Face-to-face sales can be a tricky business. The old adage says a confident salesman can sell anything to anyone, but we’ve put together a simple system to help anyone succeed at sales—whatever your personal strengths.
Most of us have had our time in sales. My natural demeanor—a bit shy, slightly anxious—makes for a terrible sales assistant on paper. But in reality, I found I was quite successful.
Now that I have a little more perspective, when I think about why that is, it actually seems quite logical. Customers probably found me less intimidating than some of my more brazen counterparts. Fewer words and less obvious desperation for the sale (probably) suggested a level of honesty—whether that was true or not.
So the first lesson, right away, is: work out what your personal strengths are, how a customer would perceive those strengths, and how to use them to develop your own style. And above all else, be friendly.
There are plenty of people willing to tell you the wrong ways to sell, often embedded within some clever immersive theory, making you think their approach is in the customers’ interests.
Working for one of the UK’s leading high street stores as a sales assistant, I had to attend a course built around such ideology. It attempted to teach an in-depth, pseudo-psychological approach to sales. Skeptics like myself had big concerns about their system—not least of all the capitalistic heart beating beneath a big, fluffy teddy bear outfit of positivity.
The biggest issue was that the course implied all customers behaved and wanted the same things, and so it provided sales assistants with a one-size-fits-all approach—with unnerving sales targets to match.
Their system put far too much onus on upselling. In this case, it was insurance few people wanted or needed. The desperation the sales assistants approached selling this insurance, saw some very unethical practices being used—free months were given, in the hope the customer would forget to cancel the direct debit, to name but one of them.
As far as the company was concerned though, their rhetoric was sound, and all customers needed the insurance. If we didn’t sell it, we had failed the customer.
The 4-Step Sale
The approach outlined here is one that does involve a small amount of psychology, but if carried out correctly, actually leads to the right sale—meaning you should have a very satisfied customer every time.
Step 1: Introduce Yourself
Being friendly goes without saying. But it’s also about being non-exploitative. Imagine you are helping a close friend or family member find the right pair of shoes—you wouldn’t take advantage of them. You’d want them to get the best fit for them—so use the same approach now.
Step 2: Learn
First you must learn about their situation. If they have an old product or service they are replacing with yours, what made it right for them? Why did they choose it in the first place, and most importantly, why are they looking to change or update it? Was there something it lacked that they need, perhaps because of a circumstance change?
As an aside, it’s important to get a sense of how much they want to spend during this process. This helps you manage both your expectations and theirs.
Based on this information, you will decide which products or services to talk about in Step 3. It’s usually best to give more than one option, but not give more than three—this will only confuse and convolute your proposition. And at the end of the day, you don’t want to hear the words ‘we’ll go away and have a think’. Spoiler alert: nobody ever comes back—you need to take advantage of the moment.
Step 3: Teach
This is where you explain the benefits of your narrowed selection of products or services, comparing their virtues. As a warning, if you know an item is out of stock or unavailable, avoid it in your pitch. Focus on the ones that can be purchased on the day. Make sure you pick up on how the features of the product or service meet the needs your customer described in the ‘Learn’ step, one by one.
You can highlight negatives as well as positives when contrasting your offerings—but be sure to err on the side of the positives for the product or service you think is best matched. People understand that if they pay more, they get more, so it’s rarely unwise to make these kinds of distinctions. It’s about making the distinction between ‘does the job adequately’ result with ‘bells and whistles’ in a way that both seem good, and justifiable depending on what the customer wants.
If there are accessories or add-ons that would be genuinely useful to your customer, casually mention them in this step to allow the customer to familiarize themselves with the prospect of spending more.
Step 4: Ask For a Sale
Aim to close the deal on the day, because, as I mentioned, customers rarely return—even if they have the best intentions to do so. If your customer is adamant they want thinking time, try to book in a follow-up appointment to set it in stone.
Only when you are confident your customer feels they know enough about the product or service, introduce the idea of closing the sale. Over time, you will learn to pick up on the ‘internal yes’ from your customer. This can be subtle, or even subconscious, embedded in body-language or small, verbal clues.
For phone, or in-person sales, using lines like ‘Would you like me to process that for you?’ or ‘Shall I see if we have one in stock?’ work really well. The latter approach is particularly useful, because it gives the customer the idea that the item is in demand, and they may have already missed out. Adding the element of jeopardy to the sale makes them feel lucky to be able to purchase today.
At this point, you can safely reintroduce the idea of the upsells and add-ons. They will remember it, and how fundamental it was to the sale (from earlier), and it will have subconsciously become a part of the completion of the sale of their new product. Similar strategies to these can be used with services.
But don’t push. This is where a lot of companies go wrong. There’s a chance the customer will have taken the information from earlier, and decided resolutely they don’t need the upsell. They may not have told you this. But if they answer with conviction, respect that decision. They will like you a lot more for it, and you wouldn’t have got it anyway.
Product or Service? Other Tips
The above method works for both products and services, but there are things to consider depending on which type of thing you’re selling.
Products can be easier to sell, because they are physical, and if someone is in the market, they have already decided more or less what they need—your job is simply to guide them to the right choice for them. A debate surrounds the extent to which this should be ‘the right choice for you’ (highest margins etc), but truly, the best strategy is to make the customer happy. Happy customers return. Returning customers make you money next time. So play the long game.
With a service, you are primarily selling an ideal—whether it’s conceptually (an easier life, greater knowledge), or a more professional service (practical skills). Your job is to highlight the difference between what they would experience and feel if they didn’t choose your service, or in other words, how easy you’re going to make something for them.
Have faith in the value of what you are offering, and make it irresistible. In some ways, it’s easier than selling a physical product, as you aren’t relying on predetermined specifications or aesthetics.
Let us know
We hope the 4-step approach to sales works for you. Let us know how you get on. Is there anything that didn’t work so well for you? Anything you’d add? Comment below to help your fellow sales professionals.