13 lessons for selling well

It's never been a more important time for a business owner to know about sales.

Blog leadmagnet | Sales lessons

Lesson 1: Using insight to sell

The world we sell in has evolved and, along with it, so has consumer buying behaviour. Customers are now able to access more information, more choices, than ever before. This has helped them become more aware about what's on the market, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily have the wisdom or confidence to buy anything.

This is where you—as the business owner—come in. People need companies that share their ideas and experience of possible solutions to pains, and examples of how they’ve had similar success with other customers in the past.

What you’re providing these buyers is insight; it’s important to share this when engaging with customers to build your credibility and, most importantly, trust.

There is a common misconception that people buy from people they like. True, this is a bonus, but the real reason customers will buy from you is because they trust you. A great way to build trust and differentiate yourself from the competition is to share insight with the customer and that could be about their industry, trends you’ve noticed or simple success stories from previous clients.

Here are a couple of examples of this approach:

  • If you’re a roofing company: “I’ve noticed this year that we’ve had pretty bed in this county which, from what other customers around here have told me, has caused them to have the heating on for longer. Also their roofs have taken a real battering, so they've had them checked.”
  • If you’re a training company: “I’ve seen a real shift in the amount of companies looking to shift their sales people away from order takers and into more of a consulting mindset, so you’re not alone in the current challenge you have.”

Summing up

You have a wealth of knowledge and experience so when speaking with customers don’t just tell them what you do, share your insights to bring value to the conversation. This will build the trust and credibility required as the foundations to work together.

Starting each call with a strong opening, by framing the call, is an important first step to building a relationship with your customer.

Lesson 2: Frame the call, own the sale

Imagine you’re off to the dentist for a check-up; you’ll probably have several thoughts going through your head, most likely along the lines of “what are they going to do? I hope I don’t have to get an injection, how much is it going to cost me this time?”

You get there, read old magazines in the waiting room for a while, then finally sit in the dentist's chair and the first thing the dentist says to you is: “today we’re going to do some x-rays, have a look at the teeth and then if any work is needed, book you in for another visit”.

How do you feel?

Probably a smidge more relieved and relaxed. Your anxiety has reduced because your understanding of the situation has increased. This is the same thing we need to be mindful of at the start of every call, presentation or pitch with potential customers. Giving them an expectation of what will happen is known as framing.

Framing your call gives your customer a narrative of what to expect from your conversation.

By doing this, you'll: 1. Reduce their stress and anxiety 2. Increase their understanding 3. Control the conversation 4. Ensure you’re both on the same page 5. Starting each call with a strong opening, by framing the call, is an important first step to building a relationship with your customer. The initial impression you give sets the tone for the entire customer experience to follow.

Here’s an example of how it may sound:

“Hi John, thanks for putting some time aside to speak today. The purpose of this call is for me to get a better understanding of what you’re looking for now and then I can give you an insight into how we can help you achieve that. How does that sound?”

Summing up

Never assume that your customer knows what to expect from a conversation. Using framing in every interaction you have will ensure you set the scene and achieve the outcomes you're focused on, leaving both you and the customer happy.

Framing your call gives your customer a narrative of what to expect from your conversation.

Lesson 3: Three simple steps to selling; empathise, educate, empower

The world of sales can be a busy and confusing place. There's some great content out there to help you raise your game in selling, but at the same time there's a lot of over-complicated models, processes and frameworks to follow. All that preparation, the steps you've planned, can go out the window and become irrelevant within a few seconds of a conversation starting.

But if you remember these three things, empathise, educate, empower, you'll achieve the outcome both you and your customer want.

So, here's a breakdown of the three:

Empathise

Are you meeting the customer where they're at; putting yourself in their shoes? Do they feel like you understand their pain and know exactly where they're coming from? Miss this point and you'll face an uphill battle, regardless of what your product or service can do. If someone doesn't feel understood, they won't feel in safe hands forming a bond with you

Educate

Once you've met the customer where they're at, you need to be able to educate them. As mentioned in the first lesson, in this day and age, the customer knows more than ever about what you do, but still not necessarily on how this will benefit them.

Being able to educate the customer is important in showing them you are the right person to be working with, you have the experience and the right approach to guide them forwards.

Empower

This is something that is often overlooked when it comes to closing the opportunities you develop. This comes down to building the confidence in the customer to make them feel like they can make a decision, a positive one to work with you.

