Hard Sell

Solutions to the 21 biggest sales problems.
Magazine Contributor
15+ min read

This story appears in the August 1997 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Own a small business, and like it or not, you're in saleswhether your background is in engineering, child care or landscaping. The trouble is, "many entrepreneurs resist seeing themselves as salespeople," says Pam Lontos, an Orlando, Florida, sales trainer and author of Don't Tell Me It's Impossible Until After I've Already Done It (William Morrow).

So how do you excel in sales if it's not your natural calling? The solution is simple: Learn to do it. The good news is sales is a highly learnable skill. But where can you get first-rate sales training if the $5,000 and higher daily fees charged by top trainers are out of your budget? Top sales trainers from around the nation give you a head start in the following pages, offering their solutions to the 21 biggest sales problems.

Fear Of Rejection

Tom Hopkins is a leading sales trainer whose book How to Master the Art of Selling (Warner Books) has sold more than 1.3 million copies worldwide. His solution:

Psych yourself up for making calls whether in person or by phone. Look at it as a numbers game. If every sale puts $100 profit in your pocket and you average five calls per sale, tell yourself every no' is worth $20. That little technique can help you plow through the fear of rejection.

Not Qualifying

Jeffrey Hansler is the owner of Huntington Beach, California-based sales training and development company Oxford Co. He has worked in sales for 25 years and taught the subject for nine years. His solution:

I use RADAR to qualify prospects. The key to RADAR is asking questions. Done right, RADAR tells you how much time to spend with prospects; that is, can they and will they buy? Here's how RADAR helps you qualify clientsand save time.

Rapport: Do you have rapport with the prospect? In other words, is he or she answering your questions honestly and sincerely?

Acknowledged interest: What is the prospect's acknowledged interest in solving a problem? Does he or she see a problem?

Decision: Who are the decision makers, and what is the process they use to make purchases? Ask, "If you were going to make a decision today, who needs to be involved?"

Acknowledged funds: What is the prospect willing to invest in time, money and energy to solve the problem?

Risk coefficient: What is the risk factor based on the prospect's prior experience in making a similar decision? If prospects have never purchased a similar product or service, they have a negative risk coefficient. However, if they change vendors every two years, and they've been with their current vendor for 18 months, the risk coefficient is positive and you have a very good chance of gaining a customer.

Weeding out unlikely prospects using RADAR can be done in two minutes, on the phone or face to face, and with individuals or committees.

Gaining A Prospect's

Nicki Joy is a sales motivator in Rockville, Maryland, with 26 years of experience. Her solution:

There are two facts about trust: 1) We trust people who are most like ourselves, and 2) we trust people we can agree with. Knowing that, how can we create customer trust and loyalty?

Find out what you have in common with the customer, and refer to it. This can be as simple as children, a fondness for travel or a love of reading. Use these similarities to remind the prospect of your bonds.

Condition prospects to say "yes" by asking questions they will agree with. Say "It's a great day, isn't it?" or "You got an early start today, didn't you?" Little questions like these help start customers on a momentum that builds trust. Customers think "If I can say yes to him, I obviously agree with him, and if I agree with him, I probably can trust him."

Fear Of Cold

Know that when someone doesn't buy from you, it's your ideas that are being rejected, not you. So don't take rejection personally. Also remember three key facts:

If you truly believe in your product or service, don't worry about interrupting someone to tell them about it. You're offering help to someone who would benefit from your solution.

Don't overprepareyou have to plunge in and make those telephone calls. Your best training will come through the actual call process as you hone your presentation. The way to succeed at cold-calling is to continue making calls.

Keep a winning attitude. Only those who expect success to happen achieve their dreams.

Not Knowing Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

Make a proposition that each customer who buys your product or service will receive a specific benefit or benefits. Your USP can be how your business is operated; how your product is developed, manufactured or marketed; or elements that go into your product or service that are of significantly higher quality than that of your competitors.

Make sure your competition doesn't offer the same proposition; yours must be unique. Your USP can be something that your competitors have but have failed to capitalize on. The first company to define that benefit and educate their customers has a unique and profitable pre-emptive advantage.

The proposition must be strong enough to cntinually attract new customers.

