Sales Fundamentals

Before beginning a Hunt, it is wise to ask someone what you are looking for before you begin looking for it.

Winnie the Pooh


Although the definition of a sale is simple enough, the process of turning someone into a buyer can be very complex. It requires you to convince someone with a potential interest that there is something for them in making their interest concrete – something that merits spending some of their hard-earned money.

In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.

David Ogilvie

Chapter One: Understanding the Talk

In this chapter, we will be looking at the types of sales, common sales approaches, and common sales terminology.

Like any profession, sales have their own special vocabulary. There’s nothing particularly difficult about the language of sales. Mastering it just takes a little study and practice. Knowing the language will make you feel more confident and prepared to start selling.

Types of Sales

Here are some characteristics of the different types of sales.

  • In theory, the telephone allows you to reach just about anyone on the planet. In practice, however, many people screen their calls and it is often difficult to get through to a real person. If you use the phone for sales, have a brief curiosity-building message ready to leave on the voice mail of potential customers.
  • Direct mail. Believe it or not, a one percent response rate for direct mail is considered average. Despite these long odds, many companies still rely heavily on direct mail to generate sales.
  • E-mail. Legitimate e-mail selling is different from spam, the “carpet bombing” approach that sends messages to thousands or millions of people whether or not they have expressed any interest in the product being hyped. If you use e-mail for selling, try to put something in the “subject” line of your message that will attract attention and keep people from deleting the message without reading it.
  • The Internet. Most companies offer information about their products on their websites, whether or not they actually do any selling online. If you are in person-to-person sales, you need to be very familiar with what your company says about its products online. The growing interest in social networking sites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, offers new opportunities for online sales.
  • Person-to-person. Most sales are still conducted face to face. When you eat at a restaurant, check into a hotel, or buy bananas in a grocery store, you are the customer in a person-to-person sales transaction. Since this is the most common type of sales, most of this book is devoted to it.

Common Sales Approaches

More on the three approaches discussed in this activity:

  • Consultative approach. This is a long-term approach to sales. It may not lead to sales right away, but by building a relationship with a client it aims to create sales opportunities in the future. The more you learn about a client, the better able you are to understand the client’s wants and needs. It is an approach which depends upon trust – you trust that the customer will see the benefits of buying from you and they trust that you will give them the correct advice. The danger with this approach is that you may spend a considerable amount of time building a relationship and then having nothing to show for it. By building a relationship, however, you increase the chances of large-scale and repeat business.
  • Hard sell. Many people are turned off by this approach. They consider it too pushy. This approach is used most often with clients who have a hard time making up their minds. It is only advisable to use the hard sell in a one-off setting where time is at a premium – if they don’t buy now; you are not likely to see them again. Therefore it is “now or never”.

Technical sales. This approach is used most often with highly technical products and services. Sales personnel need some technical knowledge so that they will be on an equal footing with clients. The client will have a clear idea of what they are looking for, and a checklist of priorities. You will point them towards a range of items or solutions which meet those priorities – if not entirely then as well as possible. You may offer a personal opinion based on an understanding that you know what they want and they know you have enough product knowledge to point them in the right direction.

Glossary of Common Terms

  • Close/closing. It is the second to last step in the sales process. In this step, the salesperson encourages the customer to sign the order. In the past, salespeople often became pushy at this stage, but customers are more sophisticated these days and they don’t respond well to aggressive attempts to close a deal.
  • Cold calling. The first phone call made to a prospective client.
  • Customer relationship management (CRM). A system for managing the entire sales relationship with a client. Computerized CRM systems record all customer contacts, purchases, returns, etc.
  • Decision maker. The person in an organisation who has the authority to agree to a sale.
  • An increasingly popular method of finding prospects based on referrals and introductions.
  • Prequalifying clients. Determining if potential clients are actually worthwhile prospects.
  • Qualifying clients. The process of getting to know potential customers — who they are, what they do, what they need.
  • Sales funnel. A pattern that describes the conversion of prospects into sales. Many prospects enter the funnel at the top, but only a few are converted to sales. (This analogy is actually flawed because in a real funnel everything that goes in the top comes out the bottom.) The term “sales pipeline” has a similar meaning.
  • Warm calling. Calls made after the initial contact with a customer, often in response to a call from the customer.

