25 Super Sales Secrets

5 experts reveal the sales tips that'll help you close the deal.

By Carla Goodman • Apr 24, 2002

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

For many entrepreneurs, making their first sale is a monumental task. A million questions pop up, such as: How can I make my product stand out from those of my competitors? What types of questions should I ask? How do I handle objections? How should I ask for the order? For the answers to these and other sales challenges, we've asked five nationally known authors of sales books and audio tapes to share their sales secrets. Here are their 25 secrets for sales success.

25 Super Sales Secrets

Brian Tracy: Sales Tips for First-Time Entrepreneurs

Brian Tracy, president of Brian Tracy International in Solana Beach,California, is the author of several books, including Advanced Selling Strategies and Great Little Book on Successful Selling.His sales secrets for first-time entrepreneurs are:

1. Sell benefits, not features. The biggest mistakeentrepreneurs make is in focusing on what their product or serviceis. Rather, it's what it does that's important, saysTracy. "A health-food product contains nutrients that are goodfor the body. That's what it is. What the productdoes is make the customer thinner, more energetic, and ableto accomplish more with less sleep," he explains. "Alwaysconcentrate on how your product will benefit yourcustomer."

2. Sell to the people most likely to buy. Your bestprospects have a keen interest in your product or service and thefinancial resources to purchase it. They are the ones who will buymost quickly. "If you're selling photo-copy machines,don't try to sell to people who have never bought onebefore," Tracy suggests. "Sell to those who already haveone, or to those you know would be interested in buying one. Showthem how yours is superior."

3. Differentiate your product. Why should a customer buyfrom you and not from your competitor? Tracy suggests coming upwith at least three features that will give a customer reason tobuy from you. "People don't like to go out of theircomfort zone to try something new. So, give them three good reasonsto try your product," Tracy explains. "Your product orservice, for example, works faster, is less expensive, and has ahigher-quality level of ingredients."

4. Get face to face. Spending huge sums of money onprint-media advertising or direct mail is one of the leasteffective ways for first-time entrepreneurs to build up theirbusiness. There is no shortcut to the personal approach. Getone-on-one with your customer--if not in person, at least byphone.

5. Focus on the second sale. Nearly 85 percent of allsales are produced by word of mouth. "They're the resultof someone telling a friend or associate to buy a product orservice because the customer was satisfied," says Tracy.Therefore, concentrate on developing future and referral businesswith each customer. "Everything you do must be aimed at thesecond sale. Ask yourself: Will this be such a satisfactoryexperience that my customer will buy from me again or tell hisfriends?"

Linda Richardson: Sales Presentation Success

You can improve your sales success ratio dramatically bylearning as much as you can about your prospect and focusing on hisneeds, says Linda Richardson, president of The RichardsonCompany, a leadership- and sales-training company inPhiladelphia, and author of Stop Telling, Start Selling: Using Customer Focus Dialogue toClose Sales. She offers these secrets for success whenmaking your sales presentation:

1. Build rapport. Before discussing business, buildrapport with your prospect. To build rapport, do some homework.Find out if you have a colleague in common. Has the prospect'scompany been in the news lately? Is he interested in sports?"Get a little insight into the company and the individual soyou can make the rapport genuine," says Richardson.

2. Ask a broad range of questions. Ask questions thatrequire more than a "yes" or "no" response, andthat deal with more than just costs, price, procedures and thetechnical aspects of the prospect's business. Most importantly,says Richardson, ask questions that will reveal the prospect'smotivation to purchase, his problems and needs, and hisdecision-making processes. "Don't be afraid to ask aclient why he or she feels a certain way," Richardsonexplains. "That's how you'll get to understand yourcustomers."

3. Probe deeper. If a prospect tells you, "We'relooking for cost-savings and efficiency," will you immediatelytell him how your product meets his need for cost-savings andefficiency? A really smart sales person won't, saysRichardson-he or she will ask more questions and probe deeper:"I understand why that is important. Can you give me aspecific example?" Richardson suggests, "Ask for moreinformation so you can better position your product and show youunderstand the client's needs."

4. Learn to listen. Sales people who do all the talkingduring a presentation not only bore the prospect, but alsogenerally lose the sale. You should be listening at least 50percent of the time, notes Richardson. You can improve yourlistening skills by taking notes, observing your prospect'sbody language, not jumping to conclusions, and concentrating onwhat your prospect is saying.

5. Follow up. Write thank-you notes, call the customerafter the sale to make sure he or she is satisfied, and maintain aschedule of future communications. "You have to be in front ofthat client and always show attention and responsiveness,"Richardson says. "Follow-up is critical."

