For most of us, what we learn first sticks with us for a long time. Nursery rhymes, what we consider right and wrong—the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.
It happens to salespeople, too. Because our early training is indelible, it stays with us. But new demands and expectations call for strategic changes to keep up, stay relevant and close more sales.
Here are five strategies that can help:
1) Change your thinking about what you know. Salespeople are known for being sure—sometimes overly sure—of themselves. Although self-confidence is necessary to keep going, it also has a risky downside: It can lead to believing we know more than we do. Nothing kills sales faster than arrogance.
Consider this example: A website designer’s creativity gives him an initial edge with a prospect. But it was obvious from his presentation that he had not taken the time to understand the organization or its services. The designer was so focused on what he was selling, he didn’t have a clue about what his prospect wanted to buy. In other words, he didn’t know what he didn’t know—and despite his obvious talent, he lost the job.
Unless salespeople consciously challenge their thinking, they hand sales to the competition. We all benefit by asking ourselves these questions: What am I missing? What don’t I know? Are my assumptions correct?
2) Change the way you prepare. Do you think you’re at a place where you can “wing it”—where all you need to do to get ready for a presentation is to make a few notes or a quick outline, or simply go over it in your mind? If so, you’re deluding yourself, and you’re also short-changing your employer and your customers. You may be good, but you’re not that good.
Like it or not, here’s the truth: If we don’t write it, we only think we know it. It happens to us all when we’re under pressure: We lose control and default to whatever comes to mind. Before we know it, we’re talking gibberish.
3) Change the way you present. While presentations may have several objectives, they all have one overriding goal: engage the participants. Unless that happens, a presentation may be interesting and informative, but it’s not a home run. Something is missing.
For a presentation to be a winner, it must be interactive. Inviting your listeners to interrupt you and then managing to pick up the thread and continue takes confidence. But it also sends the message that the participants shape the presentation—an that’s well worth the risk.
4) Change your persuasion strategy. Some salespeople still say, “If I can just get in front of prospects, that’s all I need to close them.” If you want to give it a name, call it “the power of persuasion”: They build their case in a way that leads prospects to the logical conclusion that their only reasonable response is yes.
Such a sales strategy is still popular. However, more and more of today’s consumers buy it. They push back, feeling like they’re being set up, manipulated or pushed.
Today, push is out; pull is in. Influencing buying behavior requires a sales environment in which customers can decide if they want to do business with you. That gives them the opportunity to find out if they can trust you, if your messaging makes sense, and if you’re reliable and responsive.
5) Change how you relate to customers. Even though companies continue preaching a customer loyalty message, they may be deceiving themselves. For example, Accenture’s research indicates that 99% of retailers claim their loyalty programs perform at or above expectations, even though 71% of shoppers argue that such programs do not result in loyalty.
The trend is toward tentative or quid pro quo loyalty. The message is: “As long as you give me what I want, I’ll be loyal. If that changes, so will I.” What counts today are a consistently good customer experience, convenience, an easy payment process, new and innovative products, and excellent customer service across multiple platforms, according to a Blackhawk Network study.
Even if they’re an Amazon Prime customer paying $99 a year, customers don’t think twice about buying it for cheaper elsewhere, particularly if there’s free delivery. Clearly, performance-based relationships trump everything, including loyalty.
They say change is inevitable. If it’s true, then there’s no better place to start than with ourselves.
John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales strategy consultant and business writer. He is the creator of Magnet Marketing and publishes a free monthly eBulletin, No Nonsense Marketing & Sales Ideas.