I just attended a Toastmasters District meeting – that is of all the club leaders in Toronto. One of the presenters, Bob Weese, a seasoned Toastmaster, gave an excellent presentation about how one should promote Toastmasters to new attendees at meetings. His presentation reminded me of a few things about sales. I wanted to set out my thoughts in this article.
First of all, what is sales? It is applied psychology. It is the use of psychology to motivate people to buy. More precisely it is understanding how people think and using that understanding to help them decide to act in their best interests. It is not about selling something to a buyer who does not want it. It is the process of identifying a need in a prospect and then helping that prospect address that need.
How do you do that?
Sales is an asking questions process, not a presentations process. In sales it is not what you say that matters, it is what the buyer says. Again, it’s not what you say, it’s what the buyer says, that’s important in the process. Selling is not about presenting solutions to an innocent buyer. It is, instead, asking a series of questions resulting in the buyer convincing himself or herself that what you have to offer is what they want. It is not a persuading exercise. It is a guiding the buyer exercise in which you guide the buyer to say what is best for them in their own words and then getting them to act on those words.
It is a process that can be illustrated as follows:
Buyer -> Step 1: Frustration with the present -> Step 2: Assessing where the buyer is in the buying process at this moment ->
Step 3: Imagining a better future -> Step 4: The price ->
Step 5: Buying that future.
Note the buyer is not buying a product or service, the buyer is buying a result that you will provide that buyer. The classic example is you are not selling a drill, you are selling holes that the drill will make for the buyer. Another classic is you are not selling the frying pan, you are selling the sizzle. In my world as an immigration lawyer, the buyer is not buying an immigration visa, the buyer is buying a better life for the buyer and his or her family. Put more accurately, the buyer is buying a hole-maker or buying a frying machine or buying a new, better life.
In this regard, money, or price, must always be the last passenger on the bus. Do not talk price until you have covered the other steps first, particularly need, or you will never sell. The magic answer to the premature question of “What’s the price (or cost),” is: Let’s put that question on the back burner for a moment. We’ll come back to it. Use it.
The key question at the beginning of the process is the WHY question. Why are you here? Why did you call? Why are you interested? Why do you ask? The answer to this question opens the door for you.
It tells you how to speak to the buyer about past frustrations and inadequacies. For example, the buyer says, “I came because I would like to learn how to speak better.” You say, “Really, why do you want to learn that?” You need to drive them deep into their own frustration to get them motivated to change. What has been holding you back? Why do you feel you need to speak better? What setbacks have you had? You need to cause the buyer to dwell on the past before you can launch them into the future.
To illustrate the point, imagine if today I met up with you and asked you whether you would like to buy one aspirin for ten dollars? Would you say, yes? Probably not. But imagine now, that you have been on a drinking binge for three days and just woken up with a pounding headache, exacerbated by someone who has been playing drums in an apartment next door for the last 12 hours. Would you likely buy an aspirin for ten dollars then?
What’s the difference? The need.
To uncover the need and remind the buyer of it, you need to ask about the buyer’s previous frustrations and setbacks. You need the buyer to relive them to motivate them to take action to make their lives better. It is important to take this step before moving forward in the sales process. Selling to someone who does not perceive a need is a futile exercise. But the important point is that we all have needs and all we need is to be reminded of them.
Once you have rooted out the need, a pivotal point arises. Now you need to establish where the buyer is in the buying process as he perceives it? The magic question here is: “On a scale from 1 to 10 in terms of speaking, or whatever it is you are selling, where would you place yourself at this moment?” Presumably the buyer will say something less than 10. This opens the door for you now to talk about the buyer’s future, assuming the buyer accepts what you have in mind as what the buyer is considering.
Here you can employ the buyer’s imagination. You can ask the buyer to imagine what it would be like, say a year from now, if the buyer joined Toastmasters, or bought your drill, or hired you to get an immigration visa. A simple admission of improvement is not enough. The admission has to be tacked down from all sides. Would it make the buyer better? Happier? Wealthier? More successful? More confident? How would that make the buyer feel? What would the buyer’s family say?
Now it’s time for the price question. “How much does it cost?” Whenever the price comes up in a sales process it is time to return to the ‘why’ question. It is time to remind the buyer why the buyer is talking to you – the frustrations of the past. That is because price is always a matter of weighing your future promise against what other options the buyer has, including not doing anything. The buyer needs a “top up” in the motivation gas tank.
In my experience, it is always easier for a buyer to accept a price if it is presented as lower than an initial figure presented to the buyer. For example, if you say, “Well normally the cost of a new membership is $ 100, but right now we have a sale and the price is only $ 75,” that is easier than simply coming out with $ 100. That’s because when it comes to the price, all buyers brace themselves against what is coming next. It is easier to get the buyer to calculate the discount, than to face a flat statement of the cost. It also takes away one of the tools many buyers use in negotiations regarding the price, namely, are there any discounts? If you are considering a discount for a buyer, always ask first when will the buyer pay? Take away any delays they may want to introduce before moving forward in that area. Ask them to pay the full amount up front as the bargain for any discount.
Usually the buyer raises some objections somewhere in this process, so it is worthwhile to spend a moment illustrating how to deal with them. The process can be illustrated as follows:
Objection -> isolation of the real objection -> confirmation that the buyer will buy if it is answered properly -> relabeling the objection as a ‘question’ -> re-framing the ‘question’ in a more favorable context -> addressing it -> confirming the matter is no longer a problem.
Let’s take an example.
After dealing with the buyer for some time and bringing the buyer to the end of the process, the buyer inserts an objection that, “The price is too high.”
Following the objection handling process outlined above, we take the following steps:
- We feed the objection back to the buyer: “The price is too high?”Supposing the buyer confirms, yes it is the price problem.
- We isolate the real objection: “Assuming for the moment we deal with the price adequately for you, is there any other reason why you would not want to proceed today?” If the answer is no, you go on to the next step. If the answer is yes, then you ask what is the other reason. You then drop the price and move on to whatever more important reason there is.
- We now re-label the objection as a question. “So you are asking about the price then, is that right?” Assuming a yes, we focus on that question. If no, we get the buyer to re-state the objection and we re-label that into a question.
- Re-frame the question. For example, you might ask about the objection to the price being high, “Compared to what?” Then continue by steering the buyer back into his or her past frustrations with the status quo. Address the buyer’s questions as best you can, for example, by breaking the price down into payments, or by comparing the price with the price of other alternatives favorably.
- Having tackled the objection, you then ask, “Does that answer your question adequately?” If yes, then go into your closing. If not, ask why not.
There are many tools one can use to be better at sales, such as those that can be found in materials like Fred Herman’s audio program Keep It Simple Salesperson, the book The Secrets of Closing the Sale by Zig Ziglar and the book The Art of Closing the Sale by Brian Tracy. Turn to them to become batter at this.
In the end you must close the sale. One of the best approaches is to put a pen and your sales agreement in front of the buyer and have them fill it out while you guide them through it. There are many others that can be found in the materials cited.
Sales is a fascinating business. One can spend their life in sales and not learn everything there is to learn. One definition I read of sales is that it is a ‘transfer of enthusiasm.’ That is a good one. What can be said about the process is that it is worthwhile to study and learn no matter what your profession or calling. I am hoping this article might help you in your work and life in some small way.