Ask anyone in sales, and they will tell you that it takes at least 12-18 months to build a 'pipeline' of potential prospects. This 'pipeline' consists of those individuals that you may have called on in person, on the phone, or through email or social networking. This 'pipeline' might consist of friends, those we know through various networks, those that have indicated some interest in our product or service, and those that we have called on that appear to have some opportunity in using the product or service we sell. This process called 'prospecting' and 'sales' can seem very planned and almost sinister at times. The impression is the 'sales person' is almost manupulative in trying to convince others to 'buy' so that your organization can somehow be profitable. But is that a true reflection of the 'sales' position?
In thinking back to my youth, I think of my father. My dad was an independant insurance man in our small town of 4,000 people. Nearly every day, dad would walk home for lunch from his insurance agency a few blocks away that was 'downtown'. He would walk up our long driveway, and I could hear him whistling as he walked closer to our back door. He was always so happy. He was what we now label an 'extravert', and believed in helping people and protecting them by providing adequate insurance coverage for their needs. He was involved in various organizations throughout the community including Rotary, Lions Club and the local Chamber of Commerce. Everyone knew him, in my mind everyone respected him, and he worked hard to establish that reputation. He was what anyone might label a 'successful' sales person.
How did he become successful in sales? It wasn't from any books he had read, any savvy sales strategy he learned, or through use of social networking or any 'linked in' connections. Simply, he developed sincere and lasting relationships. Every opportunity he had, he was building relationships. He asked open-ended questions, anticipated needs, clarified for understanding, and built trust when talking about his products and services one relationship at a time. He was friendly, firmly shook everyone's hand, looked them in the eye, and followed up with any promises he may have made. When a town within 20 miles had a tornado one summer, he followed up with each and every family as quickly as possible and filed a claim so they could obtain help in rebuilding their home with any reimbursement money through his agency.
What happened after the tragic events of that summer with those he insured? They told others. Soon many were contacting his agency. They, too, wanted to be insured by someone who was reputable, understood their needs, and stood behind them in the worst of times. Little did dad know that his success was based on his strong people skills.
Research now shows that 85% of our success is built upon our ability to relate well to others.
The lessons for those of us in 'sales' is simple. They include:
1. Develop your interpersonal skills. Build relationships. Be genuine to everyone you meet. Smile, shake their hand and look them in the eye.
2. Listen...listen...listen. This is one of the most common mistakes for those in 'sales'.
3. Ask open-ended questions. Follow the answer you have obtained with another question...possibly asking your customer to tell you more about that answer.
4. Know what you are talking about. Know your company inside and out, know your products, and know what is happening in your community and our world.
5. Have a great attitude. We all want to do business with those that have a positive outlook on life.
6. Discover needs and present solutions. We all have needs, and will buy from those that provide VALUE.
In today's world, there are many other additional lessons to be recommended. These include working a strong pipeline through technology applications (including social networking, linked in, twitter, blogs, etc.). But the basics still remain key.
My dad is now 83 years old. He still goes downtown every morning to have coffee with the his group of longtime friends who were once customers. He still has a strong reputation. While he knows how to use the computer, his success was earned through building one trusted relationship at a time. He has known the key to successful selling all along...build strong meaningful relationships early and often. With sincere interest in what you do, and those you serve, the rest will fall into place.
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