Getting Through Voice Mail

Orvel Ray Wilson is president of The Guerrilla Group Inc., a sales seminar company in Boulder, Colorado, and co-author of Guerrilla Selling (Houghton Mifflin). His solution:

State your business. Tell prospects who you are and why they should be interested in talking to you. Use the phrase "We're the people who . . ." Here's what I might say: "Hello, my name is Orvel Ray Wilson, and I'm with The Guerrilla Group. We're the people who conduct the Guerrilla Selling one-day seminars all over the country. Our seminar is coming to your area, and I'd like to tell you about it."

Offer some good news. Identify yourself and your company, then say "I have some really good news I'd like to share with you." People love to get good news and are more likely to return your call.

Be courteous. Use the phrase "I'd appreciate the courtesy of a return call at (number)." But be careful of your tone so you don't sound condescending.

Follow up voice mail with a fax. Send a fax that says "Robert, please check your voice mail for an important message." Or you might leave a voice-mail message saying "I'm faxing you the information; if it is of interest, give me a call."

Always leave your phone numbertwice. Repeat the number near the end of the message, and practice writing your number down as you dictate it so you don't go too quickly.


Danielle Kennedy is Entrepreneur's "Sales Success" columnist and the author of seven sales books, including Seven Figure Selling (Berkley Press). Her solution:

Oversellingwhen you keep pushing your features and benefitsis a problem for both inexperienced and seasoned salespeople. It often happens when a small-business owner is financially hurting. The problem with overselling is that you aren't hearing the customer's needs.

You can talk your way right out of a sale by giving the customer too much information. Computer salespeople do this all the time; they go on and on about RAM, megahertz and lots of things the average business user doesn't know or care about. And then they wonder why they lose sales! What's the answer? Shut up and listen. Ask the customer questions about what he or she needs, and keep asking questions until you can tell the customer how your product specifically fulfills that need.

Dealing With Distractions

Too many entrepreneurs spend time putting out fires instead of making sales. Mark Sanborn is a business educator and professional speaker in Denver and author of Sanborn on Success (Griffin Publishing). His solution:

Focused attention beats brains and brawn every time. Eliminating or minimizing nonrevenue-generating activities is critical. Don't allow maintenance or operational activities to take up time better spent selling, upselling, cross-selling or prospecting. Make a list of your 10 MVP activitiesthe ones that are most valuable and profitableand spend 60 percent to 80 percent of every business day doing those things. MVP activities give you the biggest payback on your investment of time and energy.

Blowing The Sales Presentation

Practice, practice, practice. Do mock sales presentations. It amazes me that companies spend tons of money developing products, services and markets, then lose deals because they haven't polished their sales presentations. Don't let it happen to you. Practice in front of an audiencewhether it's one person or 100. The more you practice now, the better you'll do when you're actually going for the money.

Pam Lontos' solution

No matter what the prospect says, the reason he or she will buy is that you push a hot button. If you don't push it, they won't buy. What's a hot button? It's the emotional motivators behind a purchase. Know the desired end result of a purchase, and you know the hot button. Try to sell flowers by stressing how pretty the roses are, and it won't work. Tell the customer "Your wife will love this bouquet," and you've pushed a hot button. How do you find the hot button? Ask questions until the customer tells you what he or she really needs. You want to uncover the emotions underlying the purchase. Once you know those needs, direct 80 percent of what you say to the hot buttons. That's the way to make prospects comfortable about buying what you're selling.

Not Knowing How To Close The Sale

Pat Weber, speaker and trainer for management consulting firm Professional Strategies Inc. in Williamsburg, Virginia, is a professional sales trainer. Her solution:

You've satisfied the customer's needs and concerns, and he or she believes you can solve the problem. So why isn't a sale the next step? Many salespeople simply don't ask for the final decision. It's as though they forget what their ultimate goal is: to get the customer's business!

For some people, "closing" sounds negative. Try reframing your thinking to something more positive, such as "deciding." As you're talking with a customer, build in the close by having fun with it. Say something like "So how many do you want? We have it in a rainbow of colors; do you want them all?" Ask them several times in a fun, nonthreatening way. You're leading them to make the decision. You're having fun yourself. And you're doing your job.

