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SALES

Q. I have recently started my own business but I don't have much experience with selling, are there any techniques I should learn?

A. The first thing about being successful at sales is to have the right attitude. Forget the old, hard image of sales. Modern selling is consultative, says Edward Dulson, managing director of Blue Triangle Coaching, a business coaching service. “You're almost like a doctor who is listening to a patient and then prescribing the right medicine. Rather than cold calling, you are selling your professional services to someone who needs them.” The best way to find business is through referrals, says Mark Brewerton, managing director of consultancy Total Marketing Solutions. “Don't be frightened to ask for a recommendation. Make a list of all the people you know or have worked with who could refer you to someone else. Dedicate some time to this and don’t let potential connections pass you by.” Otherwise, you might target your previous clients' peers or competitors. “If you are working for Goldman Sachs then it might be worth targeting Morgan Stanley or another investment bank. They might trust you more if you have worked for a competitor they respect, it can help open doors,” Brewerton says.

Q. I have a meeting with a potential client, are there any tips for making the most of the meeting?

A. “At the end of the day people don't like being sold anything,” says Dulson. “The archetypal sales person talks at a client and that turns people off.” Dulson recommends that you observe the 80/20 rule: “This means that you spend 80 per cent of the meeting listening to the client and 20 per cent talking to them.” Dulson says that after a brief introduction start asking the client questions about their business: what they do, how they do it, what they want to change and why. “Make sure you ask very open questions. This way you will get the most information from the client and uncover what their actual needs are.” It might seem that listening for 80 per cent of the conversation is too long, but if you are really listening then it’s time well spent: “Prove to them that you understand what they are saying. This means commenting on their answers and zooming in on what their needs really are.” The golden rule, says Brewerton, is to not over-stretch yourself: “Don’t ever make false promises about things that you know you can't deliver, that is the worst impression that you can leave with a client.”

Q. Can I use the internet as a marketing tool?

A. The internet can be a very powerful sales and marketing tool, however its usefulness depends on who you are trying to target. If you are trying to reach senior and top level executives then you can forget traditional marketing methods, the only way to do that is networking, Brewerton says. However, if you want to use the web as a successful way to generate enquiries about your business then you need to make sure that your website is easy to use, has all the correct contact numbers very clearly on the site and succinctly gets across the message of what you can offer. It's also worth thinking about search engine optimisation. This piece of internet jargon actually refers to how close to the top your company comes in online search results. “To make sure that your website comes up first then you need to have certain key words on your site. This can generate lots of business and it's relatively simple to do,” says Brewerton. Also, make sure that you are on sites like LinkedIn. Everybody is interconnected these days and you can’t overlook any opportunity to make contacts.