No one in sales can escape the hurricane force of the current business environment. It reminds me of some of the old war movies we see on cable with gritty looking GIs sloshing through the snow and mud lugging 80-pound backpacks. That's just about how almost everyone in sales feels every day, but particularly now.
Just as life has changed on Wall Street, as well as your street and mine, selling has changed, not a little, but a lot. Those who will be the most successful in this new, different — and very challenging — environment will be those who are focused on the basics.
Here they are:
1. Don't blow smoke. Bragging, exaggeration and blowing smoke are out. Customers don't want to hear it. The challenges we are faced with today call for realism. Let's face it; everything isn't "coming up roses." Even though we don't like to admit it, we all know there are some dark clouds on the horizon. The times are tough and many of our customers are not having "a great day." Let them know you understand. Make it clear you're not going to abandon them and that they can count on you.
2. Stop looking back. If you go to trade shows like so many salespeople do, you know how much fun it is to kick back at the end of the day and share "war stories." Looking back can be good therapy; it helps take our minds off just how demanding it is to make every sale. But looking back won't help anyone make more sales calls, look for the next prospect or try to figure out how to present to a buying committee. In other words, looking back doesn't help us move forward.
3. Look the part. "When you walk through the door, I know you're serious," said one of my customers. "What are you talking about?" I asked. "You're wearing a white shirt and tie so I know we're here to talk business." This isn't about me; it's about customers. And what I do doesn't necessarily work for someone else. Even so, none of us can avoid the fact that how we present ourselves to our customers and prospects does make a difference.
Ask yourself this question, "What do I want them to think about when they think about me?" I don't know about you, but I am willing to do anything that will help my customers see me as serious about doing business. If it takes a white shirt and tie, bring them on! As every salesperson knows, we are the product. At no time has it been more important for us to make sure our personal image helps us meet the challenges we face every day.
4. Find ways to help. Companies (and salespeople) send the wrong message to customers when they bombard them with one "great offer" after another in an effort to break loose an order. It's happening, as you know. Before getting caught up in the "do we have a deal for you" frenzy, ask yourself what customers really want right now. The answer is help. If all you can offer is another "super discount deal," that's not what they're looking for. And a free 32" LCD TV won't do it either.
It's time to put your expertise, knowledge and experience to work! Everyone talks about consultative selling, but few really practice it. Now you have a chance to be a business consultant for your customers. Look for information that you can share with them. It's the most effective way to demonstrate your value.
5. Go on the defensive. This may seem like strange advice for salespeople who thrive on charging ahead. But it is easy to forget (although the thought may bruise our egos) that our customers may not automatically think of us when they have a need we can fulfill. Even if we don't like thinking about it, it's a fact worth remembering, particularly now.
Figure out ways to stay in front of your customers — and don't forget your prospects. Every time we send our customers and prospects an eBulletin (a mini-newsletter), the phone rings and emails arrive. With all the pressure today, we all need reminders.
6. Be clear about what you're selling. One of those little stick 'em ads was attached to Page One of a local newspaper. The advertiser was a lawn sprinkler company and the ad headline read: "Offering fall discounts for your irrigation needs." Who has "irrigation needs"? Farmers, maybe. What homeowners want is a green lawn that gives them bragging rights, but won't bust the budget. If that's accurate, a more effective headline might be: "Enjoy a lawn that's the envy of the neighborhood and save money and water, too."
We're selling the equivalent of "green lawns," such as increased productivity, reduced costs, improved quality and higher sales.
7. Let customers know you're working for them. Salespeople often earn a reputation for playing rather than working. Even though it may not be true, it's smart to put it to rest. Make sure they know you're out there working for them. Let them know what you're doing, make arrangements to speak to groups and stay in touch. When they don't see or hear from you, what are they to think? Worse yet, they may actually stop thinking of you.
8. Keep your antennae up. Those of us in sales can get so wrapped up with what we're doing, we overlook a lot of valuable information that we run across in our work. Share it with your customers. Quite often, you have a broader perspective than they do. Whether it's current trends, your thoughts about what's happening in your industry, or passing along information on someone who is looking for a position, share your thinking with your customers.
9. Lead with your best price. This is a tough one, but it's a strategy worth taking seriously. Many customers are on edge, concerned about finances and more sensitive than ever. It all adds up to the fact that no one has time for game playing. More than ever, customers need to feel they can trust you to be looking out for their best interests and that includes price. There's nothing you can say that angers customers more than "I'll meet their price." If you can come down now, why didn't you do it first? When this happens, it creates serious doubt and undermines your integrity.
10. Crank up your follow-through. One of the biggest problems facing many salespeople is a lack of follow-through. There's no room for "I meant to get back to you last week" or "I'll take care of that right away" and then fail to do it. These are the so-called "little things." Whether we like it or not, they are also the big things to our customers.
More sales are killed by not keeping our promises than anything else. Customers will ignore our idiosyncrasies and confusing quirks, but they will not tolerate our failure to follow through and to keep your promises. For some unknown reason, we separate sales and customer service; we do one and someone else the other. It's artificial division of labor that gets us in trouble today. No matter what else we do, our first responsibility in sales is customer service.
Edward A. Testa is Vice President of Sales at Greystone Equipment Finance Corporation based in Burlington, Mass., a company that specializes in equipment lending and leasing. Ed has more than twenty years experience in the equipment financing industry and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-894-4332.