Selling 101!

When a product or service matches a need, or is desirable enough to turn a customer’s head, a sale is inevitable. Or is it?


By Paul Blomfield

They say that some people can ‘sell ice to Eskimos’, some are ‘born to sell’, or some just can’t believe their luck.

Whatever category you fall into, most selling is basic. It is built on a need or desire for something, and someone being there to fulfil that need.

By Paul Blomfield

They say that some people can ‘sell ice to Eskimos’, some are ‘born to sell’, or some just can’t believe their luck.

Whatever category you fall into, most selling is basic. It is built on a need or desire for something, and someone being there to fulfil that need.

When a product or service matches a need, or is desirable enough to turn a customer’s head, a sale is inevitable. Or is it?

What often gets in the way is semantics! And the fact is we live in a world of abundant choice. So much choice, so many reasons to shop around, so much inertia.

Also, we’re dealing with people; there’s ‘them’ (fickle customers that they are) and ‘us’, (often our own worst enemies).

Let’s take an example of a sale and discuss the components.

A customer loves icecream, you sell icecream, you have it right there in front of them, they’re hungry! Just take the money whydontcha?!

Well, it’s because they’re on a diet and ‘really shouldn’t’, they’re avoiding lactose, they like vanilla and you’ve got coffee, the cone has gluten in it, its ‘the most expensive ice-cream in town’, and so on and so forth.

Darn, no sale.

But then you smile and say you have ‘just the thing’, an all fruit sorbet, no lactose, in a cup, not in a cone, not even fattening! It’s delicious! Have a little taste? One scoop or two?

Sale made.

Most of you reading this will be from the creative industries, so the icecream example may seem a little off topic, but it illustrates key facts and techniques about selling that cover it all, business to business, business to consumer, service or product.

So let’s go back to the shop where the customer meets the salesperson. At the first moment they know almost nothing about each other, except there is a product to be sold and a possible customer to buy it.

What happens next?

Build empathy

The first skill of a good sales person is to build empathy. You’re going to need them to trust you later when it gets to the recommendation part. So pay attention.

This could be a simple enquiry: ‘How is your day?’

These questions are best to be non-confrontational and open-ended. They’re to help them drop their guard. That’s why the old ‘can I help you?’ question is roundly dismissed as a sales approach. ‘No!’ tends to be reflexive.

So the question ‘How’s your day?’ is easy and useful. Listen to the customer’s response. A tough day, a stressful situation or a euphoric response could all play a part in this empathy building and your eventual sale.

‘That’s great, let’s celebrate, so what flavour can I get you, try this one!?’ could be a good response to a positive situation, accompanied again, by a smile.

Smiling for success

Just a note on the smile before we proceed. That smile is a signal of your empathy, and also a sign that you’re prepared for the sale. Nothing says ‘I don’t want to be here’, or ‘you don’t matter to me’ like a grimace or a smirk. Get your house in order, put on your face and attitude like you’re putting on your uniform. Remember that your smile is the difference between a sale or not.

Like putting on your uniform? Well let’s discuss that before we go back to our beloved ice-cream shop.

This is another sign of preparedness. How you present yourself is a hallmark of success in every walk of life. Have your own style, but definitely dress for success at your chosen task. Our ice-cream seller would want to look clean and fresh, probably a bit colourful and maybe with a touch of fun in their presentation – which probably wouldn’t work for an undertaker, but you get what I mean.

The icecream seller may also have some technical clothing, such as perfect clean apron (ironed!), hair covered perhaps, clean fingernails definitely – and that smile!

Ok – so back to the shop?

It’s not who you know, it’s what you know

Wait, there’s something else! Product knowledge. That stuff you need to know before you can make that recommendation. Another sign that you’ve done your homework.

Have you ever asked wait-staff in a restaurant if there is gluten in the meal? You’ll know that often the response is vague, inaccurate and usually uninformed. The worst ones are those who think food allergies are a myth and that you won’t notice. Hope it isn’t life-threatening if they get it wrong!

Do you need to be a dietician to sell icecream? No. But in this scenario, you probably won’t make that sale if you don’t know your stuff.