We tend to focus on building the confidence of the customer in us, but we also need to build the confidence within themselves. Without this empowerment, customers may feel like they don't have the confidence to decide, are lacking in certainty, or think that your product simply isn't right for them.

Summing up

They'll be times on your sales calls, pitches or meetings that you go blank and forget everything you've planned. But as long as you remember these three things; empathise with the customer, educate them and empower them, you'll stand the best chance of getting the outcome you wanted.

People usually think of their pitch first. But it's what the customer asks that often lays the foundations that influence is built upon.

Lesson 4: Question to influence

When it comes to building influence in sales, often people think of their pitch, of what they tell the customer. But it's what the customer asks that often lays the foundations that real influence is built upon. Questioning is mentioned in every sales training course, but the seminar's often miss the mark by just telling people to spend more time doing it.

Effective questions should be asked with the purpose of building influence within the sale; getting answers from the customer that give you insights and details to help you shape and influence the way you can sell to them. Questions that are designed to influence, build trust and credibility with your customer.

However with so much information now available online, you should avoid asking obvious questions that could be found out prior to a call or meeting. This means you have more time to spend truly understanding the customer’s needs.

Here are some examples of types of questions you can ask to build influence into your sale:

Scale Questions

These give you a good idea of where the customer is currently at and then how you could improve on that: E.g. “On a scale of 1-10, how happy are you with your current provider? What would need to change to improve that?”

Insight questions

As mentioned previously, these types of questions demonstrate your knowledge and credibility, along with creating a link to the customer’s business: E.g. “I’ve spoken with a number of other restaurants who are really benefiting from our product, do you see how it could benefit you and your business?”

Specific Questions

This question helps you cut through the noise and ensure you understand the key thing that’s important to the customer: E.g. “What’s the number one thing you’re looking for in a construction business?”

Summing up

In your next conversation with the customer, ensure you’re asking questions that reveal information that will help you influence how you sell to them. Doing this will build your credibility and help you truly understand the customer's needs.

You should always ask yourself these two key questions when thinking about how you pitch your services.

Lesson 5: Sell the problem you solve, not the product

Your customer doesn’t buy from you just because they like your product or service. The reason they buy because of the problem you can solve for them, not the product you sell to them.

You’re likely very passionate about what you do, no doubt filled with knowledge on your product or solution and the market you operate in. Having all of this is great, but you’ve got to remember when engaging with a customer, not to just sell what the solution does or what it offers. It’s useful information, but without knowing how it solves their problem, then it’s not going to resonate with your customer in the way you want it to.

Imagine you’re going to the GP's and you’ve got back pain. Once they’ve understood your problem, they’ll prescribes you some painkillers, but notice what they tell you about these pills. They’ll share with you what the painkillers will fix and which pain they’ll stop. The GP doesn’t go through all the ingredients of the painkiller or the technicalities of what it does; they cut to the point of how it’s going to help you, ultimately the problem it’s going to solve.

For example—if you are selling goods online—in your description don’t just describe what the item does, include how it’s going to help the customer; what will it allow them to do for themselves. Or perhaps you’re a plumber; don’t get lost in telling them the process of what you’ll do, tell them exactly what you can fix or upgrade.

Summing Up

There are two questions you should always ask yourself when you’re thinking about how you pitch your services. Answering these will ensure you sell the problem you solve, not just the product or solution.

  • What problem are you solving?
  • How will it help the customer? Being mindful of these questions and ensuring you tailor them your pitch, to show the customer you’ve listened, are essential. Most importantly, showing them how you can solve their problem will put you above your competition who are just focusing on the product or solution itself.
Instead of shying away from “just trying to sell”, think about this moment as a way of giving your customer the opportunity to say “yes”.

Lesson 6: Give the customer an opportunity to buy

You’ve presented your product or solution, you’ve answered the questions, but you fear that looking to “close” the customer will come across as salesy. So you sit tight and wait for them to ask you what happens next. But doing this puts you into the realm of not knowing and therefore being unable to plan your expected sales for the week, month or quarter.

Instead of looking at it like you’re “just trying to sell to them”, think about this moment as a way of giving your customer the opportunity to say “yes”. That’s all it is, no pressure, just offering them a point in the conversation to commit to buying from you. Imagine going into a restaurant with your family, what’s the first thing the waiter asks; “how many people? Five? Okay, here’s a menu” and then they seat you and your friends.

