Whether you’re an expert outside salesperson or a brand new hire, you probably know that customers are unique. The variability in needs among the client base forces a salesperson to possess a varied skill set of techniques that cater to the sale at hand. This list serves as a cheat sheet for some of the most common sales approaches and techniques, as well as some that may be added to your repertoire to make you a super salesperson!
- Question/Socratic: this is similar to but simpler than the SPIN approach. It is referred to as the Socratic approach because of Socrates’ teaching method which uses a series of easily answered questions which leads the student or customer to the conclusion you want (that your product will improve their lives/business). Therefore, you would start off with a question such as "How much time do you spend on the road a week?" which brings the driving time to their attention. Then more questions will eventually get the customer to realize that there is a problem, and your product is the solution.
- Survey: this is similar to the question approach in that it gathers information about the customer, but the questions are not pointed towards leading the customer to a certain conclusion. This can save time because the customer can fill it out online. Then you can customize your pitch based on the customer needs.
- Product: start the sale by presenting the product to the customer. This is especially effective if your product stands out because of a tactile or visual component. For example, if you are selling a really soft blanket, you want your customer to feel how soft your blanket is compared to the one they currently use. However, this can be difficult because it generally must be done in person.
- Customer Benefit: this approach will directly state the benefit of your product. Instead of asking questions leading the customer to realize the problem as with the question approach, the customer benefit approach assumes that the problem is already very salient to the customer and then bam your product comes along to fix that problem. For example, state that your product will cut driving time by 20%, which is ideal for a company like yours which requires a lot of driving.
- Shock: the shock approach involves quite literally shocking the customer by showing them a startling statistic or image to show them what will happen without your product. This can be shockingly effective, but it is also necessary to be careful as it is important to not offend or overly frighten the customer.
- Referral: let the customers do the work for you! If a happy customer refers your business to a colleague, then mentioning that colleague to the customer builds credibility and brings the recommendation and good description of the product to mind. See the importance of referrals demonstrated here!
- Premium: who doesn’t like free stuff? This approach offers the product you want to sell, as well as something thrown in for free. This approach can feel gimmicky if done too overtly, so be sure to use it in a situation which the additional feature will help the customer.
- SPIN: this is the most complicated approach that you will see in this post. The gist comes down to asking the right questions in the right order. SPIN stands for: Situation, Problem, Implication, Needs-Payoff. You start by asking questions that clarify the situation (what the company does, where they are located, other relevant information). Then ask “problem” questions that clue you into the the problem that the customer is facing. Moving to the implication phase, you imply what the consequences are of not fixing this problem and ask need-payoff questions to get the customer to explain specific needs that they have so that you can describe the benefits of your product. It is a long approach, but the general takeaway is that the customer should be doing most of the talking (see the 70/30 rule) and that it is important to cater to the very specific needs of the customer, or at least make the benefits seem as if they are specifically made for them. For more on the SPIN approach, click here!
- Finally, for more on approaches, click here!
Now you have a general overview of some approaches. Here are some techniques that you can use within any of these approaches, or completely separate from them.
- Let the customer discover things on their own: this technique goes hand in hand with the question technique. People like to discover things on their own more than they like to be told that they must do things in a certain way. Ask leading questions about what they need. This will lead the customer to discover aspects of your product that they will use.
- 70/30 rule: let the customer do the majority of the talking. You should be there to help them discover how to fix their problem (see above), but ultimately it has to be the customer’s decision to buy. If you do all the talking, even if everything you are saying is pure gold, the customer may lose interest or feel as if they are “being sold to.” This is not the feeling you want your customer to have, therefore it is important to let the customer lead the sale
- Scarcity: a basic economic principle, the demand is higher for more rare products. This will only work if your product seems as if it could be scarce. Unfortunately, no one will believe that your white t-shirt is a collectible. However, if your product is selling fast and your customer better act fast to scoop one up, don’t be afraid to subtly let them know that. Exclusivity creates urgency, see more here!
- Compliment: compliments are one of the best ways to get people to like you (see this Robert Cialdini’s Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion if you don’t believe me, specifically his work on liking, here is the link to buy it now!). As long as they don’t seem insincere, a compliment will build liking and trust between the customer and seller.
