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18 Proven Sales Tactics That Work in Any Industry

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Developing a strong sales program is the most critical aspect of any business. Without effective sales strategies, companies will not be able to compete and grow. Sales professionals must learn how to implement proven sales tactics that work.

As a sales team manager, one of your responsibilities is to provide your team with effective sales strategies that will increase your company’s profits. Effective sales processes are not just about working hard and putting in long hours. In fact, many sales teams work long and hard without experiencing results.

sales professional at work

Effective sales strategies involve employing the best strategies in the right situations. Here are 18 sales tactics that can work for sales teams in every industry.

  1. Be persistent with leads and develop the habit of following up with each customer. According to the latest sales research, 80 percent of sales transactions require 5 interactions after the first contact with a customer. Many salespeople are primarily concerned with immediate sales. If they do not get the sale at the first meeting, they silently give up and continue their hunt for the next immediate sale. However, savvy sales professionals understand that they must nurture viable leads until an action is taken. These ‘rock star’ sales professionals send emails, direct mail, make phone calls or send brochures to customers at designated intervals. By taking this action, your customers will think of you when it is time to make their next purchases.
  2. Solve your customers’ problems. Successful businesses thrive in competitive industries because they provide solutions to meet their customers’ needs. There are many sales professionals who do not fully understand their roles in the transaction. Consider this fact. As many as 70 percent of your leads are reaching out to you to solve their problems. When customers contact your sales team, your sales professionals must be able to demonstrate to them how they can quickly and easily solve their problems.
  3. Develop the ability to actively listen to customers. Customers have access to pages of information on the internet. In many instances, they may be as knowledgeable as your sales team. When sales professionals interact with knowledgeable customers, they might be tempted to talk constantly to show them that they are qualified. It is important to remind your salespeople that they should never get into a knowledge power struggle with customers. Sales professionals should always listen more than they talk. They should ask questions that probe into their clients’ thought processes and carefully consider the responses. The goal is to make customers feel as if they are respected throughout the sales process.
  4. Use polite terms when you discuss the competition. Your sales team should always strive to present themselves in a positive light and use professional language. There is nothing that screams unprofessional like using derogatory terms to discuss other people or companies. Although customers may participate in the negative conversation, bad mouthing any person or company is never a good sales tactic. If a competitor does not have a good reputation, the members of your sales team should remain neutral.
  5. Earn your referrals before you ask for them. Sales professionals know that referrals are the proverbial ‘holy grail’ of marketing. In fact, 91 percent of customers will provide a referral contact to a salesperson that they like. Before you think about asking your customers for referrals, you should focus on providing them with a quality customer service experience. During the transaction, your goal is to develop positive relationships with your customers. After you have determined that they are happy with your services, it is a good idea to pursue the referrals. When it comes to soliciting referrals, timing is important.
  6. Ask for referrals from your customers. You might not believe it but only 11 percent of sales professionals ask clients for referrals. According to this data, the majority of salespeople are leaving money on the table. Most customers are generous, and they would happily share your good customer service with friends, family members and colleagues, but you have to ask. If your sales team waits for their customers to initiate a conversation about referrals, it might never happen. Teach your sales team how to integrate referral conversations into the sales process at the appropriate time.
  7. Adhere to strict deadlines with your customers. Sales professionals must create a sense of urgency with customers, or the deals will take much longer than necessary. Changing deadlines according to the whims of each customer makes sales professionals lose credibility. The old adage, where there is a will there is a way, applies here. If customers want to meet the obligations of a transaction by the deadline, they will definitely find a way to make it happen.
  8. Develop relationships with your customers. Without customer relationships, it can seem as if you are always in the vicious cycle of trying to ‘drum up’ new business. Your past customers can be an excellent source of new transactions for years to come. When your initial transaction is completed, you do not have to end the relationship at that point. Find creative ways to keep in contact with your customers.
  9. Identify your customers’ needs and meet them. Sales professionals should never lose sight that the only purpose of the sales transaction is to help customers. Since transactions are closely associated with money, it is easy to lose sight of this fact. Create a list of questions that you can use to pinpoint exactly what the customer needs from the transaction. These questions will enable you to save time with customers and get to the heart of the matter. Once customers believe that you understand their predicament, they will work with you to meet their needs.