Shari Posey: Preparations and Guarantees

A successful sales presentation starts with careful preparationand ends with guaranteeing customer satisfaction, says Shari Posey,president of Executive Insights, an audio-tape production companyin Long Beach, California, specializing in products forentrepreneurs. Here are Posey's top five sales strategies:

1. Write out your sales presentation. Making a salespresentation "isn't something you do on the fly,"warns Posey. Always use a written presentation. Think about the sixmajor selling points of your product or service. Develop leadingquestions to probe your customer's reactions and needs to eachselling point. "This will help you determine what objectionsyour prospect might have, so you can show how your product orservice can meet their needs."

2. Write down objections. Show your prospect you aretruly listening to what they are saying by writing down theirobjections. In this way, you can specifically answer theirobjections by showing how they will benefit from your product orservice. It could be, for instance, by saving money, raisingproductivity, increasing employee motivation, or increasing theircompany's name recognition.

3. Offer a first-time incentive. Offer your prospectsomething significant, so if they do like your product orservice, they'll be inclined to make a decision now, ratherthan wait a few days or put off the decision indefinitely.First-time incentives might include: "10 percent off with yourpurchase today" or "With today's purchase, you'llreceive one free hour of consultation."

4. Offer a 100-percent guarantee. Let your customers knowtheir satisfaction is guaranteed. "A good return policyminimizes customer objections and shows that you believe in yourproduct or service," says Posey. Product guarantees should beunconditional and should not include hidden clauses, like"guaranteed for only 30 days." You can use a guaranteeeven if you're selling a service: "Satisfactionguaranteed. You'll be thrilled with our service or we'llredo it at our expense."

5. Close with two choices: Rather than ask, "Howdoes this sound?," give your prospect a choice. For example,if you're selling educational books to preschool owners, ask ifthey want to purchase the book series or the book and tape seriestogether. When they state their choice, write the order. "Yourprospect is not likely to stop you," Posey explains,"because mentally they realize they've committed andthey've said 'yes.' "

Bob Bly: Sales Materials That Shine

Want to really impress your prospect and give him salesmaterials that will make him want to order now? Follow these fiveimportant sales secrets from Bob Bly, an independent copywriter and consultant inDumont, New Jersey, who specializes in business-to-business anddirect-response marketing. He is the author of more than 50 books,including The Copywriter's Handbook.

1. Target your material toward a specific audience. Thesedays, it's not possible to understand and meet the needs ofevery potential customer. Show you are a specialist, Bly urges."You have a selling advantage and come across as believablewhen your sales materials are tightly targeted to specificaudiences," he explains. "Say you offer 'accountingservices for advertising agencies,' not just 'accountingservices.' "

2. Use testimonials. People might not believe yourproduct or service can do what you say it will. You can overcomethis disbelief by having a past or present customer praise you andyour company. Testimonials are usually written in thecustomer's own words, are surrounded by quotation marks, andare attributed to the individual. They can be used in salesletters, brochures and advertisements.

3. Write from the customer's point of view."Start your copy with something that engages theprospect," Bly suggests, "and what most people areinterested in is themselves." If an insurance agency wanted tointroduce its new employee health-benefit program forsmall-business owners, it might be tempted to state the obvious,using the phrase, "Introducing our Guarda-Health EmployeeBenefit Plan." The agency would get better results if it wrotesomething that directly interests the prospect: "Are theskyrocketing costs of your insurance premiums threatening to putyour company out of business?" As Bly explains,"That's something business owners who provide benefits totheir employees can relate to."

4. Use questions. A great way to engage your prospect isto pose questions in the headlines of your sales literature."Every car-wash owner should know these seven business-successsecrets. Do you?" Or, "Why haven't satellite-dishowners been told these facts?"

5. Turn a negative into a positive. If you are new inbusiness and haven't sold many products or signed up manyclients for your services, don't despair. You can phrase yoursituation this way: "Not one widget buyer in a thousand hasever experienced the advantages of this new XYZ widgetdesign."

Barry Farber: Get to Know Your Customer

What's the best way to identify with your customer? Know hisbusiness and ask for his feedback, says Barry J. Farber, atop-rated sales, management and motivation speaker, and author ofseveral books, including 12 Clich�s of Selling and Why TheyWork. Here are five ofFarber's top sales secrets:

1. Know your customer's business. Customers expectyou to know their business, customers and competition as well asyou know your own product or service. Study your customer'sindustry. Know it's problems and trends. Find out who hisbiggest competitors are. Some research tools include thecompany's annual report, trade publications, chamber ofcommerce directories, and the company's own brochures,newsletters and catalogs.