The waiter hasn’t sat there waiting for you to speak; they’re being assertive and assumptive because:

  • They know you have a need as you’re in their restaurant
  • They’re confident that their product can resolve your issue (of being hungry) This is the same approach you should take when looking to generate new business with customers. If you’re confident in what you’re selling, have identified how it will benefit them, then it’s almost a disservice not to give them an opportunity to say “yes”. This all comes down to your mindset and thinking in a way of “why wouldn’t they want what I am selling” if I have understood them and showed them how it can benefit them.

Here’s are some examples:

  • “So, it sounds like we’re a good fit for another based on what you’ve told me and how you feel about our product. Would you agree with that?
  • “If we’re able to deliver what we’ve discussed in this timeframe, would you be happy to sign up with us?”
  • “Shall I explain what happens next if you were to move forward?”
  • “If you have 10-15 minutes now, I can get things started for you in the process. How does that sound?”

Summing up

Go into your customer conversations with confidence in what you do and give them an opportunity to say “yes” once you’ve identified their challenge and shown how you can solve it. Take control of the conversation and help guide them to either saying “yes” or “no”. Either way you are clear on where you stand.

When you’re only looking at how to attract new customers, you will face challenges further down the road.

Lesson 7: Why it’s important not to try and work with everyone

How do I attract new customers? It's is a common question and one you've probably asked yourself many times before. But how often do you ask this question within your business: “how do I work out who I shouldn't work with?”

You see, when you’re only looking at how to attract new customers and don't spend enough time spotting those you shouldn't work with, you will face challenges further down the road.

Here’s some of the reasons you'd want to avoid working with everyone:

Matching expectations

Being a small business or one that's just starting out, it’s easy to think you want to try and do everything your customer asks of you. However, if it’s something that’s outside your usual remit or for example something that their budget won’t achieve, then you won’t meet their expectations. Be honest in these scenarios with your size and capabilities; they’ll appreciate it and—in the future—there may be another opportunity to work together.

Lack of repeat business

If you’re trying to work with everyone, this can lead to being overloaded with work, therefore not being able to give each customer the time and energy they deserve. An impact of this will be that the finished product or service isn’t to the customer’s expectations and therefore they don’t come back to you again, nor do they pass on referrals.

Your champions and your detractors

It’s important to establish if new customers are the right fit for you. If you work with anyone who comes your way, you may end up with customers who are waiting for you to trip up from day one and when you do, expect discounts or refunds. It’s the champions you want to search for, the ones that buy into your purpose, are aligned in how you think and do everything they can to support you.

Summing up

So next time you meet or speak with a new potential customer, look to understand if they’re the right fit for you—would you work well together? If you do that, you’ll end up with a growing reputation and a strong community of advocates who will come back for more. Hopefully they’ll refer others to do the same.

Where do you start and what can you do to embrace social and enable your business's success? Here are some ideas for you.

Lesson 8: Embracing social to sell

It’s not just how customers buy that has evolved, it’s also the ways in which you can engage and sell to them. One of the big and bright areas of evolution has been social media—it's given many small businesses the opportunity to be heard and seen, without deep marketing pockets. To stay ahead of the curve, and the competition, you need to be able to adapt to your evolving market and embrace these advancements.

It’s understandable that some of the platforms may make your mind boggle initially and many a person has wondered where even to start. But if you can embrace social within your business you can open yourself up to a new way of engaging with your existing customers and attract new ones who may have never heard of you before.

Where do you start and what can you do to embrace social and enable your business's success? Here are some ideas for you:

Set up an Instagram page

If you sell online, have a construction company or provide a service, Instagram is a great way to showcase your services and products. You can create specific hashtags (Google “how to use # on Instagram) that relate to your business and begin to build a following of existing and potential customers. E.g. A roofing company may take before and after pics of their jobs, share them on here and attract new business from people coming across their page.

Create a Facebook group

This is a great way to build a community of customers and attract new ones by providing them with value beyond just what you’re selling. For example, if you provide computer repairs as a service, you could set up a group and allow people to pose questions in there which you can answer. They may invite other people into the group. Then, for any problems you can’t diagnose on the spot, you can instead suggest the potential customer comes in for a personal assessment of the problem instead.