Not Doing Your Homework

Brian Tracy, author of Advanced Selling Strategies (Simon & Schuster), is one of the nation's most acclaimed sales trainers. His solution:

Research is critical to successful selling today. You must understand the customer's business before your first meeting. If you do, you will be much better prepared to meet the customer's needs, and the customer will be impressed that you did your homework. Doing the research shows that you are a serious person.

How do you do this research? The Internet is a powerful tool, making it very easy to find information about a business. But there are libraries and many other ways to do research (call the company or look up newspaper articles). However you do it, do it! It's essential for selling today.

Blowing The First Secondsof Contact

Marlene B. Brown is CEO of MarmeL Consulting Firm & TechnoTouch Marketing in Clark Mills, New York. Her solution:

Get organized! When the phone rings, you can't afford to fumble when it comes to knowing who the customer is and what, if anything, you've promised him or her. Wouldn't it be great if you could instantaneously recall every detail of your last contact with the person? The good news is you can, and you'll increase sales while lowering your stress if you use a computerized database such as GoldMine or ACT! from Symantec. It's easy to key in relevant information: names, addresses, phone and fax numbers, e-mail addresses and Web sites. Also get birthdays, hobbies and interests, products and services they use, when their next meeting is and so on.

Most important, note anything you've covered in previous conversations. Then when the phone rings, press a computer key, and, in a few seconds, details about every contact with this caller are at your fingertips.

Hiring The Wrong Sales Agents

Pam Lontos' solution:

The right salespeoplewhether employees or outside representativesmake a big difference in how quickly your company grows. How do you make sure you're hiring the right people? Here are some invaluable tips:

Don't rely solely on resumes. Good salespeople sell themselves so well, they don't even need resumes.

In the first phone contact, if the applicant doesn't ask for an appointment, stop right there. If they won't ask for an interview now, they won't ask for orders later.

Does the person sound like someone you want to spend time with? If you don't think so, neither will your customers.

When they first call, tell them you're busy and will call them back. Then don't. If they don't call you back, they lack the persistence you need in an employee.

Does the applicant listen? If they're too busy talking to listen to you, they'll be too busy to listen to your customers.

At the end of the phone call, say you plan to talk to other candidates and will get back to them. Wait until one says "You don't need to talk to more people. I'm the one you want." That's the closer you need.

Losing Momentum After A Fast Start

Author of Get What You Want (Harbor Publishing Co.), sales and motivation expert Patricia Fripp was named one of the 10 most electrifying speakers in North America by Meetings and Conventions magazine. Her solution:

Many salespeople get started...and stop! They become successful, and then, just when they need it most, they stop marketing. That's fine until the marketplace, competition or technology changes. Then, inevitably, your sales decline, and you start losing customers.

The antidote: To maintain sales, your marketing efforts have to be ongoing, consistent and relentless. Use as many techniques as you can think of to stay in front of customers and prospects. That means, for example, delivering good service, sending handwritten thank-you notes, staying in touch with customers and prospects through e-mail or newsletters, being involved in community groups, getting quoted in magazines and newspapers, speaking at local service clubs, creating a Web presence and more. To keep sales strong, you've got to maintain your effort and your commitment to marketing.

Failing To Get Referrals From Customers

Tony Alessandra is a sales trainer and motivational speaker in La Jolla, California, and author of The Platinum Rule (Warner Books). His solution:

Getting referrals is as simple as asking for them. Here are steps for getting and making the most of referrals:

Ask for specific referrals. Many salespeople ask for referrals by saying "Do you know anyone else who might be interested in my product?" This often provokes the answer "Not off the top of my head, but if I think of someone, I'll let you know." And that's where the process ends. Instead, ask the customer for a more specific referral that deals with a need your product or service addresses. For example, "Steve, at your last chapter meeting of the American Legion, did you talk to anyone who was thinking about moving or selling their home?"

Gather as much information about the referral as possible.

Ask your customer for permission to use his or her name when contacting the referral.

Ask your customer to help you get an appointment with the referral.

Contact the referral as soon as possible.

Inform your customer about the outcome of the contact.

Prospect for referrals just like you would for sales leads.

Always follow up on referrals.

