and updating the database. At an important deadline, you'll be glad you did. --Julie Bawden Davis

Contact Sources

C. Berger And Co., 327 E. Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188, (800) 382-4222.

Sue Savage, (310) 377-7350.

Special D Events Inc., 1120 E. Long Lake, #104, Troy, MI 48098, (810) 740-1800.