salesperson. Oh, starting out some are better than others at people skills, but exceptional sales people are for the most part self-made. It’s a skill that can’t be taught either, but it can be learned.
When I first started to sell, I was awful. In the first place, I hated asking for the order. I felt like I was begging. It wasn’t helped by the fact that I didn’t know anything about about the products I was selling. I was ready to quit after the first day.
After a long period of frustration and failure, I realized there was a SECRET I could master to succeed. No, it wasn’t some arcane technique that enabled me to influence my customers. It wasn’t about being positive and confident or lessons on self-talk about how I was getting better and better. The turning point was when I decided to become an expert at old school product knowledge.
The most important thing a sales person or a manufacturer can do is become expert about your product or service. Read any self-help book or tips on how to be a great salesman and these books usually assume you already have that expertise.
In many cases, nothing could be further from the truth. Many salespeople are not equipped with the necessary skills nor do they have specialized knowledge about their product. As a result, they have a problem engendering the confidence they need to build a relationship with their customer. That’s why they search out the tips and tricks part of selling. They think, “If I can only master some techniques, I can get a handle on this selling thing.”
You notice I said specialized knowledge. Lots of folks have a ton of facts but these mostly miss the boat. The knowledge I’m talking about is the knowledge about how the product or service affects the customer in a positive way.
The old school way to think about your product was through a mnemonic called Features—Advantages—Benefits or FAB.
- Features: This is a “what it is” about the product. Since the bulk of my experience dealt with food products I tend to use sensory descriptors, a technology driven product might use engineering terms to describe its attributes.
- Advantages: Some define this differently, but to me a product advantage is how much better it will perform over competing products or substitutes.
- Benefits: This is how the product will benefit the CUSTOMER. Notice I bolded the word customer? What you or I think about benefits might be interesting but how the product meets the customer’s need(s) is the critical part of the whole process.
If a benefit does not mean anything to your customer, it’s not a benefit. It’s merely one more feature.
I feel confident about the sale if I can offer at least one or two real benefits during the course of my conversation.
How the heck do I find out what matters to my customer? I listen and probe to uncover her problem or need. If I have a relationship with her, I have a huge advantage. I know about his world. That’s why it’s tough to sell to strangers. You don’t know them well enough to match a benefit with a need.
When I started to be able to really help my customers, that’s when I started to have fun.
About the author: Peter Young says, "I’m a street guy. Plain and simple. I’ve been a hard rock miner, a five and dime store manager, a successful salesman, a sales trainer, a trade show producer, a boilermaker, a sales and marketing consultant and a soybean oil commodity risk manager." His favorite quote is from Pete Segar on education and experience: “Education is when you read the fine print experience is what you get when you don’t.”