Buying signals

June 26, 2009

How can you tell if someone is interested in buying something from you? Well, the answer relates to understanding buying signals. Buying signals come in two forms: verbal and non-verbal, or what and how people say things and how they react to certain questions or responses. When a customer takes an interest in a presentation it shows that either:
 They recognised a solution to a problem they have identified
 They are interested, but have not decided yet to act
 They have made a mental decision to buy
Either way, its good news – you have connected with the client. So how can you identify verbal and non-verbal buying signals? The first thing to remember is that during a sales presentation the client is having an internal conversation with themselves and are asking questions of themselves like ‘do I need this?’, ‘can I afford this?’ etc. The verbal and non-verbal buying signals are the external manifestation of this internal discussion. If you don’t believe me think of a time when you went into a store to look and buy something electronic.

A verbal buying signal is usually a question asked by the client during the sales presentation, usually a question they would not ask if they were not interested in buying. Examples are:
 ‘what kind of guarantee do you give?’
 ‘do I have to pay right away?’
 ‘do you have quantity discounts?’
 ‘what colours does it come in?’
 ‘how much is it going to cost?’
 ‘can we take this on lease?’
 ‘do you have a maintenance contract?’
All these questions have one thing in common, they would only be asked by someone actively considering making a purchase. So you should always ask yourself during the sales presentation, ‘why did they ask that question?’

Examples of non-verbal buying signals are actions done by the client during the presentation. For example:
 Picking up a product to read instructions
 Going back to something you have covered
 Eyes staying on a particular item
 Moving closer to get a better look
 Suddenly sitting up in the middle of a presentation
Again, why would someone do one of these things if they were not interested? So again you should ask yourself, ‘why did they do that?’ during a sales presentation.

Now, I am quite happy to concede that reading body language and being able to process questions like this in the middle of a sales presentation takes practice, time and experience. However, the more times you do a sales presentation the more likely you are to pick up on the buying signals. There are several books on how to read body language and these are a good place to start understanding the process.

The selling process

June 24, 2009

Many people have a dislike, or in some cases a fear, of selling. This is caused because many people do not understand the selling process and have some basic understanding of sales. Selling is generally a simple process: find out what someone wants/needs and present a solution that meets their want/need. However, there is a process that sales people must go through in order to reach the desired goal. The following are the main steps involved:

Personal Motivation – if you are not personally motivated to sell, or if you believe that you cannot sell, then you will not sell. Selling requires a positive mindset and a degree of personal belief that you are helping, serving or assisting the client.

Understanding People / Empathy Skills – You must be able to understand how people communicate and what thought process they are going through. Many of these skills come under verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Reading up on subjects such as body language and motivation is important if you are going to be able to communicate your message to a client.

Prospecting – this is finding the customers and can be made more effective by clearly working out your marketing strategy and only talking to people who you can be of benefit to.

Making Appointments – This is the part of getting the personal attention of a potential client. There are many ways of making an appointment. I have previously talked about the power of networking in accessing people and making an appointment.

Good Introduction – Talk about things that interest the client. You should try to tailor your introduction to the client, not just use the same patter in all cases. Use news items, personal history, common interests to focus your presentation and get the persons attention.

Presentation of Benefits – people do not buy the features of a product/service but rather they buy the benefits they get from the good/service. This is important because if you are not presenting the benefits to the client you are missing the point of the sales presentation.

Address Areas of Concern – people who are actively considering making a purchase decision will have questions. If you are not getting questions then it is likely that the person is not engaged with the conversation. So do not overreact to a question asked by a client. Questions and objections are good news as they indicate at minimum an engagement with you.

Customer Commitment – this is the only part of the process you actually get paid for. Always ask for the business. It is surprising how many salespeople actually get to the final hurdle and do not ask for the sale.

After-Care Service – this is crucial as if managed properly, after-care service can lead to repeat sales. Always follow up on a client who has purchased and accept responsibility to sort out any problems that may arise.

You may note that I didn’t use the term ‘closing the sale’ but rather asked for customer commitment. This is an important thought process. Closing a sale indicates the end of a process, rather than the establishment of a long-term business relationship with the new client. Be careful about your use of words, they can have negative effects on your mindset.

