Following the sales process

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Most business indicators show that the economy is on the upswing -- spending revenues and sales tax revenues are on the rise. Manufacturing orders are just now showing an increase and the economic forecast is definitely improving for this fiscal year. So, how can we take advantage of all of this in our local businesses?

Well, there are many avenues we should examine, including advertising, specials and perhaps increasing our sales force. We may want to look at how we can increase our customer base, or just increase our volume with existing customers. The latter I believe is something we should always be thinking about, no matter what shape the economy is in.

It always amazes me that the teenager over the microphone at my local fast-food restaurant has been trained so well -- they almost always try to "upsell" another food item to me with my existing order. "Would you like an apple pie with your meal?" or "How about a large Coke with those French fries?"

I recently moved and went out to purchase some new dining room furniture. It was an easy sale for the salesperson -- I had already decided on what I wanted. And yet, this person failed to really get to know much about me in the short transaction. Had I been selling furniture to someone who just moved, I probably would have asked about what other furniture my new home needed.

Or, what about accessories, or an area rug? Just by getting to know me and my potential needs, I may have bought more. (The truth is, I needed a loveseat and home office furniture as well.)

I proceeded to shop around for that home office furniture and recently purchased a desk and lateral file. The particular salesperson never asked me if I needed a chair to go with the set. I truthfully do not. I love my old ugly, yet comfy chair, and yet I may have been won over by a newer, more attractive version.

You can get the point -- sometimes we spend much more time and money attracting new customers and clients to our businesses when we can really serve (and sell) our current customers better (and more).

Often times, sales people are so relieved to just make a big sale that we forget there should be a process. The processes differ slightly between those who may sell a service or those who sell a certain type of product, but that process should be fairly consistent within a particular company or industry.

After using our human relations skills to get to know our customer a little bit better, we should begin the sales process by asking "as is" questions. This helps us to determine the buyer's current situation. These questions give us a picture of key issues like product specs, others who influence the buying decision. We may also get a heads up to challenges that we may have to deal with in our sales solution.

Then we would ask the "should be" questions to help us discover the buyer's vision of his or her operation or product at its best. Questions here focus on how the situation could be different, or better, if we provide the buyer a solution.

"Barrier" questions identify the factors that are stopping the buyer from achieving the "should be." Barriers often lead to objections. A certain budget for a product or service can lead to objections regarding costs.

"Payout" questions should be used to clarify how the buyer will personally benefit form the solution. The customers' answers to these questions allow us to understand the motivational reasons for buying and then allow us to appeal to that as well in making the sale.

Selling really is just finding a viable solution for our customers. But until we look at the whole picture, know our customers a little bit better, and consistently follow a process, we may never really totally serve our customers, and at the same time, increase our sales.

Sharon Mueller is president of Success Skills, a staff development and training company committed to the success of a client's enterprise through improving the performance of employees and processes within the client's organization. She can be reached at 332-0900 or smuellerk@hotmail.com.

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