Creative Sales Tactics

In today's competitive marketplace, you've got to get creative if you want prospects to listen.

By Dave Donelson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Most of us don't associate the word "creative"with "selling." For some, "creative" conjuresup images of starving artists dressed in black, "trying tomake a statement" with paint and old auto parts."Creative" people wear berets and read The VillageVoice. Salespeople wear ties and read The Wall StreetJournal.

At least those are the popular stereotypes. But don'tsalespeople create things, too-like opportunity? Don'tsalespeople create demand for products and services? Customersatisfaction? Wealth?

The nature of the sales process is, in fact, creative. A goodsalesperson creates demand where it doesn't exist. He or shecreates a message (the sales pitch) using various media (facecalls, telephone calls, written presentations, slide shows) thatinfluence an audience (the prospect). A salesperson explores newterritories (cold calls), introduces new ways of thinking(persuades prospects) and makes the world a better place (providescustomer satisfaction).

OK, maybe I'm overstating the case a bit. Lots of perfectlyproductive salespeople are nothing more than harvesters of existingbusiness-they take orders, fill out paperwork, collect theircommissions and go home. And they never break rules.

Those salespeople still play a role in our economy, althoughthey're on their way to being replaced by order-processingtechnology. But I'm here to talk about creative selling, thefavorite activity of wild, vibrant, risk-taking sales fanatics-theMichelangelos of sales. These people use the power of ideas tocreate customer satisfaction and wealth for themselves and theircompanies.

Think of CreativeIdeas
Ideas are scarce. They don't exist until someone creates them.They can be copied, but only after the original hits the market.Because there's nothing to compare them to, the price of anoriginal idea is determined solely by perceived value. There is nocompetitive bidding or price shaving for market share-just theseller's ability to create perceived value by presenting theidea as a solution to the buyer's needs.

This excerpt was reprinted from DaveDonelson's Creative Selling: The Foolproof System To UnleashYour Sales Potential.

Motivate Your Customers

Now let's talk about motivation. Why do customers buy fromyou? Is it because your product or service is the best on themarket? Is it because you have strong relationships with yourclients? These things can't hurt, but you need more than just agood widget to sell to a customer. You need ideas, because ideasare motivators.

The first step in coming up with ideas to wow your clients is tofind out as much as possible about their businesses. I like tobuild a file for each prospect that contains everything I can findthat pertains to his or her business. That file doesn't onlyhave to contain items related to your product or service; it shouldcover anything you can find about the prospect's business,market and customers. And the information should be gathered as ifyou were the prospect. Ideally, you'll learn to thinklike your client.

Use a little library or online research and a little commonsense, and you'll be able to answer your questions prettyaccurately. If you want to know the dollar volume of theprospect's market, for example, visit the U.S. CensusBureau's Website. If you want to know how many locations the prospectoperates, check the Yellow Pages. This kind of information isreadily available at no cost to you.

Regardless of the type of business the prospect operates,ultimately he or she sells something. So find out who theprospect's customers are and why they buy this type of productor service.

Once you've learned about the basics of the client'sbusiness, you can develop a client goal to be reached or a need tobe satisfied. Then it's time to get down to specifics on how toreach that goal. That's where ideas come in.

Creative sellers with open minds have an endless market fortheir ideas. But most people don't consider themselves creativeenough. Some of us actually have lots of ideas but are hesitant touse them because we're afraid they won't be good enough.The problem with that kind of thinking is that it puts the onus ofjudgment on the wrong person. The salesperson or business ownershouldn't judge the merits of an idea-leave that to theprospect. If the customer thinks it's good-it's good!Put your idea in front of him or her using the best presentationskills you have, and let that prospect make the final judgment.

This excerpt was reprinted from DaveDonelson's Creative Selling: The Foolproof System To UnleashYour Sales Potential.

The Merits of Brainstorming

To come up with ideas to sell, you need to continually practicebrainstorming. The techniques I'm talking about are the sameones you use in a group meeting, only I explore their use on anindividual level.

