How to sell for non-salespeople

How to sell for non-salespeople: eight simple steps

If you were ever thrust into a sales position but didn’t grow up selling, you may wonder, how can I sell? What are the steps I need to take to sell more? Or what is the best way to sell?

Well, if you didn’t grow up selling, you might naturally think that only people with a sales-y personality can sell. And why not? Because many of the salespeople you encounter at the retail level—especially with cars, real estate, and furniture—all seem to possess similar qualities. They tend to be extroverted, talkative, confident, and maybe a little pushy. If this isn’t you—and it isn’t many people—you may think you can’t sell.

You’d be wrong.

Like many pursuits and activities, sales can be boiled down to a repeatable process, with defined, repeatable steps. And being a process makes it quantifiable and therefore teachable. And because it’s teachable, anyone can learn it. Even you.

What is a winning sales process?

So, what is the basic sales process? Or, in other words, what are the basic steps to making a sale, especially for the non-salesperson?

As I see it, there are eight repeatable, learnable steps to selling. Learn these, use them, and watch your percent of closings go up. Way up. As some have said, if you have a process for doing something—anything—your chances of success increase dramatically. In fact, in sales, process beats personality. Because when your prospect senses that you know where you are going and that you have a destination in mind, they are more likely to follow you and trust you.

What are the steps in a good, winning sales process?

So, what are the steps in a good, winning sales process? They are these:

  • Prospecting
  • Qualifying
  • Building rapport
  • Understanding needs
  • Educating value
  • Answering questions and objections
  • Asking for the sale
  • Taking necessary next steps

Step one: Prospecting

While I won’t go into too much detail regarding this phase, in any kind of sales you, or someone who works with you or for the company you work for (if you’re working for a company), has to do something to communicate to potential customers and clients that you have something they want, something that can solve a problem they have or fulfill a wish they have.

In other words, you need to market, develop a referral network, advertise, or cultivate prior customers into repeat customers. Many will say that referrals (i.e., word of mouth) is the best source of new prospects, not all businesses are equally equipped to develop this source.

The point is, you need to let others---who are looking for what you offer or have at least thought about buying what you offer—know that you can help them and then set an appointment or find a way to talk to them.

With this phase, do what works best.

Step two: Qualifying

Once you have connected with a prospect, you need to make sure that they are qualified. In simple terms, you need to make sure that they can afford what you’re selling.

The easiest way to do this is to list your pricing up front. Because when you do this, those who can’t afford what you’re offering will almost always self-select out.

You may be tempted to think that listing your pricing up front might scare away potential customers who are qualified. This is not often the case. What it will scare away are those who are shopping on price only and who cannot afford your goods or services. And because you are excellent at what you do and what you sell, you are not some commodity—like corn, bleach, or peanuts (and even with those items some brands seem to be higher quality). Instead, you are exceptional and need to charge like you are by charging what you’re worth.

You also need to make sure that you’re selling to people who actually need your service. This is where you select out those who honestly don’t need what you’re selling, or need something different.

Why would you turn a potential customer away? Well, when you sell to those who don’t really need what you’re peddling, you create ill will, even if your intentions are good. But when you tell a prospect that you have assessed their needs and that they should actually go elsewhere, you have won their trust for life. And when they are ready, or know someone who is ready, you will get their business.

Step three: Building rapport

Once you begin your dialogue with your prospect, whether it’s in person, over the phone, or via email, you need to build rapport.

At this stage, you may be thinking that you have to tell jokes, talk about your kids and their kids, or make lots of inane, friendly chit-chat. This is not necessary. Sure, you can talk about your families, your likes, and your interests if you have things in common, but what you need to do here is find a way that you connect and to ask questions so that you truly understand their needs and wants.

Asking thoughtful questions and then actually listening will build lasting rapport. Remember, your prospects don’t have to be just like you (though it seems to help), they just need to trust you. And when you genuinely are trying to help them, this will happen naturally.

In many ways, this is the most important step in the entire sales process, because the remainder of your sales process going forward is built on this one step. In other words, don’t rush this step. And if your client wants to rush this step, it means  

Step four: Understanding needs and wants

Someone once told me that sales is a matter of taking the prospect from where they are now to where they want to be. Everyone has something they want, something they need. They may want freedom from some kind of unpleasantness or pain, or they may long for something that will give them pleasure or help them feel fulfilled, etc. Regardless of what they want or where they want to go (figuratively), your job in selling to them is to 1) discover what they really want, and 2) communicate to them how what you’re selling will help them get that.

