Catching Customers – why small businesses need to have Sales Skills

But guess what? A lot of the time, the setting up part is relatively easy (OK, I’m going to explain, don’t shoot me yet!). When you are caught up in the excitement and the adrenalin of the start up, it’s very easy to get swept along. The buzz carries you and you are amazingly productive, especially if you have a launch date to aim for.

So let’s fast forward a few months. The adrenalin has subsided and things have calmed down. Maybe you are not selling as much as you should be. Perhaps the bills (the often overwhelming bills) are piling up and those wonderful optimistic cash flow projections that your bank loved so much are starting to look more like colourful works of fiction. This is where reality starts to bite. Everyone who ‘loved’ your business and was ‘definitely’ going to use you, has suddenly disappeared. The wonderful marketing tools you paid a fortune for (brochures, networking, websites, social media, SEO, whatever) are not working like you were told they would. Sure, you’re getting enquiries, but they are just not turning into spending customers. Bottom line; you don’t have enough sales and you’re not sure what to do about it.

This scenario is repeated up and down the country every time a business starts. The solution is actually quite simple, but it can strike fear into the hearts of entrepreneurs everywhere.

You need to do more selling.

Why is it so frightening? Well actually there are good reasons. After all, you are an expert at the thing your company does. Whether it is health and beauty, IT services, window cleaning or design, that is what you know, what you are good at. Proper ‘selling’ can make you think of all sorts of negative stereotypes – the pushy insurance salesman, the untrustworthy car salesman, the annoying telesales people who ring you at all hours from another continent.

However, let’s be clear, without someone to sell what you are offering, your company may not be in existence much longer. Can you afford to pay someone to do it? Probably not. Who does that leave? Of course…

Fortunately, selling doesn’t have to be either a negative experience or a frightening one. Sure, it is a new skill but, just like any other skill, it can be learned. After all, when you wanted to learn to drive, what did you do? You took lessons and practised. That is because you needed someone to teach you this new skill of driving. You didn’t take these lessons expecting to race in Formula One (well most of us don’t!), rather you wanted to learn to drive well enough to get from A-B in reasonable time, comfort and safety.

Learning to sell is the same. You can do a basic course, learn the skills, go and practice these them. If you feel like it, you can go on a more advanced course later. The sky is the limit! However, for those of you who are in a hurry, here are some simple tips to help you right now when confronted with a real live customer:

Quick Fire Guide to Selling

1.    Smile and say ‘hello’ when you first have contact! No matter how scary your customer is, or how desperately you want to sell something, everyone can manage that. It’s a great ice breaker and even if you’re talking to someone on the phone, you should still smile, because people can sense the smile and it makes you friendly and approachable!
2.    Choose a simple introductory question. ‘How can I help you?’ ‘What are you interested in?’ What is important to you?’ These are ‘open’ questions that will encourage the customer to give you a fairly detailed answer.
3.    Listen more than you speak. An oft-repeated sales cliché is that you have two ears and one mouth mouth, so use them in that proportion. It is good advice. Don’t be in a hurry to fill any silences – let the customer do that.
4.    Match what they want (needs) to what you have (solutions). If they want a red one, don’t show them a blue one. If they want something on Wednesday, don’t offer to do it on Friday. You get the idea.
5.    Don’t concentrate too much on price. Sure, people have budgets, but people can also buy things just because they want them, desire them or because they are fashionable. So talk about the wonderful features of what you are selling and show them how the feature is a valuable benefit. For example, ‘this special treatment (feature) means that this product lasts about 3 times longer so you won’t have to replace it as often (benefit).’ Or, the covering on this product is guaranteed hypoallergenic (feature) so it is great for children’s sensitive skin (benefit).’
6.    Don’t be scared of objections. Just think of them as another way of asking for more information. So if the customer says – ‘no, I don’t think it is suitable’, then don’t panic. Try asking ‘could you explain why to me?’ Depending on what they say, you might be able to either reassure them or come up with a better alternative.
7.    ASK FOR THE SALE. I’ve written that one in capitals because even experienced sales people sometimes don’t do this! ‘Would you like to go ahead?’, ‘How would you like to pay?’ ‘Do you prefer the standard size or the large?’ ‘What day is best to deliver?’ – these are all different ways of asking for the sale (also called closing). Remember, you are not being pushy. They want something, you’ve got it and now you need to sort out the details.
8.    Thank them for their business. If you work in a shop, a cheery smile and a simple ‘thank you’ is enough. Paperwork can be personalised to say ‘we appreciate your business’.
9.    Don’t abandon your customer once you’ve made the sale, follow up. There are lots of things you can choose depending on your particular business – a courtesy phone call, a customer survey to find out about their experience, drop in to see how things are. You get the idea. And don’t panic if there is a problem – by following up, you can nip it in the bud, thus scoring extra customer service points in the mind of the customer and making them more likely to use you again.
10.    Get testimonials. If customers are happy, ask them to share their experience in writing or as a video on your website. Perhaps you can quote on your brochures.
11.    Ask for referrals. Happy customers will be your best ambassadors and other people always prefer to buy from someone who is recommended by a trusted source.

These tips should really help you to get more sales, but I do have one final piece of advice for you; please, please enjoy yourself too. Selling should be fun and the better at it you get, not only will you find more money flowing through your business, but you should get more personal satisfaction in providing a great service to your customers.