Selling technique: 12 FAQs

  1. Which customers should I concentrate on?
  2. When is the best time to make a sales approach?
  3. What is the best way to sell - over the phone, face to face or off the page?
  4. Who should I approach?
  5. How can I get past the receptionist or secretary?
  6. Should I try to make a sale the first time I meet a prospect?
  7. What should be in my sales proposition?
  8. How can I get the customer involved?
  9. Should I sell features or benefits?
  10. What do I do if the customer raises an objection?
  11. What do I do if the customer says no?
  12. When I know a customer is interested, how do I close the deal?

1. Which customers should I concentrate on?

Normally, you should concentrate on the customers you expect to be worth the most to you. This depends on:

  • How likely you are to be successful in selling to the customer.
  • How much the customer will buy.
  • How high your profit margin on sales will be.

It's almost always worth targeting repeat sales from existing customers. This is usually easier, and cheaper, than winning completely new business.

You may want to put less effort into less profitable customers: for example, customers who negotiate low prices, require extra customer service, or place small orders.

In terms of new customers, you can often categorise your targets into different groups: for example, by size of company or industry. One approach is to start by trying to sell to one or two different customers from each group. This lets you find out which type of customer you have the most success with, and then concentrate on similar customers.

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2. When is the best time to make a sales approach?

The best time to sell to customers is when they want to buy!

In some industries, this is seasonal. For example, gift manufacturers base their sales plans around meeting Christmas demand (though this means selling to retailers much earlier in the year).

If you sell to businesses, knowing what their budget year is can be important. They can be more receptive to a sales approach at the start of the budget year, when they have money available. Towards the end of the year, they may have spent their entire budget and be unable to place an order, even if they are interested in what you are offering.

For customers who hold (and use) a stock of your product, the best time to approach them is when stock is running low. You can simply call on a regular basis to see whether they need to reorder. With experience, you may be able to time your sales calls more accurately to suit their needs.

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3. What is the best way to sell - over the phone, face to face, off the page or over the internet?

The right sales method is often a trade-off between cost and effectiveness. It also depends on what you are selling.

The most effective approach can be a face-to-face meeting, but this is also the most time-consuming and expensive for you. Face-to-face meetings are often necessary for high-value or complex sales.

Face-to-face meetings can also be a good way of starting a relationship. Once you have made the first sale, you may be able to win repeat orders over the phone - with perhaps an occasional visit to maintain the personal relationship.

Selling "off the page" — for example, through advertisements, or by writing to the customer — can be cost-effective for relatively straightforward products or repeat sales. It may be necessary to provide a backup telephone (or email) service for customers who have questions.

Using your website, either directly selling with an ecommerce feature or indirectly through lead generation, pre or post support can be very cost effective. It works particularly well with commodity items that are easily understood or compared.

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4. Who should I approach?

If you are selling to other businesses, you want to reach the decision-maker. Ideally, this will be the person who both decides what product they should buy and has the authority to place the order.

In some cases, there may be other individuals who authorise the decision. For example, you might need to approach technical employees to convince them that you are offering a good product, and then the manager with authority.

In some businesses, you may need to make your way through one or more gatekeepers. In larger businesses, you may need to work your way up past one or more junior managers, winning their approval before you can get to the ultimate decision-maker.

Think of it as a decision-making unit, containing decision-makers, decision-influencers and order-placers. Try to work out the respective roles and adapt your approach accordingly.

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5. How can I get past the receptionist or secretary?

Be friendly and treat them with respect. Ask for their help, and explain why their boss will want to talk to you.

Explain if there is a particular reason for your call: for example, to follow up on a letter you sent, or because a friend of the person you want to speak to suggested you call. Be ready to explain why you need to talk to them, rather than just sending a letter.

If you are told that the boss is busy, ask when would be a good time to call back. Be persistent. Make a note of the secretary's name and use it the next time you call.

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6. Should I try to make a sale the first time I meet a prospect?

Before any meeting, decide what you want to achieve. For high-value, complex sales, it may be unrealistic to expect to make a sale at the first meeting. A major contract might take months to negotiate.

On the other hand, it may not be cost-effective to make repeated visits to a customer if you don't expect a particularly profitable outcome. If you can't make an immediate sale, you may want to establish how you can take the sales process forward without needing to visit again. For example, you might agree to send the customer the information they have asked for and then follow up by phone.

