Selling your products or services is the key to creating a successful business, but don't assume that clients will automatically approach you, even if you own a store.
It is important to see selling as a process where the actual financial transaction is the last in a series of steps you need to take to reach that point. You can use your marketing strategy to raise awareness and even drive customer response, but this will not replace the need to proactively look for customers and sell to them.
This guide covers the first steps you should take to get your sales process underway, and is particularly relevant for those who sell to other businesses. It will give you tips on how to generate sales leads and convert them into appointments.
There is also information on retail and website selling and how to adjust the process to maximise customer traffic.
Ensuring that your business has a constant source of potential new customers is one of the most important aspects of selling. Even if you have a full order book at the moment, this can soon change if you don't devote sufficient time to generating sales leads.
How do leads turn into sales?
Achieving a sale often works on the basis of percentages. If you call 20 potential new clients, you might expect to arrange four sales appointments, go back with two firm sales proposals and finally secure one order for your goods or services. This is called the 'funnel effect' and indicates how many new leads you might need to keep your order book full.
Mapping your territory
Before you start sourcing leads, decide on where you are going to base your search, and in which sectors. If your product or service could be widely used, start locally and target particular geographical areas. If you have a niche product or service, switch your focus to particular companies nationally or internationally.
Tips for finding new sales leads
There are many ways of finding new leads, such as:
- referrals from existing clients
- searching the Internet
- reading trade publications, newspaper articles and business advertising
- attending networking and conference events
- using your local library
- driving around your local area to see which businesses are based there
When you are sourcing new leads, get as much information as possible, including:
- geographical address and phone number
- website address
- name of the key contact, e.g. owner, purchasing manager
- business sector
Storing information on a database allows you to keep track of who you have already contacted and spot patterns where you have been successful in selling to certain business sectors.
You can also buy a database of business leads from a variety of suppliers. These can be expensive, and you may need to employ staff, depending on the size of the list.
Making sales appointments
Once you have collected a number of sales leads, you need to decide on the best way to contact them - e.g. face to face, on the phone, by letter or email.
Group your list of prospects into similar business sectors, conduct research into their industry and decide how your product or service can help with their particular business needs. If you contact prospects in a particular sector in succession, you can spot any similarities in their objections, and adjust your approach accordingly.
If you decide to source new leads by calling in to business premises or phoning them, you will need to deliver a confident introduction, take control of the conversation and be able to deal with any initial objections.
Prepare a mini-commercial, a 30-second statement that promotes your goods or services by outlining the benefits to the client, tailored to their industry sector.
It is unlikely that the person you really need to speak to will be the first person in an organisation that you come across. Therefore, you will need to get past the gatekeeper, who may have been told to reject sales calls. This can be done by:
- asking for the key contact by name in the first place
- developing a rapport with the gatekeeper
- presenting the prospect of a lost opportunity if they don't assist you
Introduce yourself to the key contact and use your mini-commercial. If they have any objections, suggest a meeting to formally answer the queries they have. Ensure you outline the potential benefits and mention any customers you already have in their industry sector.
Avoid entering into a sales negotiation, but try to secure a date and time for a meeting and ask who will be attending, especially any person who could potentially sign an order.
Using emails and letters
An email or letter may get past the gatekeeper, but follow up this method (after an appropriate period) with a phone call to check if the right contact has received it.
Keep the email or letter short. Include a client testimonial if possible. For emails, make the subject line interesting so that the recipient will open the email. In a letter, use a bold heading at the top to summarise why the recipient should read on.
Preparing for the sales appointment
Thorough preparation before a sales call is critical to achieving a good conversion rate of potential clients into firm orders. In the sales meeting, if you struggle to answer any objections or queries you will almost certainly lose any potential sale.
Research the client, check their website and any advertising (including recruitment) that they are currently using. Look at other businesses in their industry and who their customers are - knowing about your potential client's customers is vital for understanding what the client's needs and issues might be.
Be aware of your competitors and what they offer - this helps you to decide how to make your business stand out. See our guide on how to understand your competitors.
Prepare a list of questions to ask your potential client, based on your research. This can expose any potential issues they have that your product or service could solve. You can use this list of questions as a template for your future sales calls.
Set out your objectives for the meeting. Do you want to:
- Secure an order?
- Raise awareness for the future?
- Set up another meeting with other key stakeholders?
The sales presentation
Depending on the type of meeting, number of attendees and facilities available, your presentation could be an informal meeting or more formal and technology-based. See the page in this guide on using presentation technology.
You should focus on:
- introducing your business and its products or services
- outlining the key benefits of using your business
- addressing any potential objections you think the client might have
Your presentation should provide the potential client with an overriding set of reasons to buy your product or services. Passion and commitment to your business - conviction-selling - can be more effective than relying on logical arguments.
If you can achieve all this then closing the sale afterwards will be much easier. See our guide on closing and following up the sale.
Using presentation technology
Presentation technology such as PowerPoint is now widely used by businesses, but there are some ways to make your presentation stand out.
- Arrive in time to set up equipment and to solve any technical problems.
