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Top Secrets

Psst! Think you know everything about sales? Here's the inside scoop on mastering one of the most important skills you'll ever need.
August 1, 2003
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/63242

Selling is perhaps the greatest skill of all time. The ability to persuade, communicate and influence has been the basis of personal and financial success throughout the ages. Learning to sell well, therefore, will open doors for you and your sales team, and will make it possible for your business to succeed.

Steps to Sales Success
Thousands of articles and books have been written on selling, and almost every one of them contains one or more nuggets of wisdom. Some are classics that convey ideas, techniques and strategies that salespeople can use in almost any market. Nonetheless, there are three steps to sales success that have stood the test of time: prospecting, presenting and closing. They form the three points of the "iron triangle" of selling.


There are three steps to sales success that have stood the test of time: prospecting, presenting and closing.

To prospect effectively, you and your sales team must first clearly determine what it is your company is selling. Most people only define their product or service in terms of its qualities, characteristics, features and the way it is produced, distributed and delivered to the customer.

However, the most important part of your product description is what the product does for your customer. People don't buy products or services; they buy the results (or "benefits") they expect to experience by using your product or service. You must therefore determine what your product or service really does for your customers. Find out what makes your product superior to other products or services. Only then are you ready to tackle the three key steps to sales success:

1. Prospecting: Of all the prospects in your market, which can benefit most from what your product does better than the competition? The rule is that although there are many prospects, they aren't all your prospects. You must be specific about which prospects you can sell your most important benefits to the most effectively.

2. Presenting: The ability to design and give a good sales presentation will determine your success as much as any other factor. Based on more than 30 years of experience, I can say every sales presentation could use some improvement.

A good presentation shows prospects that your product or service is the best choice for them. After highlighting a feature of your product or service that's relevant to the customer, ask a question to invite feedback, such as "Is this something you would use in your situation?"

If you've given a good presentation, the prospect should fully understand the offering and be ready to make a buying decision. If you don't get this reaction at the end of your presentation, rework your presentation until it is so overwhelmingly conclusive that the sale almost falls into your hand at the end.

3. Closing: It is absolutely amazing how many sales are lost because the salesperson fails to follow up and ask for the order at the end of the sales conversation. The best way to close a sale is to set up the closing question with the words "Do you have any questions or concerns that I haven't covered so far?"

If the prospect says no, you can then ask for the sale: "Well, then, why don't you give it a try?" If the prospect is unsure, say "I really think this would be ideal for you, based on what you've told me. Why don't you give it a try?" You will be amazed at how many people are on the verge of buying and simply need an invitation.

The iron triangle of selling has always been the same: prospecting, presenting and closing. Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 in each of these areas, with 10 being highest. If you score below a 7 in any area, that is what's holding you back more than any other factor.

Sales Secrets for Today

In recent years, the field of selling has changed dramatically. During the boom of the 1990s, individuals and organizations were producing and selling products and services hand over fist. There was demand and an enormous amount of money chasing after products and services in almost every field. Many salespeople who began their careers in the early '90s never learned how to sell because it wasn't necessary. It was a seller's market. As a result, most salespeople became professional order-takers. They followed up on leads, collected checks and came back to the office feeling like heroes.

In today's uncertain economic landscape, there are more sellers than buyers. There are more companies offering products and services than there are people with money to buy them. Times may be tough, but the fact is that cycles and trends are a natural part of life. Markets go up, and markets go down. This is normal, and we need to adjust to it when it happens.

Three new skills are necessary if you want to become one of the top sellers in your field:

1. Learn to focus. To succeed in selling today, you must focus more narrowly on the few prospects who are the most likely to buy what you sell. You have to define your ideal prospects more clearly and separate high-probability prospects from low-probability prospects.

But before you're able to focus your selling, you must prepare. The more thoroughly prepared you are, the more and better sales you will make. There are three steps to preparation. First, do some pre-call research. Learn everything you possibly can about your prospects before you call on them for the first time. This will help with building your credibility.

Next, set your pre-call objectives. Know your goals, and write down any questions you need to ask.

Lastly, perform post-call analysis. Always write down every detail discussed in the sales call immediately after leaving the prospect; don't rely on your memory or the sales report forms you fill out at the end of the day. The next time you visit this prospect, review your detailed notes from earlier conversations. This three-step process of preparation will thoroughly equip you with the tools necessary to build high levels of credibility and trust with your prospect throughout the sales process.


Nothing is more important in a tough market than your commitment to continuous forward action, to calling on more and better people every single working day.

2. Concentrate on your best prospects. You've identified your most important prospects. Now it's time to dedicate all your time and energy to the top 20 percent of prospects in your market who account for 80 percent of your sales. In the 1990s, it was easy to hit prospects all over the place without really trying. But today, the market has changed, and to succeed, you must concentrate your energies carefully on those few customers who can make a significant difference in achieving your sales quota.

3. Commit to forward action. To succeed in sales today, you must be in continuous motion, always looking for new and better prospects, both in your traditional markets and in markets you may not have thought of in the past. The more approaches you try, the greater the probability you'll try the right thing at the right time to make the kind of sale you really want to.

For this reason, nothing is more important in a tough market than your commitment to continuous forward action, to calling on more and better people every single working day. You should spend about 80 percent of your time prospecting-until you have so many customers that you don't have enough time to handle more.

If your sales career is going more slowly than you would like at the moment, step on the accelerator of your own potential and rev up the number of people that you see and talk to on a daily and weekly basis. The good news is, the faster you move, the more energy you will have. The more energy you have, the more people you will see and the more experience you will get. And the more experience you get, the better you will become at selling when you finally come across the ideal prospect for you.

Because of this action orientation, you'll make more sales and, as a result, get more positive feedback. This will motivate you to make even more calls on even more prospects and close even more sales in the weeks and months ahead.

Over the years, good times come and go. The economy booms, and the economy recedes. But the salespeople who practice these six essential principles day in and day out-no matter what may be happening around them-will always find success. You can do the same.


Author and speaker Brian Tracy is the chairman and CEO of Brian Tracy International, a human resources firm. His most recent book is Many Miles to Go.