How to Be a Great — Not Just Good — Salesperson

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A good salesperson must be confident, good at listening, and relentless – even when things are not easy. But the cream of the crop usually possess a unique ability to simplify business and communication. Those looking to classify themselves as great, rather than good, salespeople must be prepared to simplify customer interactions — and simplification can be tough.

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Avoid the 'Learn by Mistake' Sales Technique

The Greatest Salesman in the World author Augustine "Og" Mandino said, "Obstacles are necessary for success, because in selling, as in all careers of importance, victory comes only after many struggles and countless defeats." But what if it were possible to reduce the number of obstacles we encounter in sales?

Great salespeople recognize potential hurdles before beginning any specific sales script or process. In order to accomplish this, it's critical to have a solid understanding of the following:

- What is the offering I am selling?

- Who are my intended customers?

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- How can I communicate features and benefits of my offering in a simple, relatable way?

Step 1: Understand Your Offering

You can't sell something you don't understand. The greatest salespeople understand their offering so well that they can build a story, rather than make a pitch or sound like they have memorized a product spec sheet.

Before building a great story, you have to play the role of a journalist:

- Who should be using this offering? Think beyond basic demographic groups like "everyone," "men," or "parents." Instead, build up characters based on everything you can get your hands on. Sure, you may include demographic traits, but also think through daily life. For instance, when would be the best time to catch up with this kind of person?

- What makes this offering special? Take time to explore the nature of the offering, the problem it solves, and all the associated benefits. Knowing your offering also means knowing its competition.

- Where is this offering available and/or manufactured? Accessibility is key to understanding how you can step in front of your potential customer and when the customer is likely to be nearby. Additionally, some populations are motivated by an offering's background, particularly if it is handmade, locally made, or manufactured in the United States.

- Why is this product or service valuable? This process begins by understanding that "value" is not black and white. Different consumers define value uniquely. As the salesperson, you should understand the multiple value propositions so that you can, after listening to and understanding your potential customer's preferences and needs, emphasize the appropriate one(s).

Step 2: Qualify Your Customer

Great salespeople take time to speak with their customers — not to or at them. They begin each conversation with direct eye contact and a firm handshake, and they introduce themselves by their first names. This process also allows the salesperson to qualify their customer, discovering how to sell an offering to them.

Anytime you engage with a customer, you should be attempting to learn answers to the following questions:

- How can I help you? Another way of asking this is, "Can I help you find something?" As the salesperson, you are looking to understand what the customers define as their problems.

- What is important to you? Seek to understand whether price or durability trumps specific features, luxury trumps practicality, and more. You can use this information to begin ranking value propositions.

- What is your budget? Typically, people have an understanding of how much they can afford to spend, and for larger purchases they know whether they can finance a product. By getting this information upfront, you'll be able to guide them to a product or service that will solve a problem within the budget they can afford. And you may gain their trust by reassuring them that their budget provides options.

Step 3: Tailor and Simplify Your Message

While qualifying customers, you will likely learn interesting facts, including information about their careers, where they live, and their families. Armed with this information, you can now begin to tailor your message.

To illustrate how a message can be tailored, I will tell you a story. At Presidential Pools, we offer in-floor cleaning systems for swimming pools. These are complex systems that involve jets pushing water into drains that filter out debris underneath a pool. Given the variety of pool shapes and sizes today, they are far more effective and autonomous than the ugly robotic cleaners with which you may be familiar.

By the second sentence of that quick description, most pool buyers are overwhelmed. Pools already have many parts, and in-floor cleaning systems just add more. So our salespeople cannot focus on parts and functions with most customers. Instead, with some customers, one great salesman uses the following:

Have you ever cooked soup on a stove? Or did you mom ever do that for you? You have to keep stirring the pot to keep the heat evenly distributed, right? That's the only way to avoid curdling on the top and scalding on the bottom. 

Just like soup, a pool is best kept clean and comfortable by stirring the whole pot. That's what an in-floor cleaning system does. Its jets move water around, pushing debris out while keeping the temperature even.

This is, of course, only one way to tailor a description about this offering. There are stories to illustrate safety, durability, ease of maintenance, and other value propositions associated with an in-floor cleaning system. No matter what the offering, the story a great salesman tells is crafted to best match the customer's interests and understanding of the world.

Regardless of whether the customer is a stay-at-home mom, an engineer, or a grocery store clerk, great salespeople will articulate an offering's benefits by using real world examples applicable to their daily lives. Technical jargon not only tends to confuse people, but it also can make them uncomfortable. Great salespeople will use metaphors or explain how a product works by comparing the product to something that most people can understand.

Great salespeople know the ins and outs of anything they sell, take time to qualify their customers, and then tailor how they communicate the offering's features and benefits in a simple, relatable way.

James Frabasilio is the president of Presidential Pools, Spas Patio.