The ability to sell is the most important skill in business and even more so for the start-up business. If you cannot sell do not think you have a chance to succeed in business. Selling skills feature in everything we do in life… whether you are selling insurance or advertising space, persuading a traffic warden not to write you a ticket or convincing your partner to buy a new car. Selling is a fact of life. We are all sales people and successful entrepreneurs are great salespeople and I would encourage all entrepreneurs to build their selling skills.
I’m often asked the question ‘what is selling about?’ There are many definitions but the one I like because it is simple and everyone can relate to it is… ‘the activity of satisfying needs of customers with benefits of your product or service’.
Selling has often attracted publicity and descriptions that are less than complimentary so let’s deal with this. The view that salespeople are close to con-persons who would do anything and say anything just to make the sale is an aberration and should be dispelled. Of course there have been episodes of sales people behaving this way but that is not what selling is about.
Selling is not conning people, it’s about helping people. The best answer I can give you is… selling is helping the customer to buy based on satisfying the customer’s needs. Selling is about creating a ‘win win’ for you and the customer. Selling is not about shifting product but making and keeping customers.
Let me tell you a story of when I went to buy a TV and had in mind to buy a 3D ready, HD flat screen smart TV a few years back… I visited John Lewis and the TV and Audio department where I was approached by a salesman who asked me ‘what do I like watching?’ to which I replied with an eclectic mix of programmes and films. He continued to ask me questions about my interests in a TV which I immediately recognised but felt comfortable talking with him. His final reply surprised me… he said that the best TV was a Sony which John Lewis did not stock and referred me to a Sony shop where I finally bought the TV. He could have easily sold me a TV from John Lewis but he didn’t. Following the purchase with which I was delighted I went back to thank him for the advice and I have been a customer of his since. Suffice the point of the story is that successful salespeople know that a customer will come back for life if you make the customer happy and he did. That has to be the target of a salesperson.
Successful selling therefore as the story illustrates is about asking questions… to elicit the customer's needs and desires and finding the appropriate product or service that meets those needs that the customer is willing to pay for. Here is a tip: when you are asking questions you are in control because you are directing where the conversation goes ultimately influencing the outcome.
Be under no illusion that investors see selling as a key skill set which they look for in the founder of a start-up. If you cannot demonstrate selling skills you will be at a disadvantage in the mind of the investor and your ability to raise money is likewise disadvantaged.
Get to learn selling skills and… yes selling skills can be learned!
Coming next… ‘Why customer orientation is key to selling’
In future blogs I will cover among other topics ‘essential selling skills’ and the ‘the sales process’