2. Organize your sales presentation. The basic structureof any sales presentation includes six key points: build rapportwith your prospect, introduce the business topic, ask questions tobetter understand your prospect's needs, summarize your keyselling points, and close the sale. "Always begin the processby first visualizing a successful outcome," Farber says.

3. Take notes. Don't rely on your memory to remindyou of what's important to your prospect. Ask upfront ifit's alright for you to take notes during your salespresentation . Write down key points you can refer to later duringyour presentation.

4. Answer objections with "feel, felt, found."Don't argue when a prospect says, "I'm notinterested", "I just bought one," or "Idon't have time right now." Simply say, "I understandhow you feel. A lot of my present customers felt the same way. Butwhen they found out how much time they saved by using our product,they were amazed." Then ask for an appointment.

5. Ask for feedback. If you want to improve your salespresentation or your relations with your customers, ask them whatyou need to do to maintain and increase their business. "Manycustomers have minor complaints but will never say anything. Theyjust won't buy from you again," Farber says. "If youask their opinion, they'll be glad to tell you, and to give youthe chance to solve the problem."

Selling for the First Time

Just because they're experts now, that doesn't mean theydidn't have the nervous jitters the first time they did sales.But check out how they impressed their first clients.

Brian Tracy:
I was 11 years old, selling soap door to door to earn my way toYMCA camp. I'd say, "Hello, my name is Brian Tracy.I'm selling Rosamel beauty soap. Would you like to buy abox?" People would say, "No, don't need it, don'twant it, can't afford it," etc. I was veryfrustrated-until I rephrased my presentation: "I'm sellingRosamel beauty soap, but it's strictly for beautifulwomen." People who had been completely uninterested would say,"Well, that's not for me. It wouldn't help me. Howmuch is it?" I started selling the soap like hot cakes.

Bob Bly:
I had been asked to speak before groups and had been paid to do so,but I had never personally gone after a speaking engagement. Iwanted to do business with a software company which was having anannual convention for its resellers, but the meeting planner washesitant to book me. He felt that, although my information was goodand I knew what I was talking about, I would not be entertainingenough for his group. "Call any or all of the meeting plannerson the list of references I gave you," I told him over thephone. "If even one of them says I was not the mostentertaining speaker they had within the last few years, I willcome and do your event for free." He called all of them, andthey confirmed that I gave engaging talks, and I got the job.

Barry Farber:
After college, I sold advertising for a start-up fashion magazine.I was excited and thought it was the greatest product in the world.The magazine was a great place for local high-fashion retailers toattract a local market. I made 145 door-to-door calls in one day,and sold all the advertising space for that issue. I didn'thave the skills, knowledge or experience, but I overcame thosedeficiencies with a tremendous amount of work. I believe 99 percentof a business owner's success is based on his enthusiasm,faith, passion for what he does, and the commitment to work hard toget his name out in the marketplace. Those ingredients can beat anyother combination for success.

Linda Richardson:
I had formerly been a teacher and had done corporate trainingbefore I started my own company that designs custom-tailoredsales-training systems for corporations. The first four months, Ihad no clients. I told myself to practice what I preached:"The next sales call, I'm not going to mention my productuntil the meeting is over. I'm going to build rapport and spendtime on the client's needs so I can position my product."I braced myself and did it. At the end of the meeting, the mansaid, "You knocked my socks off. When do we start?" Themajor difference was in asking for the client's needs, probingdeeper and deeper, and really understanding what the organizationwas about, what they wanted to achieve and why.

Shari Posey:
When I introduced my audio-tape series at a trade show, Inegotiated for a larger space so I could have room to conductinformational seminars on my product. I invited several of theentrepreneurs featured on my audio-tape series to speak on how theystarted their businesses and to answer questions from the audience.These informational sessions, I believe, were one reason I sold somany tapes at the trade show. Giving out information is a strongstatement that you care about your prospective customers and arewilling to give them something for free, whether or not they buyyour product or service. Giving out free information also sets youapart from your competitors, most of whom focus strictly on aheavy-duty sales pitch. When you host an informational session,select a speaker who can make a dynamic presentation, and who canarticulate the benefits of your product or service.

This article first appeared in the April 1997 issue ofBusiness Start-Ups magazine.


Former corporate public affairs executive Carla Goodman writeson a wide range of business topics.

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