  10. Be able to distinguish a lead from a customer and act accordingly. Brace yourself for this disheartening fact. According to a report by Gleanster Research, only 25 percent of all leads are legitimate and ready to complete a transaction. Leads are potential transactions, and you cannot bank your future on potential. You should categorize your leads and create campaigns to interact with each type. For example, warm leads should have a different marketing strategy than cold calls. Time is a limited resource. It is best to use it wisely.
  11. Solicit targeted leads. A difficult lesson for many sales professionals to learn is that every person with a pulse will not be a customer. Since this is the case, sales professionals must create a strategic plan to attract customers that fit their target markets. One way to do this is to make good use of technology to find leads that could use your services. For example, credit professionals who are targeting people who are recovering from bankruptcy can use the public record to find people who fit this profile. Once you have found your potential customers, create a customized sales pitch that will appeal to each demographic.
  12. Learn to uncover each customer’s pain points. Television advertisements are known for pushing the viewer’s hot buttons in order to get them to take action. Fear of loss is the most common pain points that advertisers address. The primary mission of every sale professional, as emphasized in our negotiation training courses, is to find a customer’s pain points and use them to their advantage. Ron Shapiro said it best when he stated, “In order to get what you want, help them get what they want.” Sales professionals can start the search for pain points by asking closed-ended questions that only require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. As the customer begins to feel comfortable, the salesperson should ask open-ended questions that will prompt customers to reveal additional information. Once the vital information is discovered, salespeople can use it to help their customers take action.
  13. Master the art of storytelling. When sales professionals meet with customers, they are usually armed with all sorts of facts and data. Although data may seem important, studies suggest that only 5 percent of people remember statistics after a presentation. However, an impressive 63 percent of people remember stories after a presentation. Sales professionals need to arm themselves with stories about relevant experiences of people who have received favorable results after using their products and services.
  14. Stand by your product or service and offer some type of guarantee. If your customers are willing to part with their cash, your company should at least be willing to offer a guarantee on the product or service. The guarantee can be a refund or replacement. If you are afraid of most of your customers taking you up on a money back guarantee policy, you should not be. Less than 10 percent of customers return items each year. A product or service guarantee provides your customers with peace of mind that lets them know that they are protected in the event that something goes awry.
  15. Find prospects who want the things you have to sell. The best way to navigate through water is to go with the current instead of swimming against it. In sales, going with the current means that if you are selling chicken, your leads are people who like chicken. If your prospects are vegan, then it will be nearly impossible to sell your chicken products to them. If you want to be certain that your clients need the items you are selling, you should pre-qualify them before you actively market to them.
  16. Develop compelling goals and an actionable plan. Successful people know where they want to go, and they develop an action plan to help them propel toward their destination. Goal-setting and planning are critical to any sales team’s success. According to a study conducted by Inc. Magazine, sales teams that set goals realized a 28 percent increase in sales. Teaching goal-setting strategies should be a mandatory part of every organization’s corporate sales training manual.
  17. Show customers proof that your product or service actually works. When you look at infomercials for weight loss products, they often show ‘before and after’ pictures of previous users of the products. They understand that new customers are motivated by social proof. Sales professionals should keep customer testimonials in a binder or in their laptops to share with customers. When customers are able to view the visible proof, they will be more likely to invest in your product or service.
  18. Maintain a positive mindset. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you might be surprised by the number of sales professionals who develop a jaded outlook because of sales slumps. Sales professionals must make every effort to remain positive in good and tough times. Developing a positive attitude has many benefits. Customers can tell when you are not in a good mood, and it will affect the transaction. A positive outlook helps sales professionals look for solutions to pending problems. When your sales professionals are positive, they will be able to handle stressful situations.

In this competitive business environment, sales professionals need to learn all the tricks of the trade in order to close a deal. By using these sales tactics that work, your sales team can learn to thrive in any economic climate.

Identify Types – Know What Kind of “Difficult” You’re Up Against

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Before you meet with a person, you should do a little homework. Making identification an automatic habit will help ease this step and better your skills. First do some research to learn about the person and their background, reputation, and even quirks. The more you know about the person before you meet him or her, the better prepared and less surprised you’ll be by their behavior. Next make observations each time you encounter the person, watch closely, and listen carefully. Being aware of subtle cues from and verbal and nonverbal communication including body language can help you pick up on feelings and intentions. Finally, probe to help bond and find common ground even with challenging personalities.

