Sales Professionalism

In the course of instilling professionalism, all sales-training approaches try to convert a salesperson from a passive order taker into an active order getter. Order takers operate on the assumption that customers know their own needs, resent attempts to influence them, and prefer courteous and self-effacing salespersons. There are two basic approaches in training salespersons to be order getters—a sales-oriented approach and a customer-oriented approach. The sales-oriented approach trains the person in the stereotyped high-pressure techniques traditionally used in selling automobiles. This form of selling assumes that customers are not likely to buy except under pressure, that they are influenced by a slick presentation, and that they will not be sorry after signing the order—or, if they are, that it doesn't matter.

The customer-oriented approach trains salespeople in customer problem solving. The rep learns to listen and ask questions in order to identify customer needs and come up with sound product solutions. This approach assumes that customers have latent needs that constitute opportunities, that they appreciate constructive suggestions, and that they will be loyal to sales reps who have their long-term interests at heart. Clearly, the professionalism of this customer-orientation is more in keeping with the marketing concept than are the hard-sell and order-taker approaches.

No approach works best in all circumstances. Yet most professional sales-training programs agree on the major steps involved in any effective sales process (see Figure 5-18).

Here is how these steps are applied in industrial selling:28

^ Prospecting and qualifying. The first step in selling is to identify and qualify prospects. Companies can generate leads by examining data sources (newspapers, directories, CD-ROMs, Web sites); exhibiting at trade shows to encourage drop-bys; inviting customers to suggest the names of prospects; cultivating referral sources such as

Figure 5-17 Managing the Sales Force: Improving Effectiveness

Figure 5-17 Managing the Sales Force: Improving Effectiveness

Figure 5-18 Major Steps in Effective Selling tfii qjiiihtm

Figure 5-18 Major Steps in Effective Selling suppliers, dealers, and bankers; contacting trade associations; engaging in speaking and writing activities that draw attention; using the telephone, mail, and the Internet to find leads; and dropping in unannounced (cold canvassing). Companies can then qualify the leads (by contacting them by mail or phone) to assess their level of interest and financial capacity. The hottest prospects are turned over to the field sales force, while the merely warm prospects are turned over to the telemarketing unit for follow-up.

^ Preapproach. The salesperson needs to learn as much as possible about the prospect company (what it needs, who is involved in the purchase decision) and its buyers (their personal characteristics and buying styles) by consulting trade and database sources. The salesperson can then set call objectives: to qualify the prospect, gather information, make an immediate sale. Another task is to decide on the best approach, which might be a personal visit, a phone call, or a letter. The best timing should also be considered because many prospects are busy at certain times. Finally, the salesperson should plan an overall sales strategy for the account.

^ Approach. In this step, the salesperson decides how to get the relationship off to a good start. The salesperson might consider wearing clothes similar to what the buyers typically wear, show courtesy and attention to the buyer, and avoid distracting mannerisms. When meeting with the prospect, the rep should open with a positive statement and then concentrate on understanding the buyer's needs through careful questioning and active listening.

^ Presentation and demonstration. Having listened to the buyer's needs, the salesperson now tells the product "story," being careful not to overemphasize product features (a product orientation) at the expense of a discussion of benefits and value (a customer orientation). Companies have developed three different styles of sales presentation. The oldest is the canned approach, a memorized sales talk covering the main points. It is based on stimulus-response thinking; that is, the buyer is passive and can be moved to purchase by the use of the right stimulus words, pictures, and actions. The formulated approach is also based on stimulus-response thinking but first identifies the buyer's needs and buying style and then uses an approach formulated to this type of buyer. The need-satisfaction approach starts with a search for the customer's real needs, after which the salesperson takes on the role of a knowledgeable consultant to help the customer save or make more money.

^ Overcoming objections. Customers almost always pose objections during the presentation or when asked for the order. To handle these objections, the salesperson maintains a positive approach, asks the buyer to clarify the objection, asks questions that lead the buyer to answer his or her own objection, denies the validity of the objection, or turns the objection into a reason for buying. Handling and overcoming objections is a part of the broader skills of negotiation, which are discussed in the next section.

^ Closing. Now the salesperson attempts to close the sale using one of several closing techniques. The rep can ask for the order, recapitulate the points of agreement, offer to help the buyer write up the order, ask whether the buyer wants A or B, get the buyer to make minor choices such as the color or size, or indicate what the buyer will lose if the order is not placed now. In addition, the rep might offer the buyer an inducement to close, such as a special price, an extra quantity, or a token gift. ^ Follow-up and maintenance. Follow-up and maintenance are necessary to ensure customer satisfaction and repeat business. Immediately after closing, the salesperson should cement any necessary details on delivery time, purchase terms, and other matters that are important to the customer. The salesperson should schedule a follow-up call when the initial order is received to check on proper installation, training, and servicing. The purpose is to detect any problems, assure the buyer of the salesperson's interest, and reduce any cognitive dissonance that might have arisen. The salesperson should also develop a maintenance and growth plan for the account.

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