Whether you are the owner of a small business or an employee, you know that the success of your business depends on your ability to sell your products and services at a fair price.
But you may be making common selling mistakes that could be costing you a fortune if you don’t use a sales system?
What Sales Training Have You Received In Sales Systems?
Have you received any formal sales training?
If so, was this sales training, one or more one-off courses or was it a series of training sessions designed to allow you to learn, try, experience, report back and have your techniques tightened so that you develop an effective sales system?
Or have you developed your own selling system yourself using informal sales training through self study of books and audio programs?
Or are you self taught?
A graduate of the school of hard knocks? Have you learnt everything you know about sales through bitter experience experience on the road but you have now boiled it down to a sales system that works for you?
From the stories I’ve heard and the surveys I’ve seen, too many sales people don’t have formal training and many don’t even read books or listen to audio programmes designed to improve their selling skills.
That only leaves the school of hard knocks and that can be a very expensive school of lower than necessary sales and personal earnings. No wonder there can be so many short appointments with sales people changing employers frequently.
I see this lack of focus on developing an effective sales or selling system as strange given the pressures and stress of being at the front end and the incentivised rewards available in many sales positions.
Do You Have A Sales System Or Are You Still Searching?
After all your experience and your sales training, have you developed a sales system?
What do I mean by a sales system or a selling system?
A sales system is a formal process that you look to apply to all sales (although it should be flexible enough to adapt to specific buying situations).
A sales system means that you can clearly define your sales approach and that means that you can teach it to someone else.
That’s critical if you are the business owner who is looking to delegate selling to someone else as your business grows and it is essential if you are a sales director or manager and you want to have a common approach applied across all your sales representatives.
- whether you have a sales system and
- how good your sales system is
go along way to explaining how consistent your sales success is and how well it compares with other sales professionals.
A sales system will mean that:
- You treat your customers consistently – between customers and across different days for the same customer. Consistency makes your prospect feel confident and that helps to move them towards the buying decision.
- Your company will treat customers consistently across sales people. This helps to transfer accounts smoothly where people leave and raises the standard of the weaker sales people.
- You have a clear process that you can measure and improve.
This last point is critical.
The essence of good selling is high results.
All the lessons on how to get good results indicate that you need to have a formal system or process (but I’m not talking necessarily about rigid scripts).
If you have the same basic system that you use with each prospective customer, your measurements start meaning something because you’ve applied those techniques consistently.
If you do different things on different calls (in effect by allowing your sales call to be controlled by the buyer – not usually a technique that leads to success) and some weeks you convert 20% of leads into orders, some weeks you convert only 10% and in some great weeks you convert 33%, you won’t know why.
Was it something you did in the good weeks or did you just get lucky with your prospective customers who had an urgent need to solve their problem quickly and easily.
But if you have a system you can start analysing your results in a meaningful way.
You know how you plan to approach each call and you can audit yourself.
Did you really apply your system as well as you wanted? Did you ask your five questions to identify the prospects pain? Did you qualify the prospect correctly at the start or did you assume that they were the decision keeper?
Even more importantly, when you have a system you can then look to improve it incrementally at each stage. If you believe that prospecting is a weak area, then you can go out and look for new or better ways for prospecting. When you find some ideas you can then try them out and see what worked (and is worth repeating) and what didn’t.
I believe that having a formal sales system is essential to your sales success.
But let me tell you some bad news.
There Is NO One Best Sales System
Despite what is said in the marketing literature (and sales presentations) by sales training companies, there is not one sales system that can be said to be totally superior to any other.
And there never can be.
Let me take you through a hypothetical situation where I come up with a way that is virtually guaranteed to make any buyer fall onto their knees and beg to be a customer as soon as they experience the magic of the system. There’s no difficult closing techniques, no cheesy lines, no embarrassment.
It sounds so good that we’ll call it Paul’s Secret Successful Sales System just so that it’s got a name.
Having invented Paul’s Secret Successful Sales System, I now need to go out and sell it so that I can train people up on my sales system and coach them how to use it properly.
Of course, because I know the secrets, selling the sales training is not going to be a problem so I slap a £10,000 price tag onto it and contact a few local customers.
As expected they fall to their knees and beg to be let on to the course. I’m only taking limited numbers on these early coaching sessions so it creates quite a furore. Even more when I put one of the places up in Ebay and the price keeps rising from £10,000 to £15,000 to £25,000 with a few days still left.
