By Larry and Jane McGrath
You use dozens of strategies to increase sales and bottom-line profits. For example, during the last six months you may have added a new product or expanded a popular product line, jazzed up a couple of displays, advertised, or participated in a sponsorship program. Some of them were good investments while others barely paid for themselves. There is, however, one strategy that always pays off: helping employees sell better.
Successful salespeople—those who close a high percentage of contacts—understand that selling is about customers and their problems, more than about products, according to Mike Stewart, author of “Close More Sales!” They know their job is to 1) find out what the customer wants to accomplish, 2) outline the best alternatives, and 3) ask for the order.
Don’t Tell, Sell
To be good problem solvers and advisers, it is vitally important that salespeople know your products and services; racers can spot a phony 30 seconds into a conversation.
At a minimum, the sales staff should know the features, advantages, drawbacks, and tech specifications for every product in the store. When they also know details such as a product’s performance history, who is using it, and add-on product suggestions, sales numbers jump.
But there is a downside to having folks immerse themselves in information: They want to tell their customers everything they know. That’s a problem because the average person speaks at only 125 to 150 words per minute while the average person thinks at 500 to 600 words per minute. This means that when the salesperson is talking, the customer can listen and still have time to think of several other things, such as objections, doubts, problems.
But the instant you ask a question and wait for an answer the customer’s attention is focused on you. He or she can’t think of anything else while answering. So, great salespeople have a basic rule: Never tell a customer something if you can ask it.
Ask Good Questions
Questions are your best sales tool. They are important at the beginning to uncover the customer’s problem. They are essential during the discussion to clarify the problem and clearly demonstrate how your product or service solves that problem in a cost-effective way. They are necessary at the end to close the sale.
The quality of the questions and the ability to ask them in a logical sequence are what demonstrates to the customer that you and your salespeople are professionals who know what they are doing every step of the way. But it takes considerable experience, planning and imagination to develop an effective questioning technique.
Therefore, the more tips and training you give salespeople the more successful they’ll become.
For example, help your employees develop a repertoire of effective questions to lead a customer to the inevitable conclusion that your product or service is exactly what he needs. Although the exact wording of questions should vary with the salesperson and situation, there are common types of questions.
One type of question should quickly identify the problem the customer is trying to solve and determine what solution he or she has in mind. Avoid yes-or-no questions since they only produce one- or two-word answers and typically end the discussion.
Another type of question uncovers information about specifics such as changes the customer recently made and an evaluation of the results. Also create a set of questions to reveal any parameters the customer has placed on the purchase decision, such as cost, self-installation, or brand name.
And, of course, everyone needs a good set of questions to draw from that will help close the sale. While it’s great to talk racing, racing products, and racing problems, employees should never walk away from a customer without asking for the sale.
The problem is, when is the “right” time to ask. The “right” time varies greatly because customer buying behavior varies greatly. Some people decide instantly and communicate their decision clearly. Other people talk, listen and send a signal that they’re ready to buy. Teach your staff to watch for signals like a phrase such as, “Well, I guess this might be pretty useful,” or even a gesture or facial expression. An alert salesperson moves instantly into the close.
With some customers you need to actually ask for the sale. For example, asking questions such as “Does this seem as if it would solve your problem?” or “Don’t you think this will make a difference?” can be a gentle way to clinch a sale. Or try questions like “Want me to ring it up for you?” or “Would you want it installed before Saturday’s race?”
An experienced salesperson may even feel comfortable assuming a close with “I’ll write this up for you,” or “Is there anything else you want to add to this?”
Yet other customers need time to make decisions. They may want to review tech sheets, see a demonstration, or get someone else’s opinion before they buy. A critical part of the salesperson’s job is to find out what each customer needs to make the decision and help that person get it.
Listen & Respond
However, asking questions means you and your sales team must learn to listen. Effective listening takes practice because only 10 percent of a speaker’s message is communicated by words, according to Diane Bone, the author of “The Business of Listening.” About 40 percent of a message comes from a person’s inflections and tone of voice. The remaining 50 percent is transmitted through nonverbal expressions, such as hand gestures.
But good listening is worth the effort because the more effectively you listen, the more the customer likes you and trusts you. The more he likes and trusts you, the more open he is to listening to you and seriously considering your product or service.
One good technique for salespeople to practice is restating customers’ answers to critical questions. Restating assures employees that they have understood what is needed and it reassures customers that they have been understood.
Remind salespeople that when they do need to talk—answer a question or make a statement—the average person’s attention span is limited to about four or five sentences. So they always need to give the customer time to absorb and consider the information.
Even when the customer says, “I’d like more information…” they shouldn’t talk too much. It’s usually best to just give basic details and then ask more questions about the racer’s needs so they can provide the specific information the racer needs rather than reciting the whole tech manual.
Maintaining good eye contact while talking and listening goes a long way toward making a successful salesperson. That doesn’t mean however, that a salesperson should stare continuously into the customer’s eyes. Teach employees to look a customer in the eye when he is talking and when they are asking questions. When they are responding to a question they can take their eyes off the customer momentarily, but must never let their eyes wander around the store as if they’re looking for a more important customer.
Successful salespeople are patient as well as persistent. Taking the time to answer all of a customer’s questions shows that your store is interested in more than just a fast sale. Patience wins long-term return customers.
But no matter how good a salesperson is, customers come up with objections: too expensive, no local track data, unknown manufacturer.
Most salespeople cringe when customers voice objections. But you want employees to deal with the objection head-on: determine the source of the concern and then address the issue.
To help employees be better prepared to handle objections, ask them to keep a list of the objections they hear in their daily meetings with customers. Every few weeks have employees share their best rebuttals for the common objections.
And finally, remind employees that their job doesn’t stop when they close the cash register. They need to follow up within two weeks of a major sale to make sure they solved the customer’s problem.
As business guru Harvey Mackay says, “A mediocre salesperson tells. A good salesperson explains. A superior salesperson demonstrates. A great salesperson inspires the buyer to see the benefits as their own.”
With your store staffed by “great salespeople,” your sales and profits will surely increase.
Sales Incentive Programs
To encourage employees to improve their sales techniques, some retailers use sales incentive programs. Incentive programs are popular because they can be tailored to almost any objective or budget.
To Make Your Program Work:
Establish the goal and rules of the program. Most effective programs focus on one quantifiable objective such as, increase overall sales volume, or jump-start sales of a new product line, or revive inactive accounts. When you outline the rules, consider things such as back orders, pre-orders, customer returns, and uncompleted paperwork.
Select the rewards and set a budget. Often, awards of merchandise, event tickets, travel tickets, or other items are perceived to have greater value than equivalent cash rewards. Typically, the value of the award is between two percent and five percent of the participants’ annual income.
A well-structured sales incentive program should pay for itself out of the additional profits or cost savings it generates. Remember however, you must spend money up front to promote, administer and buy awards for the program.
Tell employees exactly what is expected of them and what the reward(s) will be. Unfocused incentive programs can misdirect salespeople to concentrate on the contest instead of the customer. You can avoid this problem by building factors such as customer satisfaction into the incentive program.
Reward employees as promised. Make sure the awards you give meet or exceed the winners’ expectations.
Evaluate results. After the awards are presented, review how effectively the incentive program worked for you.