If you own a small business, you may think of yourself as a baker, graphic designer, technologist, or whatever industry you’re in. But if you hope to succeed, there’s one title you better add: salesperson. Every small business owner and entrepreneur needs to get out there and make sales.
Of course, many small business owners view the prospect of making a sales call with the same fear and loathing as a tax audit. After all, your talent lies in your ability to make mouth-watering apple tarts, create compelling logos, or build software, not in trying to convince people to part with their hard-earned cash. Your products or services speak for themselves.
Hogwash. Obviously, the quality of your product or service is important, but, at the end of the day, your company’s survival depends on your ability to sell. Business history is filled with failed companies that made outstanding products or services but simply couldn’t make the sales.
OK, so you’ll hire salespeople to get out there, while you stay in the back room. Right? Sorry. Even if you have a team of salespeople (and you probably don’t), if you own the business, you’re the salesperson-in-chief. Sooner or later, there’s going to be a hot prospect who only wants to deal with you or a big account that needs your personal attention.
Fortunately, selling is a skill that can be learned, even by the shyest entrepreneur.
Here are eight tricks I’ve found are key to sales success:
There’s an old rule: If you’re talking, they’re not buying. When calling on a customer, it’s tempting to immediately launch into a sales pitch. Stop yourself. I learned this the hard way. My first year in business, I lost a huge prospect because I didn’t first listen to hear what their needs were. Listen to learn what your customer needs or wants to see how you can meet those desires.
2. Ask questions.
Your prospect isn’t talking? Well, you can’t find out what they need until they do. Ask relevant questions to draw them out and get them chatting.
3. Tell people what they get, not what you do.
Prospects want to understand the benefits they’ll receive; they don’t want to know the ins-and-outs of how you do your business. Provide a clear benefit for the purchaser and focus on that.
4. Appreciate the benefits of your product or service.
Genuine enthusiasm is contagious. If you truly believe you’re offering the customer something worthwhile, you’ll be a more effective salesperson.
Increasingly, customers (especially millennials) want to feel good about the products and services they buy. If your company has a positive story to tell—you’re involved in meeting an important social need, donate a percent to charity, were founded by someone with a disadvantaged background—tell your story so the prospect feels motivated to buy from you.
6. Don’t oversell.
It’s tempting to land a sale by telling customers everything they want to hear, but it’s unlikely you can deliver that much. That leads to disappointed customers. It’s far better to under-sell and over-deliver.
7. Close the deal.
At some point, you’ve got to turn a sales pitch into an actual sale. That may be uncomfortable, but your prospect is waiting for you to be the one to say “Can I ring this up now?” or “Let’s discuss the terms of the contract.” Even online, you must direct customers to make the purchase. That’s why there are so many “Buy Now!” buttons on websites.
8. Be profitable.
It’s not enough to make a sale; you also have to make money. So make sure that as you negotiate price—and you’ll almost certainly have to negotiate—you still earn a profit.
Let’s face it: very few small business owners want to spend their time making sales. It’s a whole lot more fun to make tarts, design logos, or create mobile apps than it is to make a sales call. But here’s the reality: making sales is the most critical component of business survival and success. So if you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to get out there and sell!
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2015
This article originally ran in USA Today on September 25, 2015