The press get on to it and I find myself and details of Paul’s Secret Successful Sales System featured in all the business magazines.
Over the next few months I then deliver the sales training course and hold my sales coaching sessions.
My proteges start putting the secrets into action with amazing results.
Reports come back of lead conversion percentages jumping from 10% to 85% despite a 100% price increase. Proteges come back and report that average order values have increased by a factor of 600%….
My proteges are telling everyone they know, just how great this new sales system is and how it has transformed their lives.
You get the picture.
I’m now frantically selling more courses of Paul’s Secret Successful Sales System and I’m also training my trainers so that they can take it throughout the country and then worldwide.
Momentum builds. More and more people are using Paul’s Secret Successful Sales System and are getting great results.
But then something happens.
Results start falling in the areas where my penetration rates have been highest – perhaps geographically or by industry.
Suddenly people aren’t doubling their conversion rates within weeks of starting the course.
New sales trainees aren’t so happy and Paul’s Secret Successful Sales System is no longer seen as the way to go.
There was nothing wrong with Paul’s Secret Successful Sales System – it is a great system for helping buyers recognise their issues, realise that they need to act today and that you are the credible source for supply.
The problem is that it stopped being a Secret.
And that affected both sides of the table.
The buyers quickly become aware of the system
They didn’t like begging for permission to becoming a customer. They didn’t like the sales person having all the power. They didn’t like having to explain why they had just agreed to a 73% price rise for your products to their bosses.
So they took the trouble to research it (they didn’t have any problems identifying it because of all the press coverage) and they started pulling it apart, picking at areas where they could destabilise the process and put the sales person on the defensive.
Articles were written in the buyers’ professional journals on how to counter Paul’s Secret Successful Sales System and expensive training courses started to be run to help coach the buyer during the heat and pressure of the negotiations.
Selling to these “trained” buyers became much more difficult. Not impossible but more difficult.
Competitors started using the same system
Everyone’s got competitors and often there are five or ten companies chasing the order from a particular customer.
When the first company in that industry started using Paul’s Secret Successful Sales System they had remarkable success and started picking up 9 out of every 10 new orders.
The change in fortunes was so big that their competitors immediately noticed the fall in new business and started wondering why.
Some blamed the economy.
Some blamed their own sales people who must have become lazy and useless.
Some investigated and discovered that the highly successful company was using Paul’s Secret Successful Sales System and how it had revolutionised their business.
So first one and then another signed up to the £10,000 courses to learn the system and started to put it into action.
That caused the first company’s success rates to fall from 90% to 45% when the second company was effectively using the system and then it fell to 33% when the third company was well practised.
This is the nature of the competitive system.
Any competitive advantage quickly gets eroded if it is not protected and none of these companies could protect it because I owned the intellectual property rights to the selling system and it was in my interests to make sure that everybody knew about as quickly as possible.
So while I hypothetically made a lot of money from the system, my pitch changed from “Use Paul’s Secret Successful Sales System and dominate your market” to “Use Paul’s Secret Successful Sales System to protect your business”.
There was still a compelling reason to buy.
I could still walk around with my head held high because I was selling a top notch quality product.
But as more buyers and competitors sales people became aware of it, the previous success rates reduced and that is why there never can be one best sales system.
But there can be one best sales system for you.
The example I’ve just used about Paul’s Secret Successful Sales System is not intended to put down sales systems.
I believe that they are essential to any kind of professional selling.
It was to encourage you to think carefully about the selling system you use or choose to buy into.
There is definitely a system that will boost your sales rates but it’s just a matter of finding it, assessing it, committing to it and improving on it.
The right system depends on:
- Your products and services
- Your buyers
- Your competitors
But it also relies on effective and rigorous implementation. Even a Bugatti isn’t going to win the race if you don’t switch the engine on and you don’t drive it to win.
How You Affect The Choice Of Selling System
We all have our own values and beliefs and any sales system must be consistent with your beliefs and the way you see your world.
If the system expects you to behave in a way that clashes with what you believe (perhaps you feel that it’s manipulative) then you are either not going to use it at all or you are not going to use it with conviction.
Are you looking for an easy way to find the right sales system or are you willing to take a good look at a few different systems?
