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Selling products and services in hard times

SANTA ANA, Calif. — Yup, we're in a recession. • Yup, sales are more difficult to make these days. • And yup, you still can make those sales in the toughest economy if you take specific, effective steps, says Dave Mattson, chief executive of Sandler Training, which has more than 600 sales training franchisees worldwide. • Now seems like a great time to ask Mattson and some of his colleagues for sales ideas that really work in tough times, since many of Sandler's students are small-business owners who are the chief salesmen for their firms. Here are some of their tips.

Name your customer's pain.

"You have to prove now to buyers that what you have will work for them," Mattson said.

The old salesman's cliche of selling the features and benefits isn't as effective as figuring out the pain a customer is trying to solve, he added.

"People buy for emotional reasons and justify their purchases intellectually. You'll make the sale if you attach your value to solving their pain."

Michael Gagne of Alpha Bio in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., a Sandler student, has found this approach effective for his company, which supplies specialty equipment to biotech and pharmaceutical companies.

"We have a client who contacted us about replacement parts. He was having trouble with another supplier," Gagne said. "That was the tip of the iceberg, a contract worth several thousand dollars. By asking questions to uncover the customer's pain, I could identify a potential $15 million cost savings."

Increase your share.

Small businesses can improve their results by working to get more business from existing customers rather than spending all their time seeking new customers, Mattson said.

You may have what, for you, is a giant contract with a customer. But what if that contract is only 20 percent of what that customer spends on products and services that you can supply?

"You want to be going after that business . . . and it's a lot easier to get business from that existing customer," Mattson says.

Sell in increments.

These days your toughest competitor is not another company but customers' unwillingness to make a decision, Mattson said. You must get them out of that mode so try selling a smaller, management part that doesn't seem so costly.

"Say something like, 'You could do this whole project, but let's do this little part,' " said Mattson, who uses this with his sales training programs. "I'll do a two-day training session to demonstrate the value of a bigger training program."

Phil Martinez, president of Mission Packaging in Ontario, Calif., and longtime Sandler client, recently used this technique to get a small project with a potentially large customer.

"He sees if I can handle it and it establishes for me whether he is truly interested," he said.

Work backward.

These days, consumers and companies put off their purchases until the last minute, Mattson said. You may speed up their purchase decision by drawing on paper a visual time line, starting with the purchase and ending with the actual delivery of the product or service.

"There may be a lot of things that have to happen — purchase the software, customization, training — that it helps to put dates on each step and this helps shrink the selling cycle," he said.

This method also works for you in developing an account development plan, Mattson added. How many sales do you want? How many presentations do you have to make to get those sales? How many calls do you have to make to get requests for that many presentations? How many conversations do you have to have to make this whole process work?

"You have to be laser-focused in this economy to find those people and it doesn't have to be all cold calling," Mattson said. "You might get three from your service groups, 10 referrals, 10 from network and three from cold calling."

No is okay.

Time is money, so Martinez of Mission Packaging likes the Sandler method that quickly weeds out people who aren't interested in his products so he doesn't spend time following up with them. He can focus on true prospects.

"I tell (a prospect) upfront, 'No is okay. I'd rather have you say you're not interested than spend 30 minutes wasting your and my time,' " Martinez said.

"If you're interested, invite me to a meeting," he added. "We'll make a contract upfront: how long the meeting will last, what you want out of it, what I want. And if at the end of the meeting you don't think it's a fit, tell me no. I think that makes me different in his mind."

Techniques and tips that

can help increase sales

More tips from Dave Mattson at Sandler Training:

Create a sense of urgency: Establish the consequences if your customer does not take action.

Reward your best customer segments: Extend exclusive benefits to your most loyal customers, either incentive-based or value-based goods or services not available to the general public.

Ask existing customers for a list of their upcoming projects or purchasing decisions: Often customers don't understand your firm's capabilities. If they explain what's going on, you can identify ways to help them.

Look for other opportunities within client companies: Ask your buyer in a large company for names of her counterparts in other departments.

Ask satisfied customers for reference letters: Most successful salespeople have a book of reference letters they can show prospects, which may speed up their sales decision.

Don't think in terms of "closing" the sale: Think instead of a deal as the opening of a business relationship.

Selling products and services in hard times 02/14/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 14, 2009 3:31am]

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