There is a lot of talk in the business community about networking. There are, as already pointed out, many different types of business-to-business networking available. Unfortunately, many people think that walking into a room full of other people you have never met is ‘networking’ but if you are going to get any benefit out of networking you must have a ‘strategy’. Here are a few tips:

• Pick the right network. Too many people wander from network to network without giving much thought to the types of businesses that you might meet there. Talk to the coordinator of the network in advance and make sure there are businesses that you want to meet.
• Get introductions from key network members. In every network there are people who know everybody else. Get these people to introduce you.
• Have an ‘elevator pitch’. This is a 25 word statement about who you are and what you are able to provide/looking for. Having a pre-prepared statement means that you are less likely to fumble your introduction.
• Give as well as take. The best networkers I know give as much help, information, introductions and contacts as they get. Being of assistance to others gets you a positive reputation and people are very likely to want to return the complement.
• Follow up. Even if it is by an e-mail to say how pleased you were to meet the other person and attach a list of your contacts and website etc. If you do not follow up then no business can be possibly generated.

Here is a key point for new networkers to understand. Business-to-business networks are full of business people. To get to the meeting you have to be a business: even a one-person business. When you are in the room you are one of the club. People in a networking meeting assume that the other people there are business people and there to do business. It doesn’t matter whether you are a one-person business or a large multinational; once you are in the room you are assumed by all to be the equal to everybody else there. All you have to do is get in the room!

Now this refers to general networking. You can also use networking strategically. Let us assume there is a company you want to do business with, possibly even a large company. Getting appointments with senior management can be very difficult, apart from the process of getting past ‘gatekeepers’ (PAs, receptionists etc.). Also, whilst in the office, senior people have many calls on their time. Now, from your research you know the person you need to talk to and want an opportunity to meet this specific person. If you ask the right questions, or in many cases google the person, you can find out what networks this person is a member of. High profile executives tend also to be senior members (Presidents, chairpersons etc) of business networks. If you can get an introduction to the network that the person you wish to meet is a member of, it is likely that you will be able to have an introduction directly to the person, in a relaxed atmosphere where they have the time and the inclination to listen. I have seen senior executives from large multinational companies standing at the door of networking events formally welcoming members, especially new or potential members. These are local chambers of commerce for example, so if you are prepared and organized, you can get to the right person directly, cheaply and effectively through the use of networking.

I am a very hard person to sell advertising to as I will not spend hard-earned money on advertising that does not show a real rate of return. Promotion is the section of marketing relating to advertising and networking. Picking the right channels of communication is vital for any business. The first part of picking your channel is to define as accurately as possible your target market. The broader your message gets dispersed the more diluted it becomes. But if you can closely define your target customers then the more influential will be your message. This is the trick to cost-effective promotion. Always ask the question of any promotional opportunity of how targeted is this to my target markets.

Of course there is now a wide range of advertising media. The following is an arbitrary categorisation.
1. General Advertising. This is aimed at increasing your product or company’s general awareness in the publics eye. Posters campaigns and door to door leaflet drops are examples of this. Information stands for the general public is also included here. Again as this is a broad spectrum message the return on this communication medium can be extremely diluted.
2. Classified advertising. These are the lists of people engaged in particular sectors. The Golden Pages, Independent Directory and many smaller local publications exist. There are also industry specific listings available for specific issues. Again measure the cost effectiveness of these mediums. It may be necessary to be in the Golden Pages but it may not be necessary to have a large ad. Remember people tend to look for local businesses and if you are nearer than someone with a large ad then you may still get the business. So think out what you want from this medium and then measure its cost effectiveness.
3. Trade Fairs and Trade Magazines. The beauty of trade-specific promotion is that they are aimed exclusively at your target market. Specifically trade only fairs. But remember that there is also a high cost attaching to these events or publications. The more specific they are the higher the cost. So only engage with your eyes wide open. You are going to these events to sell not raise product awareness. But on the other hand you have to speculate to accumulate.
4. Direct Advertising. This is where you write to specific individuals and promote your product. Most direct mail is seen as ‘junk mail’ and is dispatched to the bin. But it depends on how you approach it. This is best used as part of a sales strategy where you are looking not to sell the product but get an appointment.
5. Networking. There are many business-to-business networks now in existence. These can range from social networking for business people (www.facebook.com), more professionally-focused networking online (www.linkedin.com) and a wide range of event-driven networking organizations (Chambers of Commerce, BNI etc).
6. Word of Mouth. The most effective promotional method of all. Unfortunately, the one that you cannot control or direct. But also remember if it is bad news it can also kill your business. One useful method is personal recommendations. Here you ask a satisfied customer if they know anybody else who might benefit from your product. You can then go to the other prospect and say “ Mr. X suggested that I give you a call”. If you have the selling skills this is the best form of sales entry you can get.

Advertising and promotion cost time and money. So the general rules are target your customers directly, do a cost-benefit analysis on every method of promotion you use and get value for money and time.