The skill of selling is an elusive art. The harder that we students of the sales process work to formulate simple rules to help guide our salespeople, the more we are awed by the complexity and difficulty of uncovering the secrets of this vital human skill.
I see an analogy to this in the mythological account of the Greek sea god Proteus, herder of seals. Proteus could clearly see into the future, but was reluctant to share that knowledge with anyone, unless they could hold him firmly in their grasp. What made this impossible for virtually every mortal man was that Proteus would assume the form of every conceivable animal. Finally, if someone managed to hold on to him through all his forms, he would morph into the form of a slippery seal. Only a few of the outstanding Greek heroes like Odysseus managed to wrest away Proteus’ secrets.
I too have wrestled with the protean forms selling has assumed through the study of such works as Genie Z. Laborde’s “Influencing with Integrity,” Brian Tracy’s “Advanced Selling Strategies,” Zig Ziglar’s "Secrets of Closing the Sale," and the works of many other authors. Recently while reading Madelyn Burley-Allen’s book, “Listening, the Forgotten Skill,” I managed to “hold on” long enough to get the god of selling to speak. The result is these seven of selling’s secrets.
As important as attitude, product knowledge, and selling skills are to selling, salespeople who chase after any one of the three in isolation might just as well chase after smoke. None of the three has any practical reality by itself. In the dynamic world of selling, they only function interdependently.
What is true of attitude, product knowledge, and selling skills, is also true about the matter of probing. The salesperson’s verbal open and closed probes are ineffective unless accompanied by nonverbal language which consists of voice quality and body language.
It is also true that even when verbal probes are used correctly, salespeople may fail to hear their customer’s response.
Furthermore, whenever the salesperson’s verbal and nonverbal language are in disagreement, the customer will always believe the salesperson’s nonverbal language. This holds true whether the salesperson is communicating with the customer on the phone or in person. The cure for these problems which send the wrong message to customers is simple. Salespeople must hone their listening skills. Not only must they listen to their customers, but they must also be acutely aware of their own verbal interactions and non verbal postures. In effect, they must practice watching themselves selling. Only then can they identify places where continuous improvement and mind/body integration can take place.
In order to play the role of partner-consultant, the salesperson must first win acceptance from the customer as partner. The reason lies in one of author Harvey Mckay's sayings: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” In other words, although our customers are looking for a salesperson who knows his or her products well, they’ll only listen to what this salesperson has to say after they are sure that he or she cares for them as partners.
The process by which salespeople win and keep rapport with their customers is the most important part of any interpersonal communication. Rapport is both a state and a process. It is a state because it can be established; it is a process because it is a highly volatile state that can only be sustained by the process that established it in the first place. Every experienced salesperson knows that rapport can be lost in a matter of seconds owing to a lapse in either the salesperson’s attitude or product knowledge or selling skills. Understand this secret and you’ll understand the meaning of the title of Michael Le Boef's book, “How to Win Customers and Keep Them for Life.”
Just as no one is an island, so too no salesperson is an island. The salesperson's success always rests upon the interdependent supportive roles of others in the organization. No matter how talented an organization’s salespeople may be, they are dependent for their success on their owners, managers, buyers, merchandisers, store displays, advertisers, warehouse and delivery people, store receptionists, cleaning people, and anyone else who works in a supporting role.
Customer service is not a part of selling; it is selling. Customer service is an ever present element in the selling process. Within that selling process lies the ever-present countless “moments of truth” that accompany every customer contact. These moments are present whether that customer contact is direct or indirect. The salesperson's failure to pass the test at any of those moments of truth can cause the sale to be lost and can also block any possibility of repeat sales and referrals. In retail selling, the loss of referrals can be more costly to an organization than the loss of repeat business, simply because the possibility of referrals farexceeds the possibility of repeat business.
Secret Six stems mainly from Secret Four. No organization can be successful long-term unless the whole organization as Karl Albrect states in his book, “The Only Thing That Matters” is one big customer service department. Every organization consists of three kinds of customers: internal customers, external customers, and buying customers. Internal customers consist of the organization's suppliers. Unless an organization's internal customers give each other the service each one deserves, and unless the organization and its suppliers do the same, the buying customer will not receive excellent customer service. Understand the law of reciprocity and you'll understand the paradoxical meaning of Hal F. Rosenbluth's book, "Customers Come Second". In no other way can buying customers come first.
Someone once said that salespeople who fail do so not because they aim high and miss the mark, but because they aim low and hit it. Aiming low and hitting the mark is a sure formula for mediocrity. Meanwhile, Brian Tracy insists that no salesperson can consistently sell at a level that is higher than that of his or her self-image. Of course, maintaining a positive self-image requires what Zig Ziglar refers to as "daily deposits" in the bank of self image, just as it is true regarding our daily eating or sleeping. Without those daily deposits salespeople are likely to suffer from something akin to undernourishment or sleep deprivation.
These are the seven secrets of selling I wrested from the slippery seal of selling. Receiving those seven secrets might well be more important than receiving The Good Housekeeping Seal.
Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at firstname.lastname@example.org.