Not Listening

Author of Negotiate With Confidence (American Media), Ed Brodow has taught negotiation to executives at American Express, Microsoft, Chrysler and more. His solution:

Many years ago, my sales territory was the Canal Street area in New York Citya tough place to try selling door-to-door. I learned quickly that if I tried to make a flowery presentation, I'd be thrown out. But if I let my prospects tell me what their problems were, they would buy from me. Listening is not a difficult art to masterthe hard part is shutting up. Here are some suggestions for developing your listening skills:

Let the other person do most of the talking. Follow the 70/30 rule: Listen 70 percent of the time, and talk 30 percent of the time.

Don't interrupt. There is always the temptation to interrupt so you can tell the buyer something you think is vitally important. When you are about to speak, ask yourself if what you're about to say is really necessary.

Ask a question...then shut up. This is a foolproof way to listen. Think of yourself as an interviewerbe another Barbara Walters.

Not Using Customer Endorsements

Barry J. Farber, author of State of the Art Selling (Career Press), owns a sales management, personal development and motivational training company in Livingston, New Jersey. His solution:

Testimonialsendorsements from customersare a selling tool any business can use. How do you get testimonials? After customers buy, interview them about why they purchased and the benefits they've enjoyed. Ask them to write a testimonial lettermost happy customers will gladly do thisand put your letters together into what becomes a very powerful tool with new prospects.

Losing Angry Customers

Here are Tony Alessandra's steps for creating moments of magic from moments of misery:

Handle the person first, then the problem. Let angry people vent their frustrations. This alone will go a long way toward resolving the problem.

Apologize. This is crucial. Itshows you are committed to the relationship.

Show empathy. Assure your customer that he or she has every right to be angry and disappointed and that you would feel the same way if it happened to you. Make them feel understood.

Find a solution. Resolve the problem with your customer, not for the customer. Ask questions that will get the customer involved in the process, such as "How would you like to see this problem resolved?" or "If you were in my position, how might you resolve this kind of problem for your customer?"

Follow up. After resolving the problem, you must follow up. Make sure things are satisfactory, but also look for additional needs that represent selling opportunities.

The Prospect Objects To Buying

Dan Sherman's solution:

When prospects object, that means they're afraid. Customers become afraid when they think they might be making a mistake or there is a chance of looking stupid in the eyes of the boss, colleagues, family and so on. Show empathy by saying "Let's explore your concerns." As you explore concerns, you need to isolate the true objection so you can handle it. Here are a few ways to do that:

Offer a choice. "Is it the delivery time or the financing you are concerned about?"

Get to the heart of the matter. "When you say you want to think about it, what specifically did you want to think about?"

Work toward a solution. Every sale should be a win-win deal, so you may need to compromise: "I'll waive the delivery charge if you agree to the purchase."

Keep a list of common objections. Write down answers to the ones you hear often, then have a prepared response for each one.

The Prospect Has A Better Quote From A Competitor

Orvel Ray Wilson's solution:

Respond with "We have no argument with those who sell for less. They know best what their product is worth." Then offer justification for your higher price, based on quality, service, guarantees or superior performance. Try to verify the quote. Ask "Did they give you that price in writing?" If not, ask "Then how do you know they're serious?" If the prospect has a written quote but is reluctant to share it, say "This is in our mutual best interests. If I can't match or beat their price, I'm wasting my time and yours. I need to know exactly what we're up against."

Once you get the competitor's quote, compare offers line by line. Look for what they're leaving out. Find a way to add value to your product rather than matching price. You want to be able to use the argument "Of course theirs is cheaper. It doesn't include (list)." What if the price really is cheaper, and you can't match it without losing money? Walk away from the deal. Unless good reasons for matching the price existentry into a new market, for instanceyou'll only regret making sales that don't benefit your company.

Clear Vision

Everyone's a salesperson when your business uses the ClientVision Enterprise System from WinSales Inc. The ClientVision Enterprise System allows personnel to access client sales information on your network. Employees can pull up read-only files from your sales database to help answer customer questions. Another feature allows salespeople to print just the client records they need when traveling, instead of the entire database. Other features include a calendar for group scheduling of projects and a "universal outbox" that automates responses to Internet home pages (it converts responses to e-mail and replies to the sender). Recommended system requirements are a server with a 486 or higher microprocessor and at least 64MB RAM and 2GB hard-drive space; employee computers need a 486 or higher microprocessor, 16MB RAM and 11MB hard-drive space. Cost: $495 for one user; $1,495 for five users; $300 per seat for additional operators.

