Our lives revolve around sales. Every day our journey involves multiple instant transactions from buying a coffee, getting a cab, ordering office supplies or paying our cell phone bill. We exchange money for things, every day but unfortunately, selling sometimes gets a bad rep (think: classic telemarketing).
But selling is more than just convincing someone to purchase a product. At its heart, sales is about creating a mutually beneficial relationship. And it doesn’t matter what you’re selling. It could be new enterprise software, a multi-million dollar home or even an idea — good sales principles developed over time cut across all types of contexts and organizations. Because at the end of the day, they’re all focused on the same thing — an actual customer with a real-life problem to solve.
We’ve assembled a list of 13 timeless sales principles according to the best business icons across the globe. Better than any flash-in-the-pan marketing tactic, salespeople who live these principles day in and day out will see a steady stream of leads (check out these ideas) rolling in. How many of these philosophies are already part of your process?
1. Customer is king
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“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” — Sam Walton, American businessman, and entrepreneur best known for founding Walmart and Sam’s Club
Ok, this is hardly rocket science — without your customer, your business won’t exist. But business gurus like Sam give us an awesome reminder that even the most seasoned salesperson among us needs from time to time. Just because you believe what you’re selling is the most amazing thing ever, don’t take it for granted that your customers feel the same way. The minute you stop thinking about them, you risk your sales, your profits and the entire point of your business existing in the first place.
2. Communication matters
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“Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.” — Brian Tracy, Chairman, and CEO of Brian Tracy International
It’s not just what you say, it’s how and where you say it.
As technology continues to evolve the way we connect with each other, the salesperson needs to always stay a step ahead. The arrival of social media has revolutionized the way we engage with customers. A survey by Ipsos OTX reported that 44% of Americans said they use social networking to stay updated on brands. As a salesperson in this day and age, it’s your job to understand how each new communication channel plays into your customer’s experience with your brand so you don’t risk hitting the wrong note at the wrong time.
3. Embrace obstacles
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“The biggest hurdle is rejection. Any business you start, be ready for it. The difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is the successful people do all the things the unsuccessful people don’t want to do. When 10 doors are slammed in your face, go to door number 11 enthusiastically, with a smile on your face.” — John Paul DeJoria, American entrepreneur, self-made billionaire and philanthropist. Best known as a co-founder of the Paul Mitchell line of hair products and The Patrón Spirits Company.
Change is the only constant, and that’s doubly true in sales. Salespeople are often on the front line dealing with customer resistance, negativity and massive transformations within the business. Those who succeed will always find a way to turn the negatives into positives. And let’s be honest, there’s always something to learn. Rejection and negative feedback are a crucial part of discovering where you went wrong and how you can do better next time.
4. Sell the experience
“If you build a great experience, customers tell each other.” Jeff Bezos, American technology entrepreneur, investor, philanthropist and the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Amazon.
Amazon knows all about the power of customer feedback.
The online retailer gets an average of 3,967,394 feedback reviews every month. With the advent of social media, word of mouth has evolved into one of the most powerful selling tools out there. If a product catches the word of mouth zeitgeist, million-dollar stories can be made. A perfect example of this is Instagram, which gained 40 million users thanks to customer referrals.
5. Sell values, not things
“Build a lifestyle around your brand, and the audience will follow.” Eva Chen, Director of fashion partnerships at Instagram.
The power of brand influence in dictating our purchasing habits continues to grow. A report by Merkle called ‘Why Millennial Women Buy’ found 57% of millennial women said their buying decisions were driven by a brand’s values. Knowing and communicating the bigger picture purpose of your product or service will always inspire your prospects to choose you over the competition.
6. Give people what they need (not what they want)
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“You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” — Steve Jobs, American entrepreneur and business magnate, chairman, chief executive officer and a co-founder of Apple Inc.
