Sales and selling seem to be words that generate a bit of an involuntary shudder response for most small business owners. No one seems to like selling and for many it is their least favourite aspect of running their own business. They feel icky about the very idea, worried about seeming pushy or manipulative. I promise it really doesn’t have to be that way! In my business career I’ve spent over 15 years selling things as diverse as mortgages and sex toys(!), and here I’m sharing 5 lessons I learned along the way.
Stop telling yourself you don’t like sales
The stories we tell ourselves have a huge impact on how we feel, and how we feel in turn has an impact on how we behave. As soon as you convince yourself you don’t like something, the natural response is to feel resistant to doing it. And the less you want to do something, the more likely it is that you will either find excuses to get you out of it or approach it half-heartedly. (Does this remind anyone else of an internal battle over going to the gym?!)
While it isn’t very realistic to try and convince yourself that you love selling, there are ways to reframe the idea that you don’t like it at all. As an example, instead of saying you don’t like sales, you could tell yourself that you haven’t found the best way to sell your product or service yet. All of a sudden, you open your mind up a little bit to the possibility that the best way is still out there – and if you keep looking, you might find it.
It’s not about you anyway
While it’s easy to get hung up on how you feel about sales, it’s important that your real focus is on your customer. Sales and service are often talked about separately with service being the soft, fluffy, nice stuff and sales being the harder, more commercial edge. In reality, they are both part of the same process.
Customers will happily spend money on things that they want to buy – things that they believe will make their life better in some way (I don’t know about you, but I’ve never complained about a pushy sales person when I’ve been trying on nice shoes…). The very best sales people are not sales people at all, they are the satisfied customers who talk themselves into coming back for more and tell other people to buy from you. The more you understand your customers and what really matters to them, the easier it is to make sure those things come to the fore and the less selling will feel like an effort.
Learn to listen
If you’re new to sales, the temptation can be to tell a potential customer everything there is to know about your product or service. You develop and practice your ‘pitch’, hoping that someone will show interest so that you will get the opportunity to tell them more. Nerves can kick in and it’s easy to focus so much on what you feel you need to say that you forget to listen.
Great sales people spend a lot of time listening. They don’t tend to follow a set formula in their sales conversations because they show genuine interest in the person they are speaking to and encourage them to be centre of attention. The next time you feel nervous, take a breath and focus on letting the conversation flow rather than putting pressure on yourself to keep the customer interested in what you are saying.
Nobody likes the smell of desperation
Emotion is difficult when it comes to sales – it has a nasty tendency to get in the way and make life a whole lot harder. Even when you’ve worked in sales before, it is a very different experience when you are selling your own stuff. Someone saying ‘no’ feels like a personal rejection when it’s your own business. Financial pressure is often much more direct – if you don’t make a sale in an employed job then you still get a salary each month whereas if you don’t make sales in your own business then you might not be able to pay the bills.
Unfortunately, this translates to an inner feeling which can verge on desperation. However well you think you are hiding it, customers tend to sense this and it subtly affects how they respond to you. They will question your motivation and trust you less – and the belief that your product or service is just what they need in their life can evaporate in front of you.
It’s tough to do, but if you can distance yourself from the feeling of needing to make a sale then you’ll almost certainly find that sales come easier. Consider your role is to help the potential customer make a decision – that decision might be to buy, but equally it might not. If you consider the decision as the marker of success rather than the sale then you are genuinely maintaining your customer focus all the way through. And you are saving yourself some angst in the process!
Find ways to be in their memory
Sales don’t just come as a result of the times you are actually “selling”. More often than not people don’t make a purchase at the same time as they first come across a new product or service. It might be that they don’t want or need it straight away, they might not be able to afford it or they may want to research and compare options before committing to something.
Work at making yourself visible and keeping yourself in their memory so that when the time is right they think of you first. Whether it is building an email list and keeping in touch that way, investing time in regular networking or simply keeping in touch with people one to one there will be a way that can work for you and your business.
So there you have it – a very quick guide to some of the key lessons I’ve learned. The one thing I would add is that like any skill, you will only get better at sales with practice. So accept that you might be new to it but approach it with a spirit of curiosity and learning and one day you too might find you actually really quite enjoy it!