There are two types of people that need sales training.
Firstly, salespeople need sales training. Makes sense, right? You wouldn’t trust a doctor that had never studied medicine, so why should the profession of sales be any different?
This article isn’t for salespeople, though. It’s for the other group.
The second group is non-salespeople. Non-salespeople may need to sell at times, but are stronger in other areas of the business. Think of the more technical people in an organisation, such as developers, practitioners, accountants, designers… those people that make the business operate, but who are usually happy to operate in the background somewhere.
For businesses that have already reached a certain scale, this isn’t a problem. The sales team sell, the finance team sort out the accounts, and development… well, they do whatever it is they do.
However, the same cannot be said for smaller businesses and startups.
In a startup, you will often find the main software developer pitching to customers, one of the founders writing marketing copy and the first person to handle the inbound enquiries is often someone’s mum. This is startup life in all its glory. These are the non-salespeople.
And yet, you could argue that sales at this stage of business is even more important than ever. In the beginning, signing just one contract can guarantee the long-term success of a business. Each customer potentially has the ability to guarantee next month’s salaries. Every lead or enquiry needs to be treated like gold dust and handled with the care and attention it deserves.
This is why I love speaking with entrepreneurs and early-stage startups about their approach to sales. Many of the lessons which professional salespeople have learned over the years and taken for granted are the same ideas that can make a dramatic impact on conversion metrics in new businesses.
Sales Tips for Non-Salespeople
Below are 5 of the most common pieces of advice I have been giving lately to non-salespeople.
Know Your Qualification Criteria
Wait, didn’t I just say treat all leads like gold dust? When you don’t have a huge number of leads and inquiries coming into the business, the tendency can be to treat each in the same way, rolling over backward for the potential customer, and going out of your way to be accommodating. However, all leads are not created equally. Imagine a continuum where at the beginning is those people that are “just browsing” and at the end are those who are ready to buy from you immediately. With limited resources available to you, non-salespeople should prioritise your time investment in those opportunities that are more likely to close. This does not mean ignore those leads that are further away, but maybe they get the weekly newsletter instead of daily, handcrafted emails.
How do you qualify leads? There are a number of different ways to qualify a sales lead, the simplest of all being BANT. In this framework, you need to be able to answer yes to four simple questions. Do the have BUDGET? Does the person have AUTHORITY to make a decision? Is there a clearly defined NEED for your offering? Does the TIMEFRAME make sense to work now? If you have 4 yeses, you should certainly work this lead. If you are missing any of the yeses, your job is to either find a way to get the other yes, or disqualify the lead and take that time back to re-invest elsewhere.
Identify The Problem You Solve
Having a compelling opening pitch that grabs attention is a sure fire way to get more people interested in what you offer. The challenge for many new businesses is that getting this into a concise statement that gets everything across often requires feedback from hundreds of clients that have bought the product and then said why they bought it.
So instead of focusing on how great everything is, change the lens from positive to negative. Carrots are great, and you should definitely have a lot of great reasons for using your product or service. However, it is sticks that get people to act immediately. If you change your pitch to show your prospects a problem they have and how you can solve that for them, anyone experiencing that problem will immediately see the need for what you have to offer. If you can include a reason to act immediately in your solution, then you also drive urgency into the sale.
For example, which of these statements is more enticing.
“We are able to analyse your entire supply chain to ensure you are following all the best practices” or
“By 2020, companies that are not able to show that their supply chains meet the necessary standards are going to be excluded from working with Fortune 500 companies”.
Find a way to define the exact problem you solve, and use that when talking to new prospects.
Focus On Benefits, Not Features
Selling benefits rather than features is what launched Apple as a company. Steve Jobs understood this concept and used it to sell millions of devices in markets where there were numerous competitors. Think about the iPod for example, the original iPod. Whilst you probably cannot remember how much storage it had or how long the battery was supposed to last, I bet you can remember how many songs it held. Instead of trying to impress people with the complex functionality and engineering that went into the wheel scrolling mechanism, Apple told you they could put 1000 songs in your pocket. Jobs even managed to simplify the original iPhone to 3 features – iPod, phone and internet (check out the original presentation here). Non-salespeople often focus their early sales presentations too heavily on the product or service and not enough on what it means to the client. Find a way instead to lead with the benefits, what it would be the results if your prospect became a customer, and then support these claims with fewer, key features.
Add Value, Don’t Discount
What do you do when the deal is close to signing and you want to incentivise the deal to happen faster? Immediately, most salespeople turn to discounting strategies, believing that if you make the product or service cheaper, it will be easier to say yes. There are a number of reasons why this is a terrible approach all round, so check out my Ultimate Negotiation Formula for more information on this. However, for start ups, the main reason you should not discount is because price is rarely going to be the deciding factor. You are likely dealing with the innovators and early adopters from the Diffusion of Innovation theory. These individuals are keen to try out new ideas, less risk averse than others and certainly not as price sensitive. Think of the people that queue outside the shop for hours before the new piece of tech is released when the rest of us buy it six months later at half the price. If anything, to these people, discounting highlights concerns you may have in the value of your offering.
So instead of offering a discount, keep price the same and find a way to add more value. What are some services that you can include that the prospect will find extremely valuable that will not be excessively costly to your business?
Make It Easier To Say Yes
No one wants to be your first customer. There is a risk associated with being the first person to try anything, and no matter how high an individual’s risk tolerance, the conservative side will always make a strong argument for walking away and trying something with more of a proven track record. You may not be at the point where you can rely on client successstries and use social proof as an influence technique, so how can you make it easier for the person to say yes, without discounting of course? The answer is to remove all of the potential reasons for saying no. How can you minimise the effort your prospect will need to invest in getting the project off the ground? How can you increase adoption by training the prospect’s team members? Can you give a guarantee for your work or the results? Consider all the reasons for saying no to your product or service, and then consider how to eliminate the option of those excuses. Ideally you will find a way to automate these elements in the future, but if this needs to be manual in the beginning, perhaps it is still worth it.
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