Summing up

Try not to restrict yourself to staying offline just because your competitors aren’t on social or because the platforms can seem overwhelming. You need to evolve and stay ahead of the competition and this is a great way to differentiate yourself. If you're starting out, it can be a good plan just to focus on one platform, then find a YouTube tutorial explaining the basics of it and learn as you go. It’s ok not to have everything all figured out when you start. But by making small steps into social media you’ll help your business not only sustain itself, but also grow.

Below are the key ingredients needed for your emails to have the desired impact emphasising the great service you will provide the customer.

Lesson 9: The key ingredients to an effective email

You have a fantastic call with your customer, get on well with them and feel your product can solve the problem they're facing—so you send them a follow-up email. But you get no reply; why is that?

Emails are an ever-present element of most business's sales cycles, yet they can often overload customers with information, feel too generic and not really point the reader in the right direction for next steps.

Here are the key ingredients needed for your emails to have the desired impact emphasising the great service you will provide the customer:

Do

  • Create a hook—if it’s an initial email, build some intrigue into what you do. Give them a reason to want to speak to you after reading it. Think of intro emails like a film trailer, rather than the whole film.
  • Personalise it—you may not know everything about the business yet, but using the lead's name, company name and having something you’ve read from their website in the copy, is a strong way to warm the email up and make it feel personable to the customer.
  • Summarise—if it’s a follow-up email then summarise what you already discussed with your customer; it’s a great way to show you've fully understood them. It also gives you both the clarity and structure on next steps.
  • Include a call to action—every email, whether it’s an initial one or a follow-up should include a next step in there, something for the customer to do or answer to move things forward. Without it, the ball stays in their court. Always include a question at the end. Make sense?

Don’t

  • Bombard them with everything that you do—this will give them far too much to read and you’ll lose them straight away. Ask before you send it, what they’d like to see included.
  • Send generic emails—it’s OK to have a template, but tailor it to fit the customer before sending it. Read an email back before you send it; does it feel like it’s meant for that specific customer or could it be for anyone?

Summing Up

By following these pointers you’ll ensure that the emails you send have purpose, are concise, are clear and have an outcome too. Always remember they’re there to reinforce or build intrigue, not as a means of conducting a full conversations. Pick up the phone for that.

You can remember your favourite film no problem. OK, now how much detail can you recall from your company's last annual meeting?

Lesson 10: Using stories to sell

Think of your favourite film. I’m sure you can remember it from start to finish, maybe even all the lines in it. OK, now how much detail can you recall from a company meeting you had a year ago?

Chances are, you remember far more about your favourite film, but why? It's a story; something that takes you on a journey, connecting both with your logical and emotional bits of the brain.

Facts tell, stories sell. It’s very easy to feel like you need to share all this information to show proof and that’s fine, but it’s the way in which you convey that information that will make the difference.

A simple, yet effective, way of doing this is using CSR; Challenge, Solution, Result. This format is a great way to share information through stories with your customer. Here’s how to do it.

Let’s say you want to share a case study on a previous customer who you worked with.

C—Challenge

Start by sharing the obstacle the customer faced before you came along; what was their pain? E.g. they were losing X amount of takings each month on needless spending, or they were only closing 20% of their meetings.

S—Solution

Here is where you explain the solution you can provide a customer to resolve their pain. What is the product, why should they choose it and what problem will it help solve? For example: "we provided another client with this product that allowed them to be more efficient in how they work. They chose us because they felt we understood their problem and our solution solved three of the main issues they needed help with, the same issues you are currently facing."

R—Result

What was the outcome of customers working with you? This is where you can include your ROI figures and stats to show tangible results e.g. as a result of us working with this customer, they increased productivity by 30% and increased their close rate in customer sales meetings to 55%, which generated a 60% uptick in revenue.

Summing Up

So, whether you've got a pitch, a presentation or phone call, think about how you can use stories and the structure above to sell and therefore resonate more deeply with the customer. Above all, be memorable.

You’re on a sales call or meeting, you’ve presented your proposal and then out of nowhere the customer hits you with a "yes, but".

Lesson 11: Handling the objection

We’ve all been there; you’re on a sales call or meeting, you’ve presented your proposal and then, sometimes out of nowhere, the customer hits you with a "yes, but". Objections can be something business owners fear, because they are perceived as rejection by the customer, or because the questions posed can be challenging and difficult to answer.

Of course, we all want to hear the words “okay, let's go” come from a customer’s mouth after we’ve presented our groundbreaking solution. But objections are not the end of the world. What they often boil down to is that there is a level of uncertainty from the customer that you need to understand further.

