9 Strategies for Selling Smarter

Last Updated Oct 28, 2011 5:35 PM EDT

Sales professionals often believe that they can increase sales by stuffing their pipeline. However, having more prospects usually doesn't result in proportionately more sales, because you end up trying to develop too many accounts at once. Rather trying to sell to MORE customers, use these 9 strategies to make sure you're selling to the RIGHT customers, and to make those sales happen more quickly:
  • #1. Increase the percentage of time you spend selling. The idea is to spend less time doing paperwork and more time meeting with customers. Get somebody else to handle your CRM data entry or expense report preparations. Buy (and learn to use) smartphone apps that will help you optimize travel times. Use web conferencing to include stakeholders in meeting, thus making it unnecessary for you to meet with them privately. Try to find something every week that will make you more efficient.
  • #2. Think about your solution as a verb. This sounds a bit vague, but it's a useful mental exercise. Suppose your company makes glue. If you think of your job as selling "glue" (a noun), you'll tend to talk product features and other technical details. By contrast, if you think of your job as selling "gluing" (a verb), you will naturally tend to talk to customers about the function that your offering will play in the customer's environment and business. Over time, this naturally leads you to think in terms of problems and solutions, rather than simply moving product and making quota.
  • #3. Consider yourself the customer's ally. There's a tendency in sales to think in adversarial, that you must "convince" the customer, "overcome" objections, "win" the business or "conquer" the territory. Rather than viewing yourself as being in a battle with the customer, view yourself as the customer's ally and visualize how your company can help the customer achieve specific business goals. By keeping your mind on the customer, you'll be free to offer advice and help that's not specific to your offering. The customer will notice, develop more trust and confidence and, ultimately, be more likely to buy.
  • #4. Disqualify more prospects. It's always a mistake to sell a customer something that the customer doesn't need. Rather than doggedly trying to sell to a prospect, make it clear that you're absolutely not going to sell the customer anything that the customer doesn't really need. If it turns out that the customer really doesn't need what you got, leave and consider the sales call a major victory, because you've helped that customer avoid an unnecessary expense. As a bonus, you'll build a reputation for having your customers' best interests at heart.
  • #5. Ask more questions during conversations. As the saying goes, don't confuse telling with selling. Rather than talking to the customer about what your product can do, use questions to lead the customer to the natural conclusion that the customer needs your solution. Ask intelligent questions that the prospect is capable of answering, so that the two of you can discover whether the customer really needs you to solve a problem or achieve a goal. Use questions to help the customer visualize how things would be better if the customer had the solution in hand.
  • #6: Increase the average quality of your leads. If your leads come from marketing, communicate clearly, based upon your own experience in the field, who's interested and who's buying. Provide specific details, including job title, industry, typical organizational structure, etc. Bring some sample customers in to meet the marketing group so they understand the target better. Don't have a marketing group? Do the same thing, but apply the knowledge to your own lead generation efforts. A small amount of effort in this area can yield disproportionately large results, because a positive change ripples through the entire sales process.
  • #7: Increase your conversion rate. Make sure that you're talking to the REAL decision-makers, and not just the influencers and sideliners. When you meet a decision-maker, stay in regular communication throughout the sales cycle. Don't let long periods of time go buy where you don't know what's going on, or what's changing inside the account. And don't the competition. Find out who the other guys are calling on, and how they're approaching the account. Then figure out how to outflank them. Build a short sales plan that documents the process and the players, so that you don't spin your wheels trying to remember who needs to do what and when.
  • #8: Increase your average dollar value. While it may take more effort to cut a $1 million deal, it's less than ten times as much effort as cutting ten $100,000 deals. The more money that you can make on any one sales opportunity, the more money you'll make overall. To keep the numbers high, always remain aware of new opportunities in an account. Use discounts sparingly or not at all, except when they're bundled into a larger deal. Find more ways to help the customer, today and in the future. The more you can be of service, the more the customer will buy from you.
  • #9: Decrease the effort required to close. Find out the customer's "compelling event" which will actually trigger the buying process and time your selling effort to match. For example, a prospect might have budget in the current quarter, making the "compelling event" the end of the quarter. Similarly, a prospect might be waiting for an order from its own customer before making a new purchase. Schedule your activities backwards from the event and you'll spend the least amount of time developing the opportunity.
The above comes from conversations with Ed Chapman, former managing partner of VizQuest Ventures, and Michael Bosworth, co-author of Customer Centric Selling (McGraw-Hill, 2003).

NOTE: You'll find plenty of similar tips and techniques in my new book How to Say It: Business to Business Selling available for purchase here:

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