The road to YES: Three skills you must master to succeed in sales

LET’S HOPE you’re not the average salesperson. Because, according to The Sales Board Inc.’s study of more than 16,000 customers and 300 salespeople in 25 industries, here are three things average salespeople do:

  • 86 percent of all salespeople ask the wrong questions and miss sales opportunities.
  • 82 percent fail to differentiate themselves or their products from the competition.
  • 62 percent fail to earn the right to ask for a commitment from the buyer.
  • But the most frightening statistic for every dealer principal, general manager, sales manager and salesperson is this: 82 percent of salespeople rely on discounting the price in order to make the sale. That’s right: Most salespeople have to give it away.

To top it all off, the Internet has generated an explosion of consumer-to-consumer education via chat rooms, forums and blogs. These platforms create dynamics in which customers can get smarter -- and get smarter faster -- than salespeople.

That’s the bad news. The good news? In many industries, high-performing salespeople earn approximately four times what average salespeople make, but they don’t work four times as hard. They work smarter.

This column will help you create, discover and internalize distinct sales skills and approaches to quickly give you an edge. Acceleration may be part of Newton’s Second Law of Motion, but the art of accselleration -- the act or process of closing more business, faster -- is the first law of sales success.

Time and Profit Relationship

When selling anything, there’s one concept you need to grasp immediately: Wine and cheese may get better with age, but deals don’t. Here are a few reasons why time decreases success and profit: The buyer reconsiders his decision to purchase. Price negotiation plays sellers off one another. The natural ebb and flow of emotion diminishes buyer enthusiasm. Many products lose value over time. Inventory-carrying costs and interest on wholesale lines decrease profits.

My point? Don’t let potential sales fester. Success in sales requires mastering three dominant skill areas: offering expertise, savvy use of language and process proficiency. Let’s examine each.

Offering expertise. If I see a salesperson check the brochure every time someone asks him about fuel capacity, mileage or seat height, do you know what goes through my mind? You mean to tell me this is how you earn your living and feed your family, and you don’t even know the most basic information about the products you sell? Shame on you.

Now, if I see a salesperson who can share details about something that’s not in the brochure or on the website -- something about the paint or the fuel injection, or a little-known fact from a product review -- I consider that person a rock star and living proof of the value top-performing salespeople add to the contemporary customer experience. 

Other keys to offering expertise include being knowledgeable about finances and promotions. Whether it is legitimate or not, every time you say, “I have to go ask my manager” the odds increase that your customer will interpret it as a price-manipulating technique.

Similarly, every time a customer asks you about a current promotion he or she saw online and you respond lazily with, “I don’t know anything about that,” you’ve lost all credibility.

Language abilities. The words you use and the phrases you choose significantly impact what your customer thinks, says and does. For example, it is scientifically proven that people are driven to act more consistently when loss language is used. Don’t tell customers what they stand to gain by purchasing from you; tell them what they’ll lose if they don’t. This is easily done using such compelling words as forfeit and surrender: “That’s a great motorcycle, but if you chose this model you’d be surrendering the option of greater rear-shock adjustability.”

Metaphors, similes and analogies captivate buyers, too. Instead of saying, “The Harley-Davidson V-Rod is very powerful,” make your language more exciting: “When you bang third gear in a Harley-Davidson V-Rod at around 6,500 rpm, it’s like launching an F/A-18 Hornet off the deck of the USS Nimitz.”

Process proficiency. Far too many sales professionals think success happens during one big, pivotal moment in the sales exchange. It doesn’t. Sales success is all about a series of yeses. Like stepping stones across a stream, they lead to fantastic customer relationships. But you must always know the next “yes” you’re endeavoring to obtain.

I was working with a dealership’s sales team when a new salesperson was in the process of responding to an incoming Internet lead. When I asked him his objective with an email response, he looked at me like I was as dumb as a bag of hammers. “To sell this guy a motorcycle,” he sneered.

He didn’t get it. Most people aren’t going to sell a motorcycle via email, so the key is to take that incoming email and turn it into an email exchange, then turn that into a phone call and, later, a visit to the store, a test ride and finally a customer. There’s your sequence of yeses.

The sales game has changed. Being average won’t cut it anymore. Your skills, your mindsets and your actions need to be continually honed and polished. This is the place where, every month, we’ll do just that.