There are three types of difficult people:

1. The Situationally Difficult: Those people whose situation or circumstances make them difficult

• Normally nice people who become difficult under stress
• Their reactions are out of proportion to the event

Success Technique – Once you address their emotion, negotiations can proceed

2. The Strategically Difficult: Those people who believe being unreasonable is effective

• People who make you feel as if they are “up to something”
• People who try to make you “play by their rules”

Success Technique – If you address the tactic, they will modify their behavior.

3. The Simply Difficult: Those people with an ingrained personality characteristic

• People who make demands but do not explain why
• People who are difficult regardless of the situation

Success Technique – If you balance the power, you have a better chance of success.

The Big L

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An article by Cynthia Crossen from The Wall Street Journal a few years back reported that, “Most people speak at a rate of 120 to 150 words a minute, but the human brain can easily process more than 500 words a minute, leaving plenty of time for mental fidgeting.”  Herein lays one of the great obstacles to effective listening.  We have the biological capability to listen to everything, yet we often miss a lot of information because we get bored or disinterested.

In a negotiation, the last thing you want to do is lose out on information.  Everything the other side says is potentially valuable to help you make a deal.  Let the other side talk as much as they want.  Listen between the lines to what is said and what is omitted.  Listen for nuance and emotion.  Listen with your eyes to see their mannerisms and comfort level with each topic.  All the material you need to make the deal is there, it’s just up to you to gather it.

When it is your time to speak, make what you say count.  Don’t feel obligated to match the amount of time they spoke for.  Say what you need to frame the issues and keep moving forward on the key issues of the negotiation.  The less you say, the more others will remember.

Think of it this way: the best negotiators aren’t only smooth talkers, they’re smooth listeners too.

To read the article from the Wall Street Journal by Cynthia Crossen entitled “From Talk Shows to Offices, America Lacks Good Listeners”, click here

Overcoming Higher Authority

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In a previous post we discussed a negotiation tactic that we refer to as “Higher Authority”. 

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you’re in the process of solidifying a deal and the person you’re dealing with has got you handshake away from completion and then drops the infamous line, “This looks good, and now I’ll just have to ask my boss/client/spouse/committee if this is acceptable before it’s final.”?

Click on the image below to view a video that will help you overcome “Higher Authority” or use it to your advantage.

The Bluff

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The Bluff is the single most difficult tactic to identify. It occurs when the other side says things such as: “I have no room to move”; “That is the best I can do” or “I have a competitive bid that is 20% cheaper.”

Most people trust that the other side is telling them the truth and if possible, drop their price. Ultimately, you may have to do just that, but most people would be more satisfied if they knew that the other bid was 20% lower and they did not just fall for a bluff. Here are some ways to test the bluff:

  • Ask for Documentation.  Most people feel very uncomfortable using this technique because they feel that if they ask to see information in writing that they are calling the other person a liar.  Obviously you do not want to do this, so here are some ways to phrase the request for documentation:
    • Apples to Apples.  Tell the other side that you need to see the bid to make sure that they are providing the same terms and conditions that you are.  You can say that “in the past” other people have undercut your pricing by using cheaper materials or by providing less service.  If you can see the bid, you can make sure that this is not the situation.
    • Blame a Higher Authority.  “I certainly believe you, but in order to get the decrease approved, I need to take the competing bid back to my partners and show them so that they know the entire situation.”
  • Ask for Clarification.  Rather than reacting to the bluff, you might want to ask for clarification.  You can ask the other side to give you some time to double check your information, and ask them to take some time to double check their information.  Allowing for some time might make the other side feel nervous about continuing with their bluff for fear that they have scared you aware.  Also, by asking for both sides to take time to clarify their information and assumptions, you have provided the other side with an easier “out” to come back and say: “I have double checked and there may have been some problems with my assumptions…”
  • Call the Bluff.  Sometimes the only way to test the bluff is to walk away from the deal.  When doing so, you should be careful to leave the door open.  You can do so by saying: “We would love to work for you, but we cannot under those situations, but please keep in touch.  If it does not work out with the other person, we would still be interested in doing business.”   Keeping the door open in this way will enable the other side to come back to you.  Otherwise, they might be uncomfortable coming back to you for fear that they would seem untrustworthy because of their attempt to use a bluff.

