How to Overcome the Competition and Become a Master Salesperson

Salesman and self-made millionaire W. Clement Stone said, "Sales are contingent upon the attitude of the salesman, not the attitude of the prospect." A salesperson with the right attitude, knowledge, and skills is a formidable force that can win over even the most skeptical and uncooperative of customers. If you are in sales and want to set yourself apart from the competition, try incorporating these six principles in your approach. You will see a difference in your interactions with customers that will soon show up in your numbers.

Check Your Agenda at the Door

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Too many salespeople walk into an interaction with a customer thinking only of their own needs -- what their quotas are, what they can say to close the deal, and what the customer's business can do for their careers. This is the mentality of a mediocre salesperson; you'll need to turn this idea on its head to find lasting success in sales.

One of Forbes' "Powerful Skills You Must Have to Succeed in Sales" is approaching customers with no agenda whatsoever. Remember that the sales process is about the customer, not the salesperson. Make the customer your top priority and focus on understanding his or her wants and needs above all else.

Listen First, Speak Second

A Turkish proverb sums this principle up quite nicely: "If speaking is silver, then listening is gold." Salespeople have a tendency to monopolize conversations with customers, thinking that if they can just get their point across, the customer will immediately acquiesce. Verbosity is an unfortunate consequence of entering the sales process without a customer-oriented approach.

Your goal as a salesperson is to understand the customer's business wants, needs, and problems to determine if you can offer a value-adding solution. Railroading the customer into buying by speaking generically of your product's benefits will not work. When you listen first, you will see how you can personalize your product presentation so it is specific to each customer's unique wants and needs. Additionally, research from Baylor University found that customers trust salespeople who listen well more than sellers with poor listening skills.

Share, Don't Convince

Dale Carnegie said, "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." Nowhere is Carnegie's wisdom more applicable than the interaction between salesperson and customer. Your role as a salesperson is to ask questions, answer questions, and develop a mutually beneficial, long-term relationship with customers. You are not there to persuade -- that rarely works anyway -- but to share how your product can be of use in light of the customer's needs. In doing so, remember that studies of the personality traits of salespeople consistently find that top performers are humble and modest, not pushy. 

To help you understand this principle, consider the parable of a competition between the wind and the sun. The wind bet the sun that he could make a man on the street take his coat off, and the sun bet against him. The wind blew vigorously against the man, but the harder the wind hit, the tighter the man would pull his coat to him. Seeing the futility of the wind's efforts, the sun came out, warming the man, and he immediately took off his coat.

The moral of the story for salespeople is to take the sun's approach -- rather than trying to bend a customer to your will with forceful persuasion, simply share how you can make life better with your product or service.

Ask Questions

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Being aware of and managing customers' expectations is another imperative skill for master salespeople. Never assume that what's important to you is important to your customers. In an article on essential sales skills, Forbes relates the example of a new stay-at-home mother who started her own business. She met with her friend, another stay-at-home mother, to recruit her as a business partner. To win her friend over, she extolled the virtues of being able to run the business from home.

After the entrepreneurial mother's lengthy plug, her friend declined to participate. Baffled, the business owner asked why. Her friend said she was looking for a job that would get her out of the house and let her interact more with adults. The lesson here is that a few simple questions about the prospect's needs and wants can make the sales interaction infinitely more valuable and productive.

Negotiate, but Don't Haggle

Sales expert Tom Searcy points out "price is a reflection of confidence in outcome." A firm price shows that you believe in your product and trust that it will do for the customer what you promised it would. For this reason, Searcy advises against haggling. He defines haggling as a customer asking you to do the same work you originally offered but at a lower cost. By contrast, negotiating is adjusting the conditions, terms, and scope of an agreement between two parties. Haggling defines price as the basis of comparison between you and your competitors, while negotiating correctly creates a context of value.

Don't Stop at Closing the Deal

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Closing the sale is only the beginning for successful salespeople. Remember the Pareto Principle -- 80 percent of your business will come from just 20 percent of your customers. Nurture your customer relationships by continuing to offer service after the sale. Once the delivery is made or the engagement is finished, follow up with your customers to thank them and see if they got what they expected. You might also ask for suggestions that you can relay to research and development for future improvements. These small gestures go a long way and will keep your customers loyal to you and your brand.

While skill is indisputably valuable in sales, what really distinguishes master salespeople from mediocre sellers is their approach. These principles prescribe a way of approaching the sales interaction that is customer oriented, assertive but not aggressive, and mutually beneficial. Adopting these principles will help you engage with customers on a deeper level, earning their trust and loyalty, as well as their business.

Contributed to by Kim Hale

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