Selling Techniques

The joke goes that a good salesperson could sell sand in the desert. In other words, people will buy what they don’t need if the salesperson is persuasive enough. A successful selling technique is a complex blend of methodical approach and the application of psychology.

The salesperson needs a special combination of personal qualities and trained skills. A traditional methodical approach to selling is to divide the process into logical steps. It is usually split up into seven steps which are:

1.    Planning and preparation
2.    Opening
3.    Questioning
4.    Presentation
5.    Overcoming objections/negotiating
6.    Closing
7.    After-sales follow-up

In planning a sales campaign, you should first learn as much as possible about your service and product. It is important to be able to describe its features and its benefits to a potential buyer. You also need to know about any products and services that form your chief competition so that you can decide what advantages your company’s have over the others on the market.

If you are selling to an organization, you need to know who makes the buying decisions and what their current needs are. It will also be helpful to gather as much information as possible about their strategies, budgets and buying patterns. This is the kind of information that is essential to enable you to put together a presentation that addresses their specific needs.

Your sales presentation might be a formal one delivered to a group, at a conference, for example, or something more informal to show an individual. It will need to be professionally organized with appropriate aids and handouts. In opening your sales presentation you need to be confident and enthusiastic. Remember that body language peaks volumes, so a firm handshake, a smile and relaxed posture are important. Introductions should be clear and you should make the purpose of your visit or presentation clear.

Questioning is a key tool in finding out how your product or service can benefit the customer and how you can develop the sale. Questioning helps you build rapport as well because selling is all about establishing a good relationship. People prefer to buy from those who take the trouble to find out what the customers really need and to understand the concerns and constraints they have. Open questions (who/how/what/where/when) are useful for information seeking. You may also need to encourage people to tell you more by reformulating what they said or echoing their last comment. This can be a more effective strategy than asking a “why” question.

Asking “why” makes people feel defensive and they may not open up. It is always important to check that you have understood what the customer has told you, and you do this with closed questions:

  • Do you mean that you prefer x?
  • Is it true to say that your old contract is up for renewal?

The sales presentation stresses the benefits the customer would obtain from buying your goods or services. It has to show that in buying from you, the customer will be able to satisfy his or her main needs. The presentation will vary therefore from prospect to prospect and will be driven by the information obtained through questioning.

If you are selling a car, the needs of a working mother with young children will be different from those of a single woman, but the same car might have benefits for both. One well-known brand of cosmetics sells its beauty products by targeting a woman’s need for self-esteem, with the tagline: “…because you’re worth it.”

When it is time to deal with objections and to negotiate, the seller needs to view objections as opportunities to find out more about the customer’s needs. If there are aspects of the sale that you can negotiate so that the customer’s objections can be dealt with, this will be the time to explain the possibilities that are available. It might be a finance package, improved delivery dates, or some form of customizing the product or service for this particular person or organization.

By this stage you will be aware of the messages the customer is sending out. If it looks as if the customer is really sending out signals saying they want to buy, then you can move to the closing stage. You simply need to ask if the customer wishes to go ahead. It may seem as if the deal has been successfully concluded at this point, but it has not. The follow-up is crucial. And here you depend on the efficiency and integrity of your organization. It will be essential to honor delivery dates and after-sales service to ensure customer satisfaction.

The professional salesperson will, therefore, always keep in contact with the customer to see that all the conditions are being met. The long-term aim of selling is not just to sell one item but to cultivate a loyal customer. If the follow-up phase goes wrong, you will lose that long-term relationship and the goodwill that could generate more business by a satisfied customer spreading the word.

A number of acronyms are used in selling to simplify some of the key concepts: FAB, USP and UPB (Features Advantages Benefits, Unique Selling Point, and Unique Perceived Benefit). The principle of the FAB is that customers buy what the products feature and advantages of purchasing the product which we also call: the benefit. The USP is what sets one product or service apart from all products of a similar nature. In the vacuum cleaner market, one famous innovative model used no bag or filter and quickly gained a market share on the strength of this.

On the other hand a UPB is customer-oriented. If the salesperson knows the market sector well, then it should be fairly easy to predict the group’s UPBs. A really expensive encyclopedia was sold successfully for years to families with young children because of the perceived educational benefits it offered. The working mother will see time and energy saving as a great benefit, while a young single man might be more concerned with what a product does for his image.

The use of the FAB and the UPB is psychologically clever in other ways, too. Benefits are very personal. If you sell on the strength of a USP, the customer will find it easy to make comparisons with the competition. Although the USP might be enough to persuade them to buy, they might not see it as vital and could go for something less advanced but cheaper. But the FAB and UPB are difficult to ascribe a clear value to and it may be less obvious how the competing products and services match yours.

Another acronym used in selling is AIDA: attention, interest, desire, action. The steps of AIDA are used to gain the receiver’s attention, to create and hold the receiver’s interest, to arouse desire, and to motivate the desired action—the purchase.

The application of psychology to selling has resulted in other techniques such as consultative selling, which involves deeper questioning of the prospect about organizational and operational issues that can extend beyond the product itself. This leads to greater understanding of the customer’s wider needs and the questioning process results in a greater trust, rapport, and empathy between salesperson and buyer. The ‘needs-creation’ selling approach is an example of consultative selling.

Here the sales-person seeks to identify and then enlarge a particular need, problem, challenge or issue that a potential customer faces. The consultative aspect lies in the salesperson’s ability, experience and expertise, to consult with the buyer in developing a solution that the seller’s organization can supply. This kind of selling is especially suited to certain fields such as insurance, mortgages, even holidays, where the needs of customers are very personal. It is also vital when selling services to other businesses as needs will be complex and unique to each organization.

Modern selling still requires a methodical approach as exemplified in the “seven steps” but the seller’s job is very subtle nowadays. The seller has to help people understand what their systems or lifestyles require in order to change for the better, then help them discover how to solve a problem or fulfill a need. By matching the buyer’s unique buying criteria, the seller becomes an advisor and is uniquely positioned to work on behalf of the supplier.


For a teaching lesson plan for this lesson see:
Selling Techniques Lesson Plan


Categories Sales and Marketing

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