Q&A: Sales technique

Contributor - Andrew Milbourn

A shopper carries a red shopping basket in a shop aisle

It takes skill, but training, practice and experience can help anyone get better at selling. Andrew Milbourn, sales director of Kiss the Fish