You need more than a smile and a shoeshine

Sunday, February 1, 2004

Ever have the perfect sales meeting? You know, the one where you said everything you were supposed to say, and the customer said more than you could ever hope for? For most salespeople, the perfect pitch remains an elusive target – something that we can aspire to but seldom attain. But sales professionals who take the time to combine the art of presentation with the science of a simple five-step process can push the odds in their favor.

The first step involves some fact-finding and defining what the customer needs. Use all the tools you can: from scripting a few questions to running an Internet search on the company and its niche. Identifying all the needs that are in play – are they real or perceived, personal or business? This lets you properly tighten your sales grip on the customer.

The second step is to prove to the customer that you can provide value by answering their need. Use whatever tools you have at hand – anything from hard numbers on spreadsheets showing true returns on investment, to a softer outline of the intuitive benefits of meeting the need.

The third step sees you present a solution that meets the needs and provides value. Communication skills are at a premium during this step as you begin to make your case for the “win.” To make as much hay as possible, back yourself up with the right tools. A formal proposal outlining all the elements behind the solution needs to remain with your customer after you depart. A PowerPoint presentation can drive home your case with easy-to-recall pictures, while case studies and referrals are meaningful when interspersed in the presentation and relevant to the customer’s needs. My favorite is the oft-maligned flip chart or white board, which mixes spontaneity with down-to-earth “points to ponder.”

The fourth step involves communicating two statements on value. The first is simple: the value of meeting the need is greater than the cost of meeting the need. Since customers like people who can deliver on their value propositions, this is no time for being subtle or humble. Use the verbal equivalent of a sledgehammer to emphasize how you have zeroed in on answering their needs in the most efficient way possible. BAM! The second value statement is equally important: the value of us is greater than the value of them. Square your shoulders, look the customer in the eye, and present yourself as someone who stands above the competition. Our culture has unfairly stigmatized salespeople and criticized “sales” as a vocation, not a profession. Hogwash! It’s a fact that nothing in business happens until someone sells something – and your customers should appreciate the professionalism of your five-step sales approach.

Finally, the fifth step: the close! My best advice is to resist the impulse to take closings for granted. Surgeons need their final sutures, lawyers need their final arguments, and salespeople need to ask for the order. This step is as important as any other, and if you’ve properly worked the process, you’ve easily earned the right to ask the customer for their business.

Robert Ricucci is president and chief executive officer of Protection Service Industries, a security and safety solutions company with over 70,000 customers in the western United States.