Removing the fear of selling for small business owners.
Many small business owners are fearful of sales or selling for their business for a good reason. If your only experience with sales is door-to-door salespeople, the 6:00 p.m. mid-dinner telemarketers, or the occasional movie or TV show portraying sales as a game of persuasion and manipulation, it’s understandable why you would fear sales.
If you have never been properly trained in sales and the sales process, then all you have to rely on are the myths and misconceptions many have about selling. Like anything, until you jump in and give it a try, you will never really know the truth about sales.
If you look up the definition of sales or selling, nearly all dictionaries have the same definition with a few subtle differences. Here is one of Webster’s Dictionary’s definitions:
“To persuade or influence to a course of action or to the acceptance of something.”
If you search for other definitions, you will see the word “persuade” show up in many, if not all, of them at some point.
We have all heard descriptions of good salespeople: “He can sell anything to anyone,” or “She could sell ice to someone living in the Arctic.”
To me, anyone selling ice to someone living in the Arctic is not a salesperson; they are a con-artist! Selling someone something they really don’t need or want simply because you can is not professional selling. Similarly, I would never use the word “persuasion” in my definition of selling. To me, selling is the entire process: finding a prospective customer, meeting the prospective customer, gaining an understanding of the customer’s true needs, providing a solution, and demonstrating how the solution meets their needs. Sure, products and services are exchanged and money is transacted, but sales’ real focus is to understand your customer’s need and fill it.
If you have to persuade someone to purchase your product, you should reexamine your product. Now, don’t misunderstand me. There is a big difference between “persuading” and “educating.” Sometimes, a customer may be unfamiliar with a process or solution, but educating them on the features, benefits, and value is not persuasion—that is selling.
So, it is no wonder sales and the selling process creates such a negative connotation for many and creates fear for small business owners who really need to understand sales to grow their business.
To help clear up some of the misconceptions, I have composed what I call the Top 10 Sales Myths and wish to share why they are indeed myths. Here they are:
- The best sales people are extroverts.
There is a belief that salespeople are all outgoing, gregarious, and the life of the party. I am here to tell you that this is not always true. Some of the best salespeople I know are quiet, thoughtful, and excellent listeners who truly understand how to ask good questions. Often, extroverts are so busy talking that their prospective customer is not able to talk, and when they do manage to get a word in edgewise, the extrovert may be too busy thinking about their next spiel to listen carefully. Sure, extroverts can be good salespeople too, and being an extrovert can make meeting people easier, but never assume that just because someone is quiet, they are not “cut out” for sales.
- Having the lowest price is critical when selling.
After thirty years in sales, I can honestly tell you I have sold successfully when my price is the lowest and I have also sold when my price is the highest. Does having the lowest price make selling easier? Sure, in many cases, but if your customers are buying strictly on price, there will always be someone willing to go lower than you, which is problematic. If you are selling a $500 solution that solves a $5,000 problem but your competitor is selling its solution for $400, you better be able to explain why paying $100 more for your solution is a good idea. Also, never forget, most buyers will tell you your price is too high simply to get rid of you if they are trying to narrow the pool down to a few finalists. I have lost on opportunities after being told this, only to find out later that my price was the lowest, but they had a better relationship with the vendor who won.
- Good salespeople are born that way.
Again, having a thick skin or an outgoing personality can make learning how to sell a little easier or faster, but in my experience, anyone can develop skills and become effective in sales. When you decided to start your own small business, you also made a decision to enter the sales arena, whether you know it or not. As a small business owner, if you have no employees, you are the salesperson. At some point, you will have to talk to customers, a lender or a potential partner, and explain your business’ value. Take the leap; give it a try. It is not as hard as many think.
- Buyers don’t want to be sold; they want to buy.
This is one of my least favorite phrases. In all honesty, there are things people will need to buy for their business, including products, services, advice, and raw materials, but make no mistake; this is not like buying new golf clubs or airfare for a vacation. Sure, buyers do not want to “feel” like they are being sold, manipulated, or “persuaded” to buy anything. But they are also not shopping for fun. Keep in mind that buying your product may be a necessary evil for them, so help them make the best decision by providing options and solutions.
- Cold calling is the hardest part of sales.
While I understand why cold calling may be seen as the hardest part, if you have done your homework, you can minimize this fear. If you are calling the right people and saying the right things the right way, you will find the initial call much easier. Never forget, it takes on average 4-7 touches or contacts to create an opportunity, depending on your industry. To me, the first call is not that bad, but finding creative reasons to follow up and stay connected until you make a breakthrough is the hardest part. Too many people call or contact a potential customers 1-2 times and then give up if there is no response. Selling is a process. The good news is I have actually had many customers develop very quickly after the first call!
- Selling is the art of persuasion.
As stated above, if you have to persuade or manipulate, you are not selling. In such cases, perhaps your product or service is so poor you are forced to resort to unprofessional tactics. If your product or service is not a good fit, it is okay to move on. Telling a customer “I am not the best solution for you, and I am happy to refer you to someone who is” can be powerful. You can’t be all things to all people, and closing a deal solely for the commission without consideration for your customer is a shortsighted approach.
- Small business owners have no time to sell.
Now that I am a small business owner, I do understand this myth a little better. But I would argue that not selling is a recipe for disaster. How long does it take to actually jump on the phone and thank a customer for a recent order? Three to five minutes? Asking a happy customer for a referral the next time you see them or taking a good customer to lunch once in a while count as sales calls. Sure, time is precious, but so, too, is the dream you are building. Making the time to grow your business is critical to long-term success. Finding time does require some creativity and discipline, but if you are a small business owner, creativity and discipline should not be new concepts.
- Being a smooth talker is helpful when selling.
Many have a vision of being on a stage speaking to lots of people and that they must be a “golden-throated pitchman” to be effective at sales. Ninety percent of my sales experiences in the past thirty years have been one-on-one or with a very small group strategizing, laying out solutions, and walking through scenarios. Being an honest, well-prepared, and sincere partner is far better than simply sounding great. Sometimes, sounding too slick can feel slimy.
- A salesperson has to take control in meetings.
Control is a difficult way to state this. Yes, I think in the sales process you need to lead, but control to me is not the right way to think of this. Sure, you need to organize the meeting, be prepared, listen, ask good questions, come up with ideas, and help lead your customer to the best solution. Leading is selling, and to sell, you must lead.
- Never say “No” to a customer.
This is one of my other favorite myths. I can’t tell you how many times in the past thirty years I have seen a customer be wrong or even heading in the wrong direction. I have had requests that don’t make sense to me, and I have had requests I simply can’t help with. I am of the opinion that saying no creates value when “No” is the best or right answer. But I have coined my own term called the “No-but.” If I get a request I cannot help with, I say “No, but I can help you find someone who can help you.” I have no problem telling a customer “No.” If you are doing your job that will occur occasionally, and your customer will appreciate it.
When it comes down to it, most of the fear in sales is simply hype by people who have had either no experience selling or a bad experience with an overzealous, high-pressure, timeshare salesperson. But that does not have to be you. Be an idea person; be a problem solver and a consultant for your customers, and create a relationship based on mutual respect. That is how you build long-term, satisfied customers and create predictable repeat revenue for your business.
Greg Andersen is a speaker and the author of Small Business Sales, WTF (Without the Fear). He works with small business owners to help them understand that using the power of sales is the best strategy for growing and protecting a small business. www.smallbusinesssaleswtf.com.