Improving Your Sales Skills
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Q: I have a degree in electrical engineering. Now that I'm an entrepreneur, I find myself having to sell and am uncomfortable with this new role. Can you give me some tips on how to get the sale and maintain my integrity?
A: There are four specific things you can do to improve your chances of getting the sale-even if you lack experience and feel uncomfortable doing so. As it turns out, only two of the four involve making "buy" recommendations, which means you're actually only "selling" during those two activities (the first two in the following list). The process can be broken down this way:
1. Exploring: investigating the unknown to learn something new. Exploring typically means asking questions like: "How does your business operate?" "How many employees work here?" "How many different locations do you have?" "How much do you think you spend each month on network services?" "How many output devices do you currently have in your department?" Just make sure you're asking the right person in the organization; someone whose opinion is respected and is tasked with providing his or her opinion about a pending purchase.
2. Initiating the process. Initiating is the point in the sales process where we begin to map our products, services and solutions to the needs we've uncovered during our exploring activities. Make sure to match your initiating sales activity with the people who serve, perhaps in addition to other formal roles, as important advisors to the organization's decision-makers.
Think of your own experience. Have you ever met with someone who could influence the purchase decision, and then noticed the conversation stopping dead in its tracks when you started to deliver your pitch? You perhaps heard, "Stop trying to sell me and just stick to the facts."
3. Finding a sponsor. You need to find someone in the organization with a strong belief in your idea and who will vouch for your credibility. To succeed, you'll need the decision-maker to take on the role of sponsorship for the acquisition of your product, service or solution. After all, he or she knows what's going on and who's making it happen. He has direct access up and down the hierarchy. He's in alignment with the entire enterprise and, for the most part, is upwardly mobile. Decision-makers are the folks we want on our team.
Once you've got such an ally, there's really only one important rule to follow: Tell your sponsor everything-the good, the bad and the ugly. If you've got delivery problems, tell your sponsor first. If you've got product reliability issues, tell your sponsor first. If your organization is getting ready to stop supporting any particular revision of a product (such as a piece of software), pick up the phone and tell your sponsor the moment you learn of the decision. In other words, never let any news about you get to the decision-maker from any source other than you.
4. Leveraging: consciously drawing another person's attention. At this step, you must be willing to make your case to your sponsor before you make it to the "approver" in the organization-the person who will be giving the final go-ahead on the sale. (You tell your sponsor everything, remember?)
You must be willing to articulate, with credibility and passion, both hard-dollar and soft-dollar value results in your discussions with decision-makers and approvers. Sometimes salespeople focus exclusively on one or the other, and that cuts down your opportunity.
Putting It All Together
Regardless of your lack of selling experience, you'll make more sales faster when you incorporate the above steps into your process. Even better, you won't be "selling" all the time!
Tony Parinello is the author of the bestselling book Selling to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer. For additional information on his speeches and his newest book, Secrets of VITO, call (800) 777-VITO or visit www.sellingtovito.com.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.