Interestingly, Steve Jobs infamously declared that Apple shunned focus groups, preferring to use his gut feeling to drive forward the development of new products. It was precisely the intrinsic trust in this intuitive approach that garnered Apple such a fiercely loyal customer following. At last count, the tech giant boasted an impressive 588 million users worldwide. Your customer says they want one thing, and that may be true. But don’t be afraid to call on your depth and breadth of sales experience to tap into the benefits and offerings they don’t even know they need.
7. Connect emotionally
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“People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons.” — Zig Ziglar, American author, salesman, and motivational speaker
To rise above all the noise out there, companies must connect with their customers on an emotional level. According to Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman, 95% of our purchase decisions take place unconsciously. Connecting with your customers emotionally takes time, yet many argue it’s even more important than customer satisfaction. For example, Starbucks has created a community feel in its cafes bringing the home and the workplace into a single space. In doing so, this company has garnered an intensely loyal customer base.
8. Give, give, and give some more
“If you are not taking care of your customer, your competitor will.”— Bob Hooey, Canadian inspirational speaker, trainer, author, coach, and facilitator
Staying ahead of the game means keeping all current and prospective customers happy. Put in the time, give your attention and provide the best service and information. In exchange, you will get (and keep!) the customer. Value can come in the form of better information, inspiration, or even cold hard cash. After all, who doesn’t like a good deal?
9. Talk ‘to’ customers (not ‘at’ them)
“The future of communicating with customers rests in engaging with them through every possible channel: phone, e-mail, chat, Web, and social networks. Customers are discussing a company’s products and brand in real time. Companies need to join the conversation.”— Marc Benioff is an American billionaire, internet entrepreneur, author and philanthropist. He is the founder, chairman and co-CEO of Salesforce, an enterprise cloud computing company.
Never make assumptions about your customers. Instead, reach out and talk to them.
Customers will be able to provide you with unique insights about your product or service. Ask yourself questions like, ‘Why do they need my product?’, ‘What prompted them to buy it?’, ‘How are they actually using it?’ Having the answers to these questions is key to closing more business in the future.
10. Be a decision-maker
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“You don’t need a big close, as many sales reps believe. You risk losing your customer when you save all the good stuff for the end. Keep the customer actively involved throughout your presentation, and watch your results improve.”— Harvey Mackay is the author of five New York Times bestsellers including, Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.
Sales is seen sometimes as quite a formulaic process. You follow the sales pitch and presto, you got a sale! But in reality, there can be many hidden hurdles to overcome.
Scripts can be a huge help, but at the end of the day, it’s up to each individual salesperson to decide how best to navigate the prospect through the sales journey. This means making decisions. For instance, what information is provided at what point, when should you contact the prospect, when shouldn’t you contact them, and how many times should you follow up. When you know the answers to these questions almost automatically, you can expect to see a massive increase in sales volume.
11. Use your ears
“Truly listening is hearing the needs of the customer, understanding those needs and making sure the company recognizes the opportunities they present.” – Frank Eliason, Global Director of Client Experience Team at Citi
According to research from Hubspot, 57% of salespeople believe buyers are less dependent on salespeople during the buying process. Prospects are turning more frequently to search engines to get all their information. To turn this around, salespeople need to come back to the role of adviser and confidante. And that means learning the art of listening. This isn’t always easy. Many of us have been taught to be the one leading the conversation. But by really listening to your prospect actively, rather than just focusing on closing the deal (which is what they expect), you can build a truly unique kind of trust and rapport. Never forget, people like to do business with people they like.
12. Make every customer feel unique
“Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make me feel important.’ Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.” — Mary Kay Ash American businesswoman and founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, Inc.
Think of your customer as a guest. Make them feel special and you will win their loyalty. According to a survey by Kelton Global, nearly half (47%) of Americans said being eligible for exclusive offers made them feel excited, and 36% said it made them feel special. What can you offer your clients to show your appreciation for them? What do you do that no one else does?
13. Never give up
“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” — Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company.
Our brains are designed to learn, and the best teacher is failure. If you want to succeed, failing should be part of your journey. Don’t lose faith when things get tough. Most of the people on this list either lost their jobs or their investors’ money before they finally made it big.
The most important key to your success in sales is your ability to get back up and do it all again.