The image of the bright white-toothed salesperson knocking on your door, suitcase in hand, sends most people in the UK running in the opposite direction. Over-enthusiastic sales can be annoying and seems false. So what can you do as a small business owner to ensure that you don’t turn into the door-to-door type?
SmallBusiness.co.uk spoke to Grant Leboff, self-titled ‘most pessimistic salesperson in Britain’ and author of Sales Therapy: Effective Selling for the Small Business Owner, for some tips on generating sales.
Where does the image of the over-bearing salesman come from?
A lot of the books on sales techniques come over from America, where being in sales is thought of as something to be proud of. In the US, sales isn’t a dirty word like it is in the UK.
Most traditional sales courses teach clichéd lessons, telling you to concentrate on the benefits of your product or service rather than the technical features. They also tend to over-emphasise the need for enthusiasm, which is all very well in the States, but it’s just not what people respond to in the UK.
So do you think the answer is to be pessimistic? Why?
British people want a dose of reality, they want to hear it the way it is and being a bit downbeat is part of that – it’s all part of the British stiff upper lip.
In the UK, you need a raw edge to your sales techniques; a more cynical angle and to be aware that people don’t really like being sold to. You can still couch the description of your product or service in positive terms, but the trick is to be subtle, not pushy and to try to be yourself.
Do you think it’s better for people without sales experience to leave it to the experts?
In an ideal world you would be able to hire a top salesperson, but in a smaller company that’s not always possible because of monetary constraints, so everybody needs to do a bit of selling. It’s worth making sure that all your employees in the organisation have had some form of sales training, just so they are able to spot opportunities, even if they can’t convert them into sales.
Do you have to be a good salesperson to run a small firm?
Small business owners can be brilliant at running a business but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are as good at selling. There are different types of selling, it’s not just about getting people to buy products.
Think about giving a presentation to an investor: to a large extent you aren’t just selling the business, you are selling yourself too. Investors are buying into the idea of you running and growing the business to get them a good return. The trick is to draw on your skills and stick to what you are good at.
Can you point to the most common mistake that small business owners make when selling?
The most common mistake is not to fully understand buyer motivation. By that I mean that a lot of SME owners don’t really know what is it that will make people buy your product or service over your competitors’. You can become so enthused about your product that you totally forget to identify a clear route to market.
You need to understand why your product will be valuable for your customers. If you can do that, you can start to understand the areas of the market and the methods of selling and marketing that will generate the most sales.
Any other tips?
You must make sure that you understand the problems your customers are trying to solve. Think of the selling process like a doctor-patient relationship. If you went into your doctor’s office and he told you to take some pills, three times daily, without asking what was wrong, you’d walk out again.
People in sales do this all the time, concentrating on what they have to offer, rather than thinking about the needs of the client. Start with a client interview and try to identify any areas that in which your product or service could add value for the customer, rather than just trying to peddle your wares.