Practical Illustration

Kim felt out her head with a case of the jitters before she dove into her first telemarketing cold call. She shook in her seat and chomped at the bit and hoped that the call would go well. The ground trembled under Adam's feet as he approached Kim to offer some sound advice and walked her through her first call. When the phone rang, Kim felt tongue tied and couldn't get the words out of her mouth. Her coach, Adam, jumped onto the line as soon as he heard and power housed his way through the call and allowed Kim to be a fly on the wall as she heard how to handle a call and not fall apart and wither away due to fright. Kim felt more confident and her voice rose back up in her throat and she felt ready for her first call.

The concept of “I'll play it by ear” is a guarantee of mediocrity at best.

David A. Peoples

Chapter Two: Getting Prepared to Make the Call

Preparing to make a call begins with learning about your client — specifically, what your client needs, and how you can meet those needs. Before you even pick up the phone you need to have a clear impression of how not only you’re opening, but the following few stages of the conversation are going to go.

In preparing this way you will be able to anticipate various reactions from the potential customer – enthusiasm, caution, reluctance etc. – and tailor your responses to their questions or expressions of reluctance. This will ensure that you can mould your selling tactics to get the best results time and again.

As a salesperson, you will be required to make many phone calls to potential customers, whether they are “cold calls” or “warm”. The object of the calls will be to try and get a sales agreement in place as soon as possible, so you need to get as many facts nailed down as possible. Having a pen and paper nearby is obviously handy, and you should then decide on a strategy for going forward with the call. The more you know about the person to whom you are speaking, the nature of their business, and what you can do for them, the better for any eventual sales pitch.

Identifying Your Contact Person

There are many ways to find a contact person. Perhaps the most valuable is through networking and referrals. A referral from a third party gives you instant credibility, especially if the third party is well-known and respected by the potential client.

In looking for a contact person, it is often worthwhile to go through a “prequalifying” process. This involves doing some research to determine if the contact is really the appropriate person to talk to and if the contact’s business actually has a need for your products.

There is no point wasting your time chasing contacts that won’t do you any good. Their position in the company and their closeness to the decision maker will decide this. Glean as much information from the third party as is appropriate.

When you first speak to the contact it will be appropriate to let them know who referred you to them:
“Hello, I’m from _______and I’ve been given your name by_______ from _______. I was wondering if you had a few moments to discuss _______”. By letting them know that you have dealt with and supplied a person they trust, you will immediately become more trustworthy in their eyes. Don’t go straight into a pitch, but make preliminary enquiries to strengthen your sales prospects.

Performing a Needs Analysis

Clients need many more things than you might be planning to sell them. The more you can do for a client, the more you will be seen as a valuable partner. Here are some suggestions about how it might be possible to meet some other client needs:

  • You might be able to act as a consultant to a client, providing information about the latest developments in your field;
  • If you provide a product that requires some training, make training part of the package;
  • If your company does not provide financing, put the client in touch with banks that do;
  • Communities often grow up around particular products, especially high tech products. Introduce clients to users groups or trade organisations;
  • You probably know a number of capable people who are thinking about changing jobs. Helping a client find skilled employees can benefit everyone involved. If the people you recommend are hired, they will become some of your strongest advocates.

Creating Potential Solutions

Providing solutions is a matter of finding ways to address the problems identified through the questions you ask a client. If the client’s problems are fairly simple, you may be able to offer a solution on the spot. For more complex problems, you may need some time to study the situation before you come up with a way to deal with it. In addressing these more difficult problems, you might take the same approach you would use with a problem in your own organization. Assemble a group of knowledgeable staff and ask them to brainstorm solutions. Find the best ideas and implement them. A successful research of the problem will help you build a good reputation.

Practical Illustration

George stumbled into the office with a mountain of files in his hands. Trevor gave him a hand and asked what in the world happened. George pulled out his magnifying glass and inspected the files up close and personal and explained that he wanted research on a potential client to find out what they needed. Trevor explained to George that he didn't have to become a private eye to learn about a client. He had to do to learn the art of conversation and Trevor just so happened to be an expert. Trevor walked George through the ins and outs and they discovered hidden gems about the client without being left to hoist a mountain of files to find it. Trevor showed him how a colourful conversation could gain him a wealth of information without a catastrophe to uncover it.

Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.

Lewis Carroll

Chapter Three: Creative Openings

Starting off on the right foot is absolutely essential in sales meetings. Simple things go a long way toward making a good first impression: looking and acting professional, treating clients with courtesy and respect, and coming up with a creative way to introduce yourself and your company.

Being memorable (for the right reasons) will ensure that your name comes up time and again when possible solutions are being researched.

A Basic Opening for Warm Calls

The first impression people form of you is based on both verbal and nonverbal factors. The nonverbal factors may actually be more important when selling in person. These include such things as:

  • Your general appearance: how you dress, personal grooming etc.;
  • Your facial expression and bearing;
  • Your posture;
  • Your tone of voice;
  • Your non-verbal communications: eye contact, nodding, etc.

None of this means that you should pay any less attention to the verbal factors. Pay attention to the language that you use, and ensure that it is appropriate for the circumstances.

As a rule of thumb it is advisable to be as polite and formal as you can be on the first meeting. As a business relationship is established you may find that a natural rapport emerges, but taking an informal approach into a first meeting can make a bad impression and end the potential relationship there and then.

When on the phone, too, pay attention to your “verbal nods”. These are short responses like “Yes”, “Of Course”, “I understand exactly what you mean” and so on. At certain points it is beneficial to use these rather than pitching, as they will show the customer that you are interested in finding out where they are coming from.

Warming up Cold Calls

An opening statement should include:

  • A greeting and an introduction;
  • A statement about the prospect;
  • A statement about the benefits of your product;
  • A question or a statement that will lead (you hope) to a dialogue.

Here is an example:

“Hello, this is John Jones at Solar Solutions. I saw in the paper that you’re planning a new office building in Sandton. Our company has a product that can cut your heating and cooling bills in half. Have you considered adding solar panels to your building?”

From this opening you have introduced yourself and what you do, as well as showing that you know something about them. By finishing with a question you invite a response which can then lead to further discussion.

The example above is a basic one which can be tweaked to suit personal style and situations, but serves as a demonstration of a strong, complete opening.

Using the Referral Opening

When using a referral, tell the client what their friend found most appealing or beneficial about your product. If you do some research, you can focus on features that the client should also find appealing.

Be prepared to respond if the client says something like, “Well, Charlie’s business is a little different from mine. He has different needs.” If you have done some research, you can respond by saying, “I understand that, but this is what our product can do for you.”

This allows you to show that your product is versatile but, more importantly, it also shows that you have considered their business needs and how you can meet them. You are not just trying to badger them into a sale; rather you are showing understanding about their business.

By preparing in this way, you demonstrate your business’s strength and credibility and give the person to whom you are speaking reason to consider you as a potential business partner.

You also encourage them to think of you as someone that is worth speaking to on a business level and give yourself more time to build a coherent pitch. You may even find that no pitch is necessary, but it is nevertheless useful to have it in your reach and be able to deploy it.

Practical Illustration

Susan stood at the podium with eyes wide open frozen in time. Susan had a speech to give and couldn't open her mind to the possibilities. She felt like a deer in headlights and had no words. Sarah decided to give Susan a push in the right direction. They grabbed words from a dictionary and Sarah reached into her tool box full of opening lines and had Susan try a few on for size. Susan found one that could grow on her and she practiced saying it, but the cat had her tongue and Susan could feel herself as she sank fast into the land of no hope. Sarah reached further into her box of tricks and found just the right ingredient for Susan to mix in her speech and soon Susan discover she could cook up a winning recipe for success.

The key to being a professional salesperson is not to sound like one.

Jeffery Gitomer

Chapter Four: Making Your Pitch

Chapter Five: Handling Objections

Chapter Six: Sealing the Deal

Chapter Seven: Following Up

Chapter Eight: Setting Goals

Chapter Nine: Managing Your Data

Chapter Ten: Using a Prospect Board

Closing Thoughts

Register for this e-learning workshop on our website and you will receive the following:

  • This e-book with 10 Chapters;
  • E-Learning Presentation
  • Audio File
  • Trainee Manual
  • Quick Reference Guide
  • Implementation Tools and Action Plan
  • Videos
  • Electronic certificate on completion.