- Rehearse the presentation so you're comfortable with the material and you can make eye contact with the audience, rather than constantly having to refer to notes.
- Check that your presentation can be read from a distance and limit the use of font types, colours and excessive wording. Make sure there is lots of clear space.
- Have hardcopy printouts, in case of technology failure.
- Include testimonials from other clients in the handouts - pick out key elements for the presentation.
- Use a friendly approach but use humour with caution.
- Dress smartly - the audience will judge your appearance as well as the presentation.
Make the presentation as interactive as possible, e.g. by posing questions to the audience on key points, to encourage a dialogue, rather than a lecture.
- Make it too long - get to the point quickly and explain why it is relevant to the audience.
- Talk to the screen and turn your back on your audience - what you say is more important than what is on the screen.
- Use long sentences and multiple bullet points on a screen. Phrases and keywords are much more likely to be remembered.
- Use too many colours or combinations which are difficult to distinguish between, e.g. red on black or green on brown.
- Use serif fonts such as Times New Roman, which are not suitable for display purposes. It is better to use sans-serif fonts such as Arial.
- Use outdated tools such as Clip Art. Use colour photographs instead - but beware of copyright issues and use them only where relevant.
- Use animation, e.g. words flying in from the side of the screen - it is distracting and can make your presentation look amateurish.
- Use diagrams or charts that are overly complex - keep these for the handouts.
- Forget to double-check your presentation for mistakes. Your credibility will be damaged if you have failed to pay attention to detail.
Building sales confidence
Making a presentation or a sales call can be a big challenge. Proficiency in this area only comes through preparation and practice. The more experience you have, the less nervous you are likely to feel.
It is normal to have a degree of nerves and it can even be useful to keep you focused. Someone who is over-confident can come across as arrogant and possibly even insincere.
Rehearse your presentation several times - ideally ask colleagues for feedback. The more confidently you deliver it, the more likely the client will be inclined to believe in you and your business.
Tailor your presentation once you have covered your list of questions in the meeting itself, so don't just learn it in parrot-fashion. Be prepared to miss out elements or cover issues the client mentions at the last minute.
Speak slowly. Nerves may mean that you speed up. Time your presentation during rehearsal and keep an eye on your watch on the day. Keep a glass of water close by and take a few deep breaths before starting to speak.
If you might shake, avoid holding pieces of paper, which will display your nerves to the audience.
Standing up and smiling can help you feel - and sound - more confident, positive and in control.
Focus on the key reasons for and desired outcomes of making the phone call, not your performance.
Not everyone will want your product or service and some people may appear rude. Don't take comments personally and compose yourself before moving on to the next call - they could be your next potential client.
Improving low confidence levels
You may find that you lose confidence if you repeatedly endure rejections. As well as adjusting your cold calling and sales meeting techniques, you could also remind yourself of:
- our objectives for going into business
- the need to generate sales
- why your product or service is better than others on the market
- the feedback from satisfied customers.
Retail and website sales
If you sell in a retail or online environment you will need to adjust your approach to sales - your customers may be members of the public as well as other businesses.
There are various sales techniques that you should use if you own a store, including:
- Window dressing - make sure your shop window is attractive and sets the scene for what the customer can expect inside. Change the display regularly to keep customers interested.
- Layout - put accessories next to matching clothes or place common products at different ends of a store to encourage impulse purchases.
- In-store promotions - put banners and captions around the shop pushing special offers and new products.
- Loss leaders, e.g. 'three for the price of two' - these heavily discounted items are often found next to more expensive ones, encouraging customers to buy something else because they have a good deal.
Focus on providing a retail 'experience' to customers - setting the right atmosphere through the store environment and friendly staff will encourage customers to buy and to return in the future.
Getting retailers to stock your product
If you sell through somebody else's store you need to think about how you can persuade the retailers to stock your products - and display them prominently. It may help if you provide point-of-purchase promotional material.
It's worth carrying out research to identify the needs of a particular store and its target market. You're then in a better position to tell the retailer how they will benefit from stocking your product and how your product differs from what they already offer.
Retailers are unlikely just to be interested in how well your product sells. Other concerns may include how the product complements an existing range and how quickly you can provide more stock on demand. You can also increase their margin of profit by cutting yours, if this might persuade them to position your product more favourably in the store.
As with retail sales, you need to create an attractive home page (or store window), then provide an interesting and easily navigable customer experience once they start to look around the website (layout).
However, there are certain differences you need to bear in mind:
- You don't have the benefit of friendly staff, so the design and layout of your site is critical - make the site friendly and intuitive to use.
- Customers won't be able to touch your products - ensure that you use lots of high quality photos.
- Comparison of your products with those of your competitors is quicker and easier - pricing is therefore a major factor so you may have to accept lower margins.
- Online transactions can sometimes be seen as insecure - reassure customers about security and ensure that your site provides a quick and easy-to-use system.
Original document, Planning to sell, © Crown copyright 2009
Source: Business Link UK [now GOV.UK/Business)
Adapted for Québec by Info entrepreneurs