Once you’ve communicated that, the rest is working out the details of what road they need to take to get there.

Step five: Educating your value

This step is where you let your prospect know that what you have will help them get what they want and need better than other options and better than not buying at all. 

This step is so closely related to the last step that they basically overlap, but educating them on the value of what you offer is essential, especially if the product or service you’re selling has a higher-than-average cost.

Step six: Answering questions and objections

Along the path to the sale, your prospect will have questions and even objections at any point. Your job is to listen and provide the best, most truthful answer you can.

You must answer honestly, even if that answer isn’t what they want to hear. Meeting their questions and objections head on, without ignoring them, builds their trust, and even when the answer isn’t what they want to hear, each time you respond truthfully you build trust and may even lead them closer to the sale.

The best way to answer their objections and lead them forward is to practice your answers first. Once you’ve been selling your product or service for a time, you will know the most common objections and questions, so you should be able to rehearse beforehand—do it with another person if possible—so that you can have a ready answer to their question or objection.

Step seven: Asking for the sale

If you have thoroughly completed all of the prior steps, this last step often happens without you even having to do anything. Often, the prospect will ask you what the next step is to make the sale happen. You can also, once you sense that your prospect is ready, simply ask for the sale by asking how they would like to pay, when they would like to start, or what color they’d prefer, etc. This kind of assumptive close often works because it is direct without being too pushy and because it assumes they want to move forward.

If your prospect pushes back and isn’t ready, they will say so. You then need to return to whatever prior step they are hung up on, or move on to another prospect if they give you a final no.

Many sales coaches will tell you that no is better than yes. I am not sure it is, but no is almost always better than maybe, because you can waste a lot of time pursuing a prospect who will never be more than a maybe but who won’t, for whatever reason, tell you the truth, which is that they are a “No.”

Step eight: Sealing the deal—now

Once the prospect is locked in, don’t waste time getting their info. Do what you have to to write up the order and get them to sign then and there. Don’t schedule another meeting or give them a chance to put off the sale. Be ready to move forward when the prospect gives you the green light.

Because the sales I do now are with people who are not in person, this is tricker for me to do. But I do make it clear to my prospects that we will start as soon as I get their initial payment and signed agreement back. Yes, this gives them a chance to back out, but prospects always have that chance, and if the prospect isn’t really sure, no amount of pressure from me is going to help them feel better. We either need to back up and resolve some unresolved concern, or move on to a prospect who is ready.

Something to note

As I’ve already mentioned, one of the key points to realize with a sales process like this is that while these are separate steps, there is always some overlap. For instance, as you talk to your prospect, they may have questions or objections at any point and so you may need to re-communicate your value to them in more than one step of the process.

No manipulation needed

If you follow this process (or really any well-tested sales process for your industry), you don’t have to resort to high-pressure sales tactics or cheesy emotional manipulation to get your prospect to yes. It will happen naturally when they are ready.

What about prospects who say no or aren’t ready? This is a great question, but the reality is that not every prospect will say yes or be ready to buy when you are ready to sell. Your key to success is to keep moving, and if you have built a good rapport and educated your value and how what you’re selling will help them meet their needs, they may eventually buy. I’ve had it happen to me. But in the meantime, you need to keep moving and keep prospecting and leading new prospects through your process.

What I have left out

This post has only covered the bare bones and basics of selling. As you look over each step in the process I’ve defined, you can likely add your own sub-steps or tasks that you need to do in order to execute that step. And because every sales situation is both unique and universal, these steps will cover most of what you need to do and know, but you will always find unique twists to this process for your own product or service you’re selling. For instance, one could write an entire book just on asking questions to determine needs.

What is the most important step in the sales process?

So, what is the most important step in the sales process? Other than building rapport—which must happen before you can take the next steps—the next most important step for you is the one you’re having the most trouble with. Study and read and practice that step if it’s difficult for you.

Who is in sales?

Lastly, it’s become clear to me that it’s not just hired sales professionals who are in sales. Anyone who owns a business is also in sales. And if you want to stretch the point, anyone who wants to persuade others to their way of thinking or who wants to lead others make a commitment or to go to a new destination (figurative or literal) is also in sales.

Good luck!

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