The next bit is the information discovery. This is where you find out all that stuff that may become an obstacle or opportunity later. Good questions here are important. Selling a product? It would be good to know what the customer has been using in the past and what they did/didn’t like about it. Selling a service? It would be good to know who you’re up against. Ask them straight! They’ll usually tell you.

If you’ve learnt about your own product, you’re halfway there. If you know your competitor’s products inside out, then you’re ready to go. And ready to handle the objections below.

‘There’s gluten in the cone’ or ‘you don’t have my flavour’ are good examples of simple customer objections that you, as the salesperson (or perhaps the product creator), should probably be able to respond to in a flash.

Knowing that sorbet is all fruit and no fat is a simple knowledge and should be obvious to any educated person. Offering this is a perfect way of solving the shopper’s problem or diversion. If you don’t have sorbet, cheekily suggest a half serving, so the consumption is ‘only a little bit bad (and deliciously so).

This is the flexibility you get when you do the research, when you know the product and what the shopper wants. If the shopper suggests that another icecream is cheaper or better, counter with something – such as the fat content is higher, you make the cones in-house every morning, or your fruit comes from the Hawkes Bay only.

It is all about preparation. Ask someone who knows. Grill them, get the knowledge and then get on with the selling.

A customer objection is often an opportunity to gush about a product, to promote the good things within, the sunshine on the fruit in the orchard, the happy cows in Kumeu, the vanilla beans in Tonga. Keep this relevant to the objection, but knowing and loving the product is important. Few people can effectively sell a product they dislike.

One scoop or two?

So what about the issue of cost? Price at the icecream end of things is not as dramatic as with a major artwork, for example, but let’s go through this carefully and see if we can put this issue in its place.

Firstly, let’s look at the reason for the cost objection. Most people don’t want to throw away their hard-earned cash, they may not have it available on the spot, it may reflect their needs, and they may know more about your product than you do.

That’s why you need to know your product inside out, as well that of your competitors. Knowing its components, its ingredients, its manufacturing methods, reliability and more, all help you to sell it.

If price is related to comparison, you need to know why your competitor products are cheaper. Is a warranty package included? A trial period offered?

If the cost objection is simply related to cash flow, this is where your knowledge of financing options kicks in.

Ultimately, however, you need to know your price, how low you can go and when to stop. Some people will just take you for a ride just because they can, knowing you need the sale. If your product is good, compares well with competition, has some unique benefits and all the ducks are in a row, stand by your price.

Coming back to the icecream example, why not throw in a couple of stamps on your icecream loyalty card – only a couple more visits and you’ll get a free scoop!

To take this analogy to its final conclusion, there is one more thing to do. Ask for the sale! ‘One scoop or two?’

Closing the sale

Why do so many of us have trouble closing the sale? Simply, we all fear rejection. ‘No’ means the deal is over, we’re broke for another week and we’ve been rejected.

But the fact is that you have to close the sale. If you do it well, you can turn uncertainty into action and dead stock into cash.

The other thing to keep in mind is that sometimes the customer will be trying to make up their mind and wanting you to convince them. They may be confused as to what to do next, or your attempt at a close may just shake out a final objection that was simmering down there all the time and they hadn’t said before. ‘Yes we take credit cards’, deal done.

So what is a good close? It depends on the product and situation, but all good closes leave the customer with the impression they’ve already said ‘Yes!’.

When you were building empathy, you avoided questions that would lead to ‘no’. This is similar, but this time you want to build the solution and close the deal.

‘One scoop or two?’ is a great close because they cannot just say ‘no’. And once they’ve selected their scoops and cone, how can they back out? Likewise ‘where do you want the product delivered?’ is another way of getting the customer to confirm the sale. Or ‘when would you like the service to commence?’ is another. Just keep them moving forward. ‘Sign here’.

So you’ve sold your icecream. Everyone is happy. All done. Oh, and one more thing – ‘Thank you’.

Written by

Paul Blomfield Consulting

30 Jan 2013

Interests Paul Blomfield is a well known fashion industry advocate, but likewise as a PR practitioner and event manager. He runs his company Paul Blomfield PR from Nelson Street Auckland, working on many of New Zealand's big events and iconic brands.