Now the way people typically tackle objections is to assume what the customer means by something ambiguous they've said, jump in and tell them that’s not the case and then go around in circles from there. This doesn’t end well, makes the customer feel like you’ve not understood them and won’t result in the custom you'd like from them.

Here’s a good way of dealing with objection in 3 easy steps:

Listen and understand—don’t jump in and cut off the customer. Let them finish and really listen to them; don’t assume you know what they’re going to say. Show them you’re listening and then look to understand their objection by probing into it. E.g. “when you say you feel like X, what exactly do you mean by that?”

Reposition—once you’ve understood the customer’s objection, look to use a reposition statement to assure the customer about their concern. E.g. “I see where you’re coming from, let me explain in a bit more detail how we can deal with that issue.”

Ensure—you’ve understood the objection and addressed it, now ensure that the customer is happy with your response and the objection is no longer a concern. This is important to make sure it won’t come up later down the line and that you’re empathetic to their concern. E.g. “Based on what I’ve said, does that make sense?”

Summing up

An objection doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a no, it just means there’s part of the customer that isn’t sure and it's conflicting against the part of them that is. You should aim to understand that gap by listening to the client and reassuring them. Doing this will mean you're able to overcome more objections and close more business.

Don’t get disheartened by how others are doing. Everyone is different and this is your greatest strength: there is no one else like you.

Lesson 12: Selling with authenticity is your greatest strength

You’re passionate about your business and what it can do for your customers. You want to serve them but may perhaps feel a bit reserved when it comes to “selling to them”. Often people want to avoid coming across as salesy because of the stereotype attached to it. Sometimes people even feel like they need to be something they’re not when selling because they’re “not a natural salesperson”.

The truth is, we’ve evolved in how we should sell and buy. Customers now know more than ever, so along with the product, they want to feel comfortable about buying from a person who is being their authentic selves.

Authenticity is essential for building trust in who you are and this can be the real difference when you come up against competitors. Let your passion shine through when speaking with your customers, avoid worrying about if you’re selling to them and instead focus on the three e’s (empathise, educate, empower) from the third sales lesson.

Utilise your own natural style when you engage. If you’re outgoing, use that to your advantage and get in front of customers as much as possible. Or if you’re more of an introvert, let this come through and show your customer you’re not trying to wow them, you want to understand them and keep it simple.

Let your authenticity come out in everything that you do; your emails, website, business cards and presentations. Let it become part and parcel of your brand to ensure you stand above the rest and, most importantly, make you feel comfortable and confident in how you sell.

Don’t get distracted or disheartened by looking at how others are doing it around you. Everyone is different and this is your greatest strength; there is no one else like you so utilise that in every customer interaction. Let them see you for who you are. Those that buy into that will become customers; those that don’t aren’t the right fit for you in the long run.

The pitch date is jotted down in the diary—now it’s time to prepare what you’re going to present, and how you'll deliver it.

Lesson 13: Preparing for the pitch

The pitch date is jotted down in the diary, you've double checked all the information you require from the lead—now it’s time to prepare what you’re going to present back to them, and how you'll deliver it. Here are few things to bear in mind before the big date:

Create and send an agenda

You know your objectives, but what’s your customer's? Reach out to them and clarify what they expect from the meeting, what they want to see or know. Then by putting this in an agenda, it gives structure and clarity to the pitch, ensuring both you and the customer are on the same page and that all expectations will be met.

Ask yourself what you want them to think/feel/do after the pitch

Imagine you’ve finished your pitch and left, the customer is sitting there on their own or with their team; write down what you want them to think (impressed, positive etc.), feel (excited, knowledgeable, confident, intrigued etc.) and do after (request another meeting, introduce you to an owner etc.) Starting with the end in mind of what you want the outcome to be is a great way to help you structure your pitch and decide what information you want to include in it.

Tailor it to your audience

If you’ve spoken to your customer a couple of times, you’re probably familiar with how they come across, so it’s important you tailor your pitch to match this. Likewise, if there is more than one person there, see if you can find out who they are and their role; this will give you an insight into what they want to see. For example, if the person is very direct, keep your pitch short and to the point. Or if someone is very numbers focused, back everything up with robust figures and case studies.

Doing these three things before your next pitch will mean that you step into it fully prepared, there are no surprises and that you leave your customer feeling confident and interested in working with you.