Here are the steps: Start by writing down your prospect'sgoal. On the page below the goal, make a list of ways yourcompany's products or services can help the prospect reach thatgoal. Follow the ground rules of successful brainstorming whileyou're writing.

Next, review the ideas and combine or extend them, creating newideas. Again, don't be judgmental. It's not time to throwout bad ideas. This combining and extending process should addideas to your list, not remove them.

There are several ways to stimulate your brainstorm production.Look inside the company for internal solutions. Many companiespackage their products or create bundles of services designed tomeet the needs of certain categories of customers.

Another good source of ideas that come out of brainstorming isfree association with nonrelated concepts. This is a fancy term fortaking an idea from someplace else. One of my associates monitorsTV commercials and magazine ads to see if there's a slogan orconcept he can use as an idea springboard. For example, he'lltake a slogan like "You're in good hands withAllstate" and come up with "You're in good form withDiet Rite." He's not stealing ideas, just using them tospark his own.

Another way to start the process is by examining past sales tosimilar customers. See if you can determine why customers madethose purchases. Talk to the salespeople. Pick their brains aboutthe circumstances that led to those sales.

You don't remember brainstorming basics from B-school?Here's a quick refresher:

1. There's no such thing as a badidea. Write it down even if it's impossible. Makesure to write it down if anyone in the room says, "We'venever done that before." Reserve judgment until later.

2. See how outrageous you canbe. Associate freely and write it down. The wilder theidea, the better. Crazy ideas spark more ideas-mundane ones aredead ends.

3. Fill the page-then startanother one. Quantity is your goal because the moreideas you list, the better the odds of finding a good one.

4. Don't stop when you come to the"right" idea. There could well be a better onewaiting to come out.

Choosing an Idea

The next step is to choose the one idea you feel most confidentpresenting. It should open a clear and direct path to theprospect's goal. Judge the idea by its ability to achieve thatgoal.

There is one final check to make before preparing thepresentation of your idea: See if you can clearly express your ideain a sentence or two. Try to say it aloud without taking a breath.If you can't, re-examine the idea to see if it's toocomplicated. Overwhelming a prospect with a proposal that youcan't explain in simple terms is a sure way to lose a follow-upcall.

Now that you've come up with the ideas, pick one and pitchit. That's right, pick one-any one. It doesn't matterwhich idea you choose as long as you know your company can deliverit. You can't choose one based on your knowledge of thecustomer's likes and dislikes because you haven't met theprospect-so just pick one and go with it.

That's when you'll learn the secret to creative selling:Your real goal on the first call is not necessarily to sell thatfirst idea-it's to gather as much information about theprospect as you can so subsequent ideas hit the mark.

As you gather information, you're accomplishing severalother things. You make a strong first impression by showing awillingness to invest your time in a study of theprospect's needs. You establish yourself as an idearesource. If you bring prospects something of value, they arelikely to see you again. Above all, your idea will provoke adiscussion about the prospect's needs. It's through suchdiscussions that you learn what they will buy from you.

Engineering A Sale

My friend Matt is both a salesperson and an engineer-avery unusual combination. Matt had a prospect who was responsiblefor the public structures owned by a county government, everythingfrom playground equipment to bridges.

Matt specializes in the structural analysis of communicationstowers. This prospect sent out a request for proposals (RFP) forinspection of the county's communications towers, which areused for two-way radios and other communications systems.

Matt looked beyond the RFP at the entire assortment ofstructures his prospect managed. Instead of just submitting aproposal for the towers, Matt also pointed out that the countybridges were subject to the same stresses (weather, materialsdeterioration) as the towers. These stresses were potentiallydangerous, so Matt proposed an inspection of the bridges using thesame rigorous professional methods his firm applied to thetowers.

This wasn't covered in the RFP, but Matt made the sale bycreating an opportunity to study a potential problem thathadn't existed in the prospect's mind. He then created asolution to the need by designing a service that his firmdidn't normally provide (bridge engineering). My friend'smind was open to the possibilities and he used creative sellingtechniques to create an opportunity.

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