How do you get a customer to sign on the dotted line? What does it take to make an effective presentation? How can you stand apart from the competition and connect with your prospects? Small businesses face these challenges every day. Some truths—such as focusing on the customer or speaking conversationally to establish rapport—have stood the test of time. Other techniques have come into being in response to changes in the marketplace, technology, and customer awareness. For small business owners or sales managers who want a higher win rate, we checked in with three sales strategists to see what's working in sales today.
Act the part
"When I started out in sales, I was not particularly comfortable with what I was doing with the role," says Julie Hansen, founder of Performance Sales and Training, a Denver, Colorado-based training company that adapts acting techniques for salespeople. "A couple of years into it, I started taking some acting classes. It made me much more effective and confident as a salesperson and communicator."
For example, these techniques can be used to overcome obstacles before a presentation to a prospect. Salespeople who are naturally introverted can be taught how to act as if they are confident or extroverted, just as if they were performing a role on stage. Or, they can "draw on parts of themselves of what they already have and figure out what can trigger those characteristics when they need them as a salesperson," Hansen says.
Improvising—being able to think on your feet and react positively to a question or suggestion from a prospect—is another acting technique that salespeople can master. Hansen explains that a classic improvisational technique is often referred to as the "Yes, and…" approach. If a prospect proposes something unexpected during your presentation, respond with a "Yes" instead of dismissing their remark. The benefit is that you acknowledge that you heard them and can use their comment to build on the idea together, which draws them into your presentation.
"Certainly if you're in the middle of a presentation and it's going to take you way off course, you may want to table it or say, 'Yes, it's a great idea and we're going to get back to that' or 'I can see why you brought that up.' It's a much more inclusive way of dealing with objections instead of negating what they said and putting them on the defensive," Hansen explains.
The Internet, social media, and local searches can help or hinder your sales efforts depending on how they are used.
"The biggest thing I always talk to our small business owners about is really getting into their customers' shoes," says Allison Barber, director of marketing for Fight For Small, an Indianapolis, Indiana-based company that works with local small businesses to set up and maximize their web presence. "Get out of the mindset that the products and services you offer are the best in the business because that's what everybody is seeing on all the other websites. Figure out what makes you different than everybody else and put that on your website from the perspective of your customer."
For example, a local bakery can distinguish itself from competitors by specializing in gluten-free products or promising that orders for cakes will be ready by the end of the day. For businesses that have more complicated products or services, a white paper or a downloadable e-book on their website can demonstrate their credibility to prospects and signal that they understand what their customers are looking for.
Small businesses that want to get involved with some form of social media must commit to it seriously or not do it at all. "I caution small business owners that they need a plan to do it well," Barber says. "That means that you have a dedicated marketing person or use some of the tools that are available, like Buffer or Hootsuite, where you can schedule tweets or posts that go out on a regular basis."
Barber also says that small businesses should not overlook local search listing directories, such as Yelp, the yellow pages, and Angie's List. "They have a lot of authority and rank with search engines and with winning searches," she explains. "The most important thing is being found on them and then having the consistency of the name, address, and phone number of your business."
Don't sell. Evangelize
"Sometimes the small business owner disconnects from the entrepreneur inside them. They try acting like a salesperson and then their authenticity goes away," says Dave Kurlan, CEO of Kurlan & Associates, a Westboro, Massachusetts-based firm specializing in sales training and coaching. "They start reciting facts and figures and calculations and logic. The true entrepreneur evangelizes for their business, their services, and their products."
A salesperson typically presents features and benefits or tries to convey some type of static information, but Kurlan says that the entrepreneur who evangelizes describes how he and the prospect can seize an opportunity or make a dramatic change by joining forces.
Kurlan recommends that every small business owner assess their sales force to see where they are succeeding, where they are failing, and where things can be improved. Some questions in the assessment can be: What will it take for this group to bring in more new business? Are they capable of shortening their sales cycle or increasing their win rate? How much can they improve and what will it take? Are they the right people in the right roles? If not, what should happen? And if they are, how could they maximize and leverage that? What impact is management having on the performance of the sales force?
Salespeople today also need to "sell consultatively and be the value to" the prospect, Kurlan says, by actively listening, asking tough questions, and then coming up with answers. Instead of comparing their top salesperson to other salespeople on their team, small business owners should rate them against top salespeople at other other companies on the outside. "They need to take a more objective look at what they've got and compare that to where they want to be and identify the gaps," Kurlan says.