Fit To Print

Writing up an invoice or supplying additional product information when visiting a client is no problem. Just print it out on the spot with a portable printer like the PN60i from Citizen America. This laser-quality printer, which weighs only 1 pound, prints at 360-dots-per-inch (dpi) resolution and outputs up to two pages per minute. Because of a built-in infrared interface, the PN60i offers the added convenience of printing without cables; included software transfers data between infrared-capable notebook computers or personal digital assistants and printers. Cost: $499.

On That Note...

Letters, product materials, snazzy sales pitchescreate and carry them all with you on your notebook computer. These days, portable computers offer plenty of room to store all your sales supplies and then some. For instance, Compaq Computer's Armada 1520DM with Intel's Mobile Pentium 133 MHz processor comes with a hefty 1GB hard drive. Plus, it has all the extras: 10X CD-ROM drive, 33.6 KBps data/fax modem, 11.3-inch color STN display, 16MB RAM, and 1MB of EDO DRAM for high-end video/graphics performance. You can also select from a choice of two pre-installed operating systems: Windows 95 or Windows NT 4.0. Cost: $2,149.

All Systems Go

Dynamic presentations are a crucial part of any successful sales pitch. And In Focus Systems' LitePro 720 projector can help make them happen by bringing full-featured multimedia into your sales meetings. Weighing less than 12 pounds, the LitePro 720 connects to most PCs and Macs to display presentations in up to 1024-x-768-dpi resolution. The LitePro 720 also supports full-motion video, has a zoom lens to project images at a distance from 2 to 25 feet, and comes with an infrared Smart Remote mouse for controlling visuals from up to 40 feet away. Cost: $9,199.

Get The Message?

Apple Computer's MessagePad 2000 handheld computer offers many of the features a salesperson simply can't live without. To wit: It comes pre-configured with a Web browser and e-mail client software to harness the power of the Internet for sales communications (modem and Internet service provider are required for Internet access). The MessagePad 2000 is also loaded with personal productivity software such as a word processor, address book and calendar. Powered by a 160 MHz StrongARM microprocessor, the MessagePad 2000 runs on four AA alkaline batteries or a rechargeable battery pack and supports Type II PC Cards for wired and wireless communication. Cost: starts at $949.

Directory Assistance

Searching high and low for new customers? Chances are a CD-ROM directory that contains more than 100 million business and residential listings is a good place to start. Created by Pro CD, Select Phone Deluxe has a whopping nine discs, each with contact information and links to e-mail addresses, home pages and other relevant resources on the Internet. User-friendly features allow you to search for listings either by Standard Industrial Class code, geographic location or Metropolitan Statistical Area. A subscription to AT&T WorldNet service for Internet access, a contact manager to track customers, and a copy of Pro CD's Select Street Atlas to plot listings in the United States are also included. System requirements are a PC with Windows 3.1 or above and a 486 or higher microprocessor, 8MB RAM, 26MB hard-drive space, and a 2X CD-ROM drive. Cost: $149.H.P.

The Top 10 Sales Web Sites From Entrepreneur.Com

1. SalesDoctors Magazine http://salesdoctors.com

2. SalesBiz http://salesdoctors.com

3. The Selling Arena


4. Sales & Marketing

Management Magazine http://www.smmmag.com

5. Guerrilla Marketing Online http://gmarketing.com

6. The Sales Mall http://www.salesmall.com

7. Sales Leads USA http://www.abii.com

8. Sales Report

Smart Business SuperSite http://www.smartbiz.com/sbs/cats/sales.htm

9. Best Sellers Special Report

Entrepreneur Magazine's



10. Tom Hopkins International http://www.tomhopkins.com

Other Links Of Interest

Tony Alessandra, http://www.alessandra.com

Tom Antion, http://www.antion.com

Mark Sanborn, http://www.marksanborn.com

Dan Sherman, http://www.salespower.com

Brian Tracy International, http://www.briantracy.com

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