Whether you’re trying to pitch a product or yourself as a person, selling is never easy. (On the latter point, just ask anyone who has to negotiate daily with a toddler in hopes of getting them to eat their vegetables.) But by mastering the art of the sale, you open doors to new connections and opportunities – and can create meaningful bonds that provide a lasting foundation upon which great things can be built. Just remember that selling is a form of giving: yes, you’re giving away a product or a service in exchange for money, but you also want to make sure that what you’re giving counts—win-win is the secret to more productive exchanges. Let your clients get to know you and the value you offer—and, by learning to better communicate it, help them understand what they gain from the exchange. Contrary to Alec Baldwin’s belief, coffee isn’t just for closers, as there’s more to making a sale than sheer tenacity (although it does help): Here are seven additional strategies that will help you sell to win.
Understand your target market’s pain and problems – The best salespeople pay special attention to the key issues and market realities that customers face – and then figure out how to best address and overcome these challenges. This breed of problem solving requires understanding and empathy: It’s vital to be able to put yourself in customers’ shoes and see things from clients’ viewpoints. Ask yourself what goal your customer is really trying to accomplish by making the purchase (attempting to streamline processes, boost efficiency, leverage off-the-shelf technology to accomplish bigger gains in less time, etc.); the operating realities and constraints they do business under; which solutions they can turn to and both the upsides and issues associated with each; and then, ultimately, work out how you can make life easier for him or her by helping them achieve end-goals most efficiently and effectively. Their lasting gain is yours as well.
Identify opportunities – At the end of the day, a great salesperson is a great researcher. You need to do your homework and understand where holes in the marketplace exist and challenges are beginning to emerge or have yet to be artfully addressed: Understand the competitive space, get to know the market and seek to fill in the gaps. Then you can take the opportunity to plug the holes that your competitors missed with new offerings, or readapt existing products or services to best speak to and answer these needs. No matter whether you’re selling software or vacuum cleaners, note that it’s as much about the way you present the product or service as it is the manner in which these offerings meet needs themselves. Don’t be disingenuous, but don’t assume a one-size-fits-all approach will work either. Instead of talking, start by listening carefully – by hearing what your customers and the market are saying (verbally or no), the world will often tell you what it wants, and the right approach to provide it.
Create a profile of your clients – Create a profile of your customers and study it in advance, so that you can get a deeper understanding of who you’re talking to, what motivates them, operating realities and constraints they face, and how to best craft solutions to meet their needs. Note that when pitching, there may be multiple buyers involved in the transaction, so think about how you need to speak and present to a brand manager versus, say, a C-level executive or stakeholders whose backgrounds are spread across disparate departments (finance, IT, marketing, etc.). Each discussion calls for a different approach – and all of their questions and concerns must be respectfully and artfully addressed. Note that at the end of the day though, the decision typically comes down to one buyer with the power to sign off on the transaction – rather than deal with gatekeepers, wherever possible, you should strive to connect directly with them, and communicate your value: They’re the ones best able to appreciate the benefit created, comprehend its ultimate worth and take action appropriately.
Comprehend how to best help them – If you don’t understand your clients’ problems, it can be very hard to help them solve those dilemmas. Really dissect and come to comprehend the issues that your customers are dealing with, and build solutions around them. As a simple exercise, see the world through their eyes. Ask yourself: What am I trying to accomplish here from a strategic or lasting business standpoint? Do alternative solutions exist: What benefits and drawbacks do they offer? What are the challenges and potential opportunities I’m facing? Then look to answer all and provide tailored solutions that help meet these goals – the ability to help solve a problem today is good, but offering meaningful options that prevent these issues from arising again is worth even more, and accrues according value.
Build relationships and become a trusted councilor – As alluded, it’s vital to connect with your clients, get to know their business, and do everything you can to see the world from their perspective. Because at the end of the day, the most effective salespeople are essentially consultants, who work to provide solutions that best meet clients’ needs and objectives – and the only way to do so is to understand their reality. Empathy is vital, as is acting in their best interest, and making sure results speak for themselves. Realize that selling ultimately comes down to building bonds, communicating value and overcoming reservations. Part of doing that involves showing your client that you possess the knowledge and insights to be a valued team player and contributor – even if you’re not technically employed on the same team.
Build products and processes which address others’ needs and create value – The best salespeople don’t just know their product inside and out. They know how to best leverage it so that it helps their client achieve lasting, positive. Your customers’ needs may be simple in the immediate (deploy a more efficient client relationship management tracking system), but very complex over long-term horizons (provide better customer service). Proactively help address these bigger issues, and you create boundless value for them. Keep in mind that there are endless rivals already trying to sell to your clients – but not every one of them is looking to solve big problems, or looking out for customers’ best interests. Offer novel solutions with powerful end-results that your competitors can’t.
Understand clients’ objections and how to address them – Poise under pressure is imperative: It’s not about canned presentations, but rather communicating value and creating empathy and trust. Respond confidently, succinctly and smartly to hard questions when asked – dancing around issues is an immediate danger signal. Realize that you’re going to get every question under the sun, so make sure you have the skills (and courage!) to acknowledge and address each one. Think fast on your feet and directly answer these queries—customers know when you’re trying to spin off or avoid the tough ones. If you don’t have an answer for a client, let them know, and work with them to solve the problem – a challenge that can often be avoided by going through the simple exercise in advance of conducting practice presentation sessions. But while brainstorming and preparing for common questions can save you untold heartbreak, it’s impossible to prepare for every question. That’s OK: Being able to problem-solve, strategize and communicate off-the-cuff comes across as more genuine – ultimately, when it comes to addressing tough questions, as ever, there’s no substitute for thoughtful and intelligent discussion.