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7. What should be in my sales proposition?

A sales proposition usually starts with some form of introduction: explaining who you are and what the basis is for talking. For example, you might be following up on an earlier letter, or on a referral from a mutual contact.

It's a good idea to briefly outline the key benefit your product can offer the customer. This should help spark their interest. It'll also stop you wasting your time if what you are offering is simply not of interest to them.

A large part of the pitch should then be aimed at involving the customer and collecting information from them (see 8). Successful selling often relies most heavily on listening to the customer talk.

You'll also want to sell the benefits of what you are offering. This can include explaining your product's features and, more importantly, the benefits it offers the customer (see 9).

Finally, the sales pitch must include an active conclusion. In some cases, you may be able to close the sale (see 12). At a minimum, you want to finish the discussion with agreement on what the next action will be and when it will happen.

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8. How can I get the customer involved?

Start by asking a few questions where you know the answer will be yes. This helps to put the customer in a frame of mind where they want to answer your questions.

Then ask questions which help you learn more about the customer and what they want. Use 'open' questions (that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no) to encourage the customer to talk. Listen carefully to what they say. Where appropriate, make intelligent comments to show that you understand their situation and the business context they operate in.

Avoid delivering long set piece speeches without giving the customer the chance to get involved. As a minimum, regularly check that they understand what you are saying. Ask them if they have any questions or comments they would like to make.

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9. Should I sell features or benefits?

Describing features can be an easy way of explaining what you are offering, but it does not sell the product. Instead, you need to show the customer what's in it for them. Even if you tell customers about features, you should always translate those features into benefits.

For example, a feature of the frying pan you produce may be its Teflon coating. But customers don't buy the pan because of the coating — they buy it because it is non-stick and so easier to clean.

Remember too that the benefits can be specific to that particular customer: different customers may value different benefits. Part of your sales process should be finding out as much as possible about what the customer wants (see 8).

Benefit statements often include words like increase, improve, reduce, save, gain or protect. Although don't use all of them at once!

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10. What do I do if the customer raises an objection?

Acknowledge the objection to show that you are taking their concern seriously. Listen to what the customer is saying, and then check that you have understood what the objection is. If necessary, ask for clarification. For example, if a customer says they are not interested in your product, ask why: is it something about your product, or the wrong time to approach them, or is it something else?

Test any objection. Ask whether, if you can overcome that problem, they will be happy to place an order. Then address the objection, from the customer's point of view. Don't simply restate your sales proposition.

For example, suppose a customer expresses concerns about the quality of your product. You could check what specifications the customer needs you to meet, and then explain that your product does in fact do so. You could also explain what quality control systems you have, what guarantees you can offer and so on.

Where possible, deal with any objection to the price last — confirm that there are no other sticking points first. Make sure you are clear what the customer's real concern is, and then choose the most appropriate response. Depending on the circumstances, you can:

  • Explain the value of your offer and what this means to the customer.
  • Sell the benefit of all the extras that are included, like after-sales service.
  • Consider offering credit terms, or breaking the sale down into smaller 'affordable' deals.
  • Negotiate to include extras.
  • Trade a discount for something in return, such as larger volumes or a longer contract period.

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11. What do I do if the customer says no?

Find out why. Ask whether it would be worth trying again in future.

Being persistent can be an important part of effective selling, it helps demonstrate that you believe in what you're selling. At the same time, you have to know when to stop wasting your time.

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12. When I know a customer is interested, how do I close the deal?

The simplest way is often to just ask. Wait until the customer gives a buying signal: for example, asking how soon you would be able to deliver. Ask them: 'So, would you like to place the order now?' Then stop talking and wait for their response. Your silence encourages them to make a decision.

If the customer is undecided, you can try to create a sense of urgency. For example, by pointing out that if they place the order now, that will make it easier for them to meet their own deadlines.

Other tactics you can consider include:

  • Proposing alternatives. Ask the customer which product they want to order, not whether they want to place an order.
  • A 'conditional close'. When the customer raises an objection, ask if that's all that is stopping them from buying. Then deal with the objection and ask for the sale.

Once you have agreed the deal, make sure you both know what will happen next. Follow up with written confirmation, including timescales.

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