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Selling Skills

Selling skills in a meeting

Selling skills are a vital when you run your own business: learning to sell effectively can help win you business and grow your business efficiently.

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A lot of new businesspeople worry about selling, but the simple fact is that without sales, you're not going to last very long in business. That doesn't mean you'll spend all your time making telephone cold-calls and using pushy sales techniques, but it does mean making sure you are a good ambassador for your business and ensuring prospective customers want to use your business instead of your competitors.

First Impressions

One of the most important things to remember on selling skills is that first impressions count. And you can make your business sound more welcoming and more professional by making an effort on these first impressions:

  • Whenever the telephone rings, smile before picking up the receiver. When you smile, your voice sounds more welcoming and friendlier. Smiling for the first few seconds of the telephone conversation will put whoever is on the other end of the line at ease and puts the whole conversation onto a positive footing.
  • When you have arranged to meet a prospective customer, do your homework. Check their web site, find out as much about what the company does as you can before you go into the meeting.
  • Whenever you visit a prospective customer, dress smartly. Shined shoes, smart suit and taking care of your appearance says "I am a professional" that will make a positive impact on your customer.
  • When you meet your prospective customer for the first time, be relaxed, smile and make eye contact. It all helps to build up a positive relationship between you and your prospect.

You are your own Managing Director

One of the big benefits you have as a business person is that you run your own business. That means you can speak with 100% authority for your own business and your own actions, in a way that a sales person simply cannot do.

It also means you have one thing in common with almost every prospective customer who phones you up - you run your own business, the buck stops with you.

This gives you a very powerful edge over a normal sales person: managing directors don't sell, they don't push their own products, they don't do all the typically salespeople-y type things. Instead they consult, they talk, they listen, and they do this with a certain level of gravitas.

So when you are meeting with prospective customers, approach it as a managing director and not as a salesperson. You are an expert in your field and your prospective customer has called you in to help their business. Approach the meeting as a consultation where you are there to learn about their business and see how you can help them.

Selling skills - At the first meeting

Start the meeting with a compliment. It might be they have smart offices. It might be that they have a great web site, or an unusual product.

Then start asking your prospect about their business. You want to spend plenty of time getting your prospective customer to talk about themselves and their business. So ask open questions, such as:

  • Tell me about your business?
  • How are you finding business at the moment?
  • What sort of people/businesses use your business?

You'll learn a lot about what makes your prospect tick and what his business is all about. You'll find out about the things your prospect is good at and what areas your customer struggles with.

Just as importantly, by asking open questions about your prospect's business, you're building a rapport with your customer. You're showing interest in your prospect and the information you learn during this first meeting will stand you in good stead later on.

Once you have spent time learning about your prospects business, tell them about yourself, your business background and how you believe you can help them.

It helps to point out ways that your expertise could help save your prospective customer money: if they are poor at chasing up payments from their customers, tell them how you can help them in this area; if they don't know about the different ways of paying VAT, tell them that you can look into this on their behalf to find the most cost effective way for them to pay.

At the end of the meeting, you should go away with a list of things to do - specifically, putting together a proposal for your prospect outlining how you can work with them and providing your prospect with a quotation. Agree any tasks with your prospect.

Selling skills - Following up from the meeting

The follow up is important. Drop your prospect an e-mail or a brief letter thanking them for their time and outline the meeting. It may be worth also writing a proposal, if so let them know when you will be providing it.

Selling skills - Writing Your Proposal

A good selling skill is to write a proposal. Over time, it is worth building up a template proposal that you can use - with modification - for every new prospect.

The phrase Proposal Document sounds very grand, but quite simply it is a relatively simple document outlining why your prospect should do business with you and providing them with prices. Unless you are tendering for a large piece of business with a large company, it is unlikely that your document will be more than 4-5 pages long.

A good structure for your proposal document is as follows:

Front Page:
This should show your business name, the name of your prospect, the date and an issue or version number.

Introduction:
Introduce the document, explaining what it contains. This will typically be 2-3 paragraphs. It is worth including a confidentiality statement in this document requesting that the contents of your proposal remain confidential between your company and your customer.

About Your Prospects Business:
Put in a section specifically about your prospect. You don't need to go into much detail, but this demonstrates to your prospect that you understand your prospect's business.

In the first paragraph, say what your prospect's business does, how many employees it has and its approximate annual turnover.

In the second paragraphs, outline what specific issues your prospect say they have with their current bookkeeping system: don't go into any detail at all - bullet points work well here. Issues could include not having enough time, never knowing their current financial position, or having an inflexible paper based system.

Finish off with a sentence assuring your prospect that you are confident that your business can solve these issues.

About Your Business:
This section should explain what your business does, outlining your experiences and expertise and outlining the benefits to your prospect on using your business.

You should tailor this section so that it covers the specific areas that are of concern to your prospect.

Tasks and Pricing:
Here is where you describe exactly what you are proposing to carry out, how often you are going to carry them out and providing prices for this work.

Selling skills - Presenting your Proposal

Your proposal should be printed and presented in a professional document folder. Send your proposal by first class post.

Two days after your prospect has received the proposal, give your prospect a brief call to make sure they have received the proposal. Ask them if they have any questions based on what you have written. Keep the tone friendly and keep the conversation short unless the prospect specifically wants to talk to you and has lots of questions.

Some salespeople will end the conversation by asking their prospect if it would be okay to call again a week later. It's up to you whether you choose to do this or not - personally, I prefer to end the conversation by apologising for calling so soon after sending the proposal, using the excuse "I just wanted to make sure you received it" and then suggesting the customer gives me a call when they want to discuss it futher.

Selling skills - Winning the Business

Assuming you have done all of the above selling skills, you should be close to winning your prospect's business. The chances are, if your prospective customer is keen, you'll hear from them within a week of presenting your proposal.

If you haven't heard from your prospect after a couple of weeks, drop them an e-mail or give them a call and find out if they are still interested.

If they are not interested, find out why: it could be they have an objection that you can easily overcome. Quite often it will be a concern about price, or timing that can be resolved through negotiation.

If the prospect is not interested and you cannot fix the root problem, learn from the experience but leave the door open for your prospect to come back to you in the future. In this case, send them a final e-mail or letter thanking them for your time and letting them know they can contact you if the situation changes in the future.

Develop your selling skills from the mistakes you make. Each customer is different; as you meet new clients you will develop new selling skills

Further Sales Help

There are a couple of books that we recommend to help you with your sales techniques. If you are uncomfortable about selling yourself or your business, these books will help you overcome your concerns and make you an effective ambassador for your own business:

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