Pumping up profits. Keeping the numbers up. If you've been in business for any length of time, you know how important sales are to keeping your business afloat and making it thrive. But if you're like many business owners, you also know how tough it can be to get customers to say that final "yes."
Sales trainer and motivational speaker Pam Lontos is no stranger to this challenge. She had some 20 years of sales experience before starting Lontos Sales and Motivation Inc. in Orlando, Florida, in 1981. A year earlier, Lontos had increased sales 500 percent as vice president of Disney's Shamrock Broadcasting.
How did Lontos go from salesperson to superstar? She started by adopting one of the tenets she uses today to help entrepreneurs and other salespeople excel: "Salespeople aren't born; they're trained."
In this exclusive interview, Lontos reveals some of her inside secrets to help your business' sales skyrocket.
Entrepreneur:How important is the skill of selling in business today?
Pam Lontos: In today's competitive market, selling is the name of the game. The biggest mistake you can make is thinking you are not in sales. You are always selling. It is vital if you own a business because your money is coming from your customers. And if you don't know how to sell, you aren't going to make any money.
Regardless of how inexperienced you are in pitching your products, ideas or services, selling is a highly learnable skill. The best part is that you can not only learn it, but you can also enjoy doing it.
Entrepreneur:Why do so many entrepreneurs have a tough time selling?
Lontos: Many entrepreneurs think of themselves as creative people, not as salespeople. They don't want to use sales techniques that might be perceived as too pushy or direct.
To succeed in business, you need to know what questions to ask your customers. People come to you because they want the benefit of your expertise. People fear making the wrong decision; they want to [buy from] someone they perceive as an expert they can trust.
Entrepreneur:Is it best to recite facts about your product or service to your prospects?
Lontos: Giving facts when you talk is not selling; it's telling. It will not build the right type of relationship you need to clinch the sale.
You must have passion for what you do; however, talent and passion must be fine-tuned by taking care of your customers' needs. You must build a rapport with your customers by finding out their needs. You want them to buy from you and refer all their friends as well.
Entrepreneur:One of the messages you teach is that salespeople aren't born; they're trained. What do you mean by that?
Lontos: Salespeople are not cut out of one mold. Some people are quiet; others are outgoing and enthusiastic. There are many different types of personalities. However, everyone has the ability to develop the habits needed to be a good salesperson. These skills include knowing how to listen, when to be assertive and when to empathize.
Step one in selling your product or service is to develop trust and build emotional rapport through a common bond. Step two is to ask questions and get the prospect to say he or she wants what you have. Step three is to handle objections promptly. Step four is to explain the benefit of what is in it for the prospect. Step five is to close the sale. If you haven't been able to close the sale, step six is to go back to the start of the circle of emotional rapport and questioning.
Entrepreneur:What is the number-one fear of every salesperson?
Lontos: Without a doubt, it's rejection. If you never ask for the sale, you'll never hear the word "no." That's why you have to believe in what you're selling.
When I sold health-club memberships, it was for a club where I had lost 50 pounds. I believed in that program, and I never minded asking for the sale. If I let a prospect go without [closing the sale], I felt I was doing him or her a disservice. It's important to have the mind-set that if a customer walks out without buying your product or service, his or her life is not going to be as good. When you believe that, you'll do everything possible to get that customer to buy from you.
Entrepreneur:What is the number-one reason prospects say no?
Lontos: The main reason people don't buy is fear of making the wrong decision. They'll go with the person who takes away that fear. People may say no five or six times before they say yes because they have said yes too quickly in the past.
Entrepreneur:When you go out in the field with salespeople, what common mistakes do you observe?
Lontos: Talking instead of listening and failing to build rapport and trust before they start selling.
The salesperson will go in and just start talking about his or her product or service without describing any benefit or determining why it's important to that particular person. They won't ask questions to find out what a person needs. Then, if the person says "I'll think about it," they stop at that point and get ready to leave--and that's just when they should jump in and start really selling.
Entrepreneur:How can business owners reprogram their minds for success?
Lontos: Constantly see things in a positive light. When something adverse happens, you need to understand it's just temporary. Take 10 minutes each day, close your eyes, and feel yourself in a situation that is a positive reflection of what you want to happen.
Entrepreneur:How important is it to remain positive?
Lontos: It is essential that you remain positive. You must have the attitude that you will never give up. Even if six customers in a row don't buy from you, or if you don't have a sale for three days, you can't let it get you down. You must try new techniques.
Find out what everyone else is doing, and do something different. If you're like everyone else, you won't stand out. You must give extra customer service to get people to come to you. Walt Disney went through two or three bankruptcies before he became successful. When people believe in themselves so much, they will have persistence and stick with it. Be positive no matter how bad things appear.
Entrepreneur:What are some inside secrets to help entrepreneurs become super salespeople?
Lontos: The strongest human need is to be appreciated. Learn to ask questions of the prospect and listen to the answers. You must do your research and determine how you can help the client or prospect.
First, write down the six most common objections your customers typically raise. These are the reasons prospects don't want to buy now. Then, write down how you will counter these objections. It's important to practice so your comments are natural and flow smoothly. If you can't come up with the correct answers yourself, read books or listen to tapes on the subject of sales.
Entrepreneur:Based on your experience in the field, are there other tips you offer businesspeople to put them over the top?
Lontos: No matter how much business is coming in, never stop marketing. It's also very important to trust your intuition and to hire employees or consultants not because you like them but because they can do the job.
Take the time to help others. Many good things have come into my life by taking this approach.
Entrepreneur:How do you build trust with a client?
Lontos: Always find something you like about the client. Think and feel "I like you and I think you are terrific" while you are talking to the client. In your conversations, show you care about your clients and their businesses. It's important to find a common bond between you.
Entrepreneur:Can you give us some sample questions that might help close the sale?
Lontos: You can take control by asking strong questions like "What is your main concern?" or "Is there something you haven't told me?"
People will gravitate toward you if they feel you are helping them and that you care. Always talk about benefits and end results. Discuss what they want. You must personalize your approach so you show you care about your clients and about solving their problems.
Entrepreneur:Can you give an example?
Lontos: I recently gave a seminar for cake designers. These people not only wanted customers to buy cakes from their bakery but also to order the bigger cake, the nicer icing and the fancier decorations. I told them to think about not just selling a cake but selling memories. Think how happy their customers will be 10 or 15 years from now when looking back with their children at wedding pictures. Seeing themselves cutting the cake is a memory they will cherish forever.
Another type of person may be more interested in impressing his or her friends. One may be more interested in the taste of the cake. Therefore, qualifying questions will help you discover what they really want, and if you listen, you'll obtain the answer. You will not only make the sale but also satisfy them and make them happy.
Entrepreneur:Once you've been properly trained in sales, is it a skill that will stay with you?
Lontos: It's like riding a bike--you don't forget. If you get back out there and start doing it, it comes back to you. I learned how to sell, and I learned how to be motivated. I'm not saying I didn't have setbacks; I'm not saying I don't have ups and downs. I feel down like everybody else, but now I know how to bring myself out of it.
Alan Rothman is a consultant, author, columnist and speaker. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lontos Sales and Motivation Inc., P.O. Box 617553, Orlando, FL 32861, (407) 299-6128