- Matching and mirroring: these tactics also get people to like you more. Once again, it is VERY important that it is not obvious that you are doing this. However, agreeing with the customer can help you get the sale. (see above again if you still don’t believe me)
- 5 no rule: the field of sales is going to include hearing a lot of “no’s”. One rule is to hear the word no five times before you give up on the client. Of course if someone is very adamantly opposed to your product you want to let them go. However, if the customer seems to like aspects of the product, you can continue offer them new features as your product advances to fit their needs. Until you hear no five times, don’t give up on the client completely under this rule. (this can be malleable to the 3 no rule or 7 no rule if you would like, but 5 is the one I came across). Learn more about how important sales resilience is in sales here!
- Rephrase objections: rephrase the customer’s objection in the form of a question. If the customer is insistent that a feature of your product just “won’t work,” ask them what they are doing specifically and what about the feature is not working. Eventually, you will be able to get to the root of the problem, and it shows that you care about fixing their problem.
- Be honest: this is a technique for sales and a guideline for life. Being honest builds trust, and the more a customer trusts you the more likely they are to buy from you. If your product does not have a certain feature the customer is looking for, tell them that but say that you will work on it for them as well. For more on integrity, click here!
- To avoid some common mistakes, click here!
These are some simple sales techniques that can help you during the sale. Now it is time for the scary part: closing. Closing can be the hardest part of the sale, yet it is also the most rewarding. Here are some closing tips that can help you land the most stubborn customers.
- Sharp angle: this technique is generally used with customers that are difficult to sign. Wait for them to ask for some type of compromise. This can be a discount, an additional feature etc. Then say that you will give that, but to them only if they agree on the spot. (see Mark Cuban eloquently demonstrate the "sign now" part of the tactic on Shark Tank here).
- Assumptive: this is used when you are nearly 100% confident that the customer has the intention to purchase. For example, if the customer has purchased before and is reordering. It is very simple in that you fill out the order form or whatever you are using for them and just show them where to sign. This can work if the customer is intending to buy because it is easy for them, but if they were on the fence this can turn them off because they may feel pressured.
- Direct: this is a slightly less presumptive technique to use when you are confident you are going to land the sale. Instead of just handing them the form to sign, you ask them something along the lines of “Can we continue forward with the purchase?” This is better for new customers than the assumptive close.
- Pro-Con: this is when you simply walk through building a pro-con list with the customer. The ultimate goal here is that the customer ends up with more pros than cons and will want to buy your product. Cheer along with the cast of How I Met your Mother about Pro Cons lists here!
- Solicit objections: if a customer is still hesitant but you are unsure why, you can simply ask them what they would need from the product in order to convince them to buy. This gives you the insight you need after you have tried everything else and it didn’t work.
- Permission to close: sometimes, an indecisive customer will stop responding. If this is the case, one tactic to take is the “permission to close file email.” In this scenario, you can email the customer and ask for permission to close their file because you have not heard from them in a while. . This email is effective, there is a 76% response rate. This way you can hope to win back a seemingly lost cause.
- For more on closing, click here!
Now that you are an expert at closing a bunch of sales, it is time to set some goals for yourself. Goals are an important guideline to make sure that you are performing to the best of your ability. However, they can be very hard to define. In order to set effective goals, make sure to be SMART.
- Specific: make sure that you set a goal that is specific enough to know what is expected of you when you look back later. Instead of making your goal “sell 10 pieces of furniture” make it “sell 10 rocking chairs” or even go more specific into color or size.
- Measurable: One way to make your goals specific is to make them measurable. Instead of setting your goal as “make 3 big sales,” set it as “make 3 sales over $XXXX.” This way, you can see if you met your goal and there is no room for misinterpretation.
- Achievable/attainable: This one is important! Don’t set your goals to be ridiculously high too early. This is unnecessary discouragement.
- Realistic: It is important to be realistic both ways. Don’t set a goal that is easily met and become satisfied, but also make sure it is attainable (see above)
- Timed: Set a time frame for your goal. Make your goal “sell 20 cans of tomatoes this month.” A timeframe makes your goal both more realistic and measurable.
Customers are unique, and it is important to have a large skill set so you can satisfy as many as you can. It is important to use the right approach, the right techniques, and the right close in order to make the sale. I hope that this cheat sheet helps you with your next tricky customer!