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Seven must-read sales tips for small businesses

Consultant Andrew Milbourn provides a sales masterclass

“Selling is a hard discipline because there are so many variables in every human interaction,” says consultant Andrew Milbourn of Kiss the Fish, a company providing strategic planning, sales technique advice and training to SMEs that want to improve their sales dramatically. Here are his seven key tips for when you are selling face to face.

1 Have a very strong sales proposition

“Having a poor sales proposition is a key reason why small businesses fail to win enough appointments or sales meetings. A sales proposition is a short summary - think of it as a 30 second commercial - of how a customer will benefit from buying your product. It should demonstrate how it differs from other options and stay in the buyer’s mind because it’s relevant to them.

“Imagine you have 30 seconds to tell a highly desirable prospective customer about your business. Your message must be targeted, relevant and distinctive, and everyone who sells for your business needs to know it and use it, so there is one consistent message coming from the whole of your business.”

2 Focus on the buyer not selling

“Most sales people actually stop the buyer from buying - I see it happen so often. Remember, people ‘buy people’ and we use our ‘primitive’ brain before we use our rational brain. Learning the words to a great sales pitch is all very well, but if you can’t engage and genuinely be interested in the buyer’s agenda, you’ll get in the way and block the buying process. How many times have you despaired of a poor sales person? Well, don’t be like them. Focus on buying - not selling. And be genuinely interested in your potential customers’ wants and needs - not just your own.”

3 Engage as a friend

‘The most common human reaction strangers have to each other is indifference. To get through the first few seconds and be truly trusted - smile. Take a good breath to stop your shoulders slumping and shake hands firmly, but not with an overly tight grip. Always look someone in the eye and look positive. More than half of this vital communication is in how you look, not the words you say, so don’t just practice your script - think about how you look.

“Always start a meeting (or a phone call) with some reassurance. Tell your prospects that you’re there to find out how you can help them. As [American author, poet and civil rights activist] Maya Angelou said: ‘People won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.’

4 Make your questions relevant to the person you’re selling to

“Everyone knows you must ask questions when selling, but don’t let your meeting turn into an interrogation or a one-sided ‘interview’. Sure, questions are necessary, but only in the context of a consultative, two-way conversation, where you’re genuinely trying to understand the buyer’s needs. Think about what your product or service does to provide a solution; what is the true value to the buyer? Base your questions around understanding the buyer’s agenda - what do they really need?”

5 Tell a story about your product - don’t just make a speech

“So many sales people get through the initial greeting only to lose it totally because they don’t say anything relevant or interesting to the potential buyer. Use stories about similar people or businesses to show how your product or service saved them money or provided other benefits. Keep any presentation short and sweet and remember - whatever you say must be targeted, relevant and distinctive. If you’re meeting more than one person, engage them all.”

6 Don’t ever just give a discount because someone asks for one

“Another common error; a deal is almost agreed, the buyer is extremely positive and then the seller offers a discount, just to get the deal. But this isn’t good selling. Of course people have choice, and if your product is more or less the same as others or perhaps not as good, you may have to concede on price. But if you’re confident in the benefits offered by your product or service, politely refuse a discount and certainly never volunteer one. Learn to consult well and you won’t have to discount when selling.”

7 Get your body language right and listen carefully

“We hear things automatically, but listening is a skill. Actively listen to the other person when trying to sell. Concentrate fully and look at them directly. Use open, receptive body language. Don’t cross your arms or turn away - even slightly. Stop your feet from fidgeting and lean slightly forward, preferably with your hand resting on your chin. This is ‘listening posture’ and by forcing your body into this position you stand a better chance of actively listening, because your muscle memory will kick in.

“Watch carefully for the body language coming back at you. When a buyer leans forward, they’re interested. When they sit back and fold their arms, you’ve put them off. It’s easy to read, as long as your brain is occupying itself with your own thoughts.

“So, listen with your eyes and ears; ask for clarification if things don’t make sense and above all listen for repeated words. People only repeat things because they’re important to them. If your conversation gets lost or the buyer visually disengages, go back to the repeated words and ask more questions about that subject.”

And finally…

“The above is more likely to work if you can stop worrying about your product, your pitch and yourself. Your only concern should be the other person, their business and what they’re trying to achieve by talking to you. This is why selling is hard, because it isn’t natural to worry about the other party. Always review what you did and think about what you need to do to be better next time.”

  • Written by freelance editor and SME content writer Mark Williams.

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