Sales isn’t always about selling product

16 06 2009

In a previous life, I taught sales.  In doing this I discovered there was a reason that 85% of the money to be made in sales was being earned by only the top 15% of salespeople: there are an awful lot of things the average person doesn’t understand about sales, the first and foremost being that nearly EVERYTHING has to do with sales.  You had to sell your approach to your boss, you had to sell your idea for the new name to your softball team, you had to sell your spouse on marrying you.  I may be oversimplifying, but you get the idea.  If you need help from another human being (and we frequently do) you have to present some sort of value proposal to them to get their cooperation.  It may be as point blank as “do this or you’re fired” but in some way you convince the other person that helping you is of value to them.

Does that sound a little cynical?  What about charities and volunteerism?  Same principals apply.  I’m not trying to be cynical, just realistic.  Everything has features and benefits, and provided you present your “customer” with a benefit they consider valuable, you will make deals.  Habitat for Humanity – feature: you will work hard for someone you don’t even know; benefit: you will feel great about it.

You really do need sales skills to survive in business, even if you are not the one who actually goes out and sells your product or service every day. That is one of the most important principals for a business owner to understand.  So here, in a nutshell, is what you need to keep in mind when you’re selling your ideas:

  • Identify customer needs. Your customer needs something and your product fills that need.  That’s easy to sort out when they have a beard and you have a razor, but with ideas it can be a little more intangible.  Perhaps they have a need to live indoors and eat, and you can meet that need by giving them a paycheck.  Or maybe a company has a need to win business, and you can help meet that need by proposing a channel partner opportunity.
  • Know the difference between features and benefits. Every product has both, but only benefits sell products.  A feature of polarized sunglasses is that they reduce glare, but the benefit – the fact I can see the fish in the water – is the reason I bought them.  Make sure you identify the benefits of your idea, not just the features.  The goal (not to be taken literally in most cases) is that “you want to help me because you will receive the following benefits.”
  • Create value. Keep in mind when approaching others for help that you have to create value for them, even if it’s just feeling good about the fact that they helped.  Don’t assume there is inherent value in what you have to say or do. Identify the value for the other party ahead of time, and make sure it is clearly communicated in your exchange.

If you don’t already approach all of your interactions as sales opportunities, try to be mindful of it for a bit and see if it doesn’t improve your success rate in getting quality output from others.  See if you don’t start to build a following.  I’m willing to bet you will see positive results.  Just try to avoid yelling “SOLD!” every time it works.

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