There are a lot of proprietary systems out there that you could take a look at or do you want to develop your own?
How Your Products And Services Affect the Choice Of Sales System
Let’s be brutally honest.
You want to increase sales but are your products and services worthy of the business?
There are a number of different situations that you may be in:
- You believe that your product is clearly superior to anything else on the market.
- Your product is one of the best available and offers good value for money.
- Your product is very similar to that offered by competitors but it does deliver the benefits that the customers want to buy.
- Your product is very similar to that offered by competitors but none of them offer much chance of delivering the promised benefits but does offer the buyer strong emotional benefits.
- Your product doesn’t really do what it says on the tin but neither do competitive products.
- Your product is outclassed by other offerings on the market but is much cheaper for the economy minded buyer.
- Your product stinks. Any well informed buyer would be crazy to buy.
What I’m asking you to face up to is the issue of manipulation and how much you need to manipulate your buyers into believing that your product is better than it really is.
You see perhaps you don’t have a sales problem but a product/service quality problem that you are hoping can be covered up by a sales system.
My advice is simple.
Fix the other problems first and then come back and find a sales system.
I believe that buyers often need to be led because it’s in their best interests (see my blog on Jay Abraham’s strategy of preeminence).
That means that buyers must be encouraged to face up to the problems and the pain (financially or emotionally) that those issues are costing them. I believe that solving that problem can’t be put off by minor objections that don’t really make sense. I certainly believe that the sales process must be brought to a conclusion rather than allowed to drift on endlessly.
I believe that buyers may need to be influenced to favour your company.
I believe that customers may need to be persuaded to buy.
But I don’t believe in manipulation and can’t see how any honest person can be in favour of selling something that isn’t going to give the benefits that the customer wants.
Isn’t it called stealing when people take something and give nothing back of value?
That kind of behaviour gives salespeople a bad reputation and makes it harder for all subsequent sales people who have to deal with that buyer.
In most businesses it doesn’t make economic sense to rip customers off because the profit is often in subsequent business.
It’s often said that it costs 600% more to sell to a new customer than an existing one. But a customer who has been ripped off isn’t going to buy again and again.
So I’ll ask again. Do you have a product or service that is worthy of the buyer’s money?
How Your Buyers Affect The Choice Of Sales Systems
What type of buyers do you have?
Do you sell to extremely professional buyers who know all of the tricks? David Sandler tells the story of a salesperson getting ready to close by drawing a line down a piece of paper and the prospect stopping him and saying “The Ben Franklin close is not going to work on me.”
In these situations the Sandler Sales System could be effective as it doesn’t rely on old style techniques for handling objections and closing.
Alternatively you may sell to buyers who need help, who aren’t sure what they should buy and need to be lead so a consultative selling style may suit.
How Your Competitors Affect The Choice Of Sales Systems
Do you know what selling system your best competitors use?
If you do, then you have a choice – to use the same one and try to close their advantage or to try a different one and hope to open up an advantage of your own.
Because my own background skills are in strategy I have a preference for being different. Trying to be the same as your competitors takes away choice from the buyers. Trying to work in a different, better way creates an advantage while being different in an equally good way creates a choice.
The buyer may find your approach better or worse than a competitor but it gives a reason for the purchase decision that isn’t based on price and that generally means better industry profitability.
But How Do You Find Out About The Different Systems?
It’s simple. You have to try them. Most aim to popularise their techniques through books or audio courses.
I’m a big fan of audio courses for sales material with so much time in the car. It’s both a great way to make that time productive and it’s a refresher and tune-up of your selling skills before you make the next call.
My intention is that this blog develops into a core article on developing sales systems and so, over time, it will develop as I come across new sales systems or more familiar with existing systems.
I also hope that it will attract lots of comments from experienced sales people who will share their experiences of the different sales systems, either directly on this blog or on dedicated blogs about the particular selling system.
Below are a few suggestions in no particular order (the links are to Amazon and most of the audio links refer to Learn Out Loud or Nightingale Conant and are affiliate links so if you buy, I should earn a commission):
SPIN Selling – a sales system focused on asking particular questions to establish paid and benefits.
SPIN Sales Questions – article on my blog explain the SPIN questioning techniques
David Sandler and The Sandler Sales Institute
Peter produces a premium business growth training product called the Accelerated Business Growth System.
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