Controlling the Contract

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Imagine this: you reach an agreement in a negotiation and the other side says: “I will send you the contract.” You gladly accept as it means less work for you. Unfortunately many times the language in the contract may differ slightly from your understanding of the prior agreement. You suggest several changes and the other side acts startled that you are changing what had already been agreed to and now they claim that since you are making changes, they are allowed to re-open issues as well.

When two parties reach an agreement, many times it is codified within a written contract. Many people feel that the process is completed when the handshake occurs, but some people use the tactic of Controlling the Contract to gain extra advantage after the other side thinks that the deal is done.

To manage Controlling the Contact tactics, try to:

  • Write the Drafts of the Contract. If possible, at the end of discussions, tell the other side that you (or your lawyers) will be glad to write it up. That way the other side is reacting to your draft rather than you reacting to their draft.
  • Write a Memo Before You Write a Contract. By writing a memo or a letter in plain language, you will get both parties to agree to the main agreements before the lawyers start to confuse the issues with their own “legalese.” This plain language letter or memo can be a reference point back if the contract seems to be off course.
  • If Necessary, Manage the Lawyers. Sometimes lawyers can re-interpret understandings and get into discussions with the other side’s lawyers that may or may not reflect the original intent of the agreement. If you sense this is happening, make sure to re-establish your contact with the other side to reiterate your understandings before you let the lawyers continue to battle it out.


  • Personalize Communication. Where possible have major changes to the contract communicated via phone or in person. Often one side will provide comments to a contract that they feel are minor, but the other side perceives as re-writing the deal. It can escalate and trust can be lost if both sides continue to communicate by marking up drafts and sending them back and forth. Before you get yourself into a battle of the contracts, pick up a phone with the person who you worked with to cut the original deal.

Withdrawal

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Recall when you were a young child gathered with your friends.  You’re all in deep discussion about what game you’ll play together.  Timmy suggests dodge ball, Susie offers a board game, and you too like the board game idea.  Thus, your and Suzie’s democracy votes board game, while Timmy angrily refuses.  Eventually, Timmy gives you the ultimatum, “if we don’t play dodge ball, I’m going home!”  It’s a temperamental withdrawal tactic that people continually use throughout their lives – usually with a little less immaturity.

This is where your counterpart, often dramatically, will exit the discussion hoping you’ll fear a no-deal or no-conclusion and make a concession just to bring them back to the table.  By doing so, they gain a concession without giving one.  You’ll often see a hasty change in demeanor and location, and hear a “fine then…” or “this is too much…” or “this is ridiculous…” or “we’re getting nowhere…”

Consider the following techniques to manage the Withdrawal Technique:

  • Use a Hypothetical.  Let’s say someone says something like, “I have told you that I do not think that I can get this proposal agreed to by my Board, so I am going to have to stop these discussions entirely.”  While this sounds like a Withdrawal, the fact that the other side provides a condition regarding getting the proposal “agreed to by the board” provides an indication that the withdrawal may not be a withdrawal.  To test the other side, you could ask: “Hypothetically speaking, if you were able to get it past the Board, would you be willing to continue the conversation?”  If the other side agrees to continue the discussion, then you have prevented the Withdrawal.
  • Offer Mutual Concessions.  Rather than making a one-sided concession just to get the other side to the table, propose a resolution where each side makes a concession.  This approach gives the other side a potential reason to return, but it does not provide them with a unilateral gain just to bring them back to the table.
  • Focus on Previous Progress.  Rather than conceding to get the other side to the table, try to get the other side to agree that there has been substantial progress made in the past and that momentum may help remind them that although there is frustration at this point, the past progress you have made should justify that the other side not just walk away at this point.

Monetary Concession

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People may use three types of tactics to make you concede your pricing.  They may start with “Give me a ballpark price;”  “You have to do better than that;” and “Let’s Split the Difference.”  Each of these is difficult to handle, and when combined throughout a discussion of price, they can create a “triple-whammy.”

Let’s take a look at how to manage each of these monetary price concessions.

  • Give me a Ballpark Price. There are two ways to manage this tactic. First you should resist the urge to provide a ballpark price. Rather than giving a figure off of the top of your head, tell the other side that you would much prefer to be able to think about the issue more so that you can make a more realistic assessment. If taking this approach is not possible, then make sure to lowball your ballpark to prevent getting locked into a bad deal before the discussion even starts.
  • You Have to do Better than that. Defend against this tactic by asking the other side, “How much better do I have to do?” Asking this will force the other side to at least put a stake in the ground before you bid against yourself with no commitment from the other side.
  • Split the Difference. If the other side offers to split the difference, try to anchor them to the “split the difference price” and then continue to discuss. Imagine you are offering $1,000 and the other side is asking for $2,000 and they suggest that you “split the difference.” Try the following: “I do not think that I can do $1,500, but I appreciate that you are willing to compromise. Now that I’m at $1,000 and you can agree to $1,500, I think that we are closer to reaching an agreement.” If you can then continue the discussion and then offer to “be fair” and split the difference, you now may be able to end up at $1,250.

Good Cop/Bad Cop

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Sometimes you may find yourself in a situation with two or more participants on one team, you’ll notice one partner acting very cordial and empathetic, where the other partner is extremely temperamental and demeaning. The “bad cop” threatens you and probably declares that there is “no reason to continue conversations.” Once you begin to fear that you might lose the deal, the “good cop” swoops in to assure you that all is not lost and if you can just be reasonable, perhaps you can both find a resolution. The object is to coerce you into believing that the “good cop” is on your team, and thereby get you to provide additional information or even make concessions that you would not have otherwise made.

This is yet another tactic to manipulate you. Watch out for the good cop/bad cop scenario as it can lead you down a dangerous path in poor negotiation skills.

  • Call their Game – Smile convincingly and say, “This feels a lot like good cop/bad cop.  I do not want to get caught up in games like this.  We have serious issues facing us, and if both of you are needed to make a decision, I suggest you get him back in the room.”
  • Ignore the Bad Cop – The Good Cop/Bad Cop tactic only works if you allow the bad cop to get you to lose your focus.  Let the bad cop expel his energy so you can move forward and focus on the business at hand.
  • Terminate the Session – Turn to the good cop and tell him that it is obvious that the other person is too upset to carry forward. This should get the good cop to attempt to convince you to stay and you should thereby be able to regain control.

While it may be tempting, going “toe-to-toe” with the bad cop is usually not an effective way to manage this technique.  Even if you are able to quiet down the bad cop, going into attack mode will likely cause you to lose your focus.  The other side will use this loss of focus to get you to reveal information or make concessions that you may not have done if you had been able to maintain a more focused approach.

Higher Authority

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Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you’re in the process of solidifying a deal and the person you’re dealing with has got you handshake away from completion and then drops the infamous line, “This looks good, and now I’ll just have to ask my boss/client/wife/committee if this is acceptable before it’s final.”?

This is their escape clause – their tactic to get your best deal, and provide themselves with one more opportunity to take another bite of the apple when they come back and say: “My boss loved the idea, and she is on board, provided we can make a small change…”

We call this tactic – or manipulation technique, higher authority. You maybe unaware that the person you’re dealing with is actually using the higher authority tactic to leverage themselves into landing a better deal. Try to familiarize yourself with cases like this to avoid being swindled.

Think of the car salesman who has to “get approval” from his manager before finalizing the deal.  He walks into the “back office,” only to return and tell you his boss was prepared to agree to a “slightly” more expensive deal.

We have encountered the higher authority scam many a time. So we’ve come up with a couple ways to save you, and you’re deal, from this unfortunate sabotage.

  • Smoke out the tactic early. Openly asking before conversations begin, “What is your decision making process?” Alternatively you can ask, “If we come to agreement, what happens next?” Typically if you try this early in the process, you will smoke out whether there is anyone else who she might later use as her higher authority.
  • Ask for a meeting with the higher authority. If you use this strategy, you should make her aware that your boss is going to call her boss directly and while you have advised him not to do so, he has not listened to you. By taking this approach, you are giving her the “heads up,” and hopefully she will appreciate your attempts to keep her informed.
  • Match their higher authority to your higher authority. Tell her that you too must go to someone to get your agreement approved. This provides you with the ability to ask for changes from your higher authority if she asks for changes from her higher authority.