Debrett's Ask the Expert: How can I sell more effectively?

Rupert Wesson
US Retail Sales Rise For First Time In 4 Months
We have an instinctive national reserve when it comes to selling (Source: Getty)

Q: I work for a professional services company and my role involves tendering for new business. Despite going out with several pitches recently, my team has failed to win any new work this quarter. While we could blame Brexit fears, I worry our sales approach is letting us down. How can I ensure we sell more effectively?

The first thing to do is to find out where you have been going wrong, and the best way of doing this is to ask the people who decided not to buy from you. Most will be very happy to provide feedback, and you should interpret this feedback not as criticism but as help.

It is also important to review your pitching technique with your team at every stage of the process, including immediately after delivering the pitch and a week or so later once you know the outcome. These reviews should be open and honest, leading to actions that will improve your team’s performance.

In the UK, we still have a tendency to think of selling in a negative light, requiring pushy persuasion at odds with our intrinsic national reserve.

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Effective selling is about more than the product and its price point, however: much like a job interview, the impression you make on a prospective client is just as important as the content of your proposal.

The two most common reasons pitches fail is that they are not focused on the needs of the client or because the team is underprepared. Often these are interlinked.

Preparation for the pitch is key and it is important to use the time leading up to it wisely. Too often pitch teams focus too much on the messages they want to push rather than finding out from the client what they really need to hear.

Research the client thoroughly and remember that it’s not just about the structure of the company, the number of staff or its bottom line. They want you to help them identify problems as well as to come up with solutions.

Ask open questions and drill down below the surface to the detail. Ultimately you want to know what is keeping a client awake at night, and in fact that can be a good question to ask.

You also need to understand the personalities of those to whom you are pitching so that you can match their style in your delivery. While some people will be persuaded by statistics and figures, others may respond more powerfully to a shared vision of success.

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Some executives take a collaborative approach to decision making, while others will be happy to do so independently. Similarly, one client might wish to establish a positive personal relationship with you and your team, while another will regard even small talk as time wasting. Some people describe this as chemistry and understanding it is really important.

Ensure that all members of the team are aware of their roles and responsibilities during the pitch. Everyone involved should be thoroughly briefed and “on message”, not only to support the effectiveness of the pitch but also to demonstrate your ability to work as a team. If you can’t pitch as a team, the client won’t be convinced that you can work well with them as a team.

Finally, remember to rehearse. Preparing rehashed pitch documents and PowerPoint slides only at the last minute will leave you no time for you to rehearse their delivery.

Ultimately, pitching is a team game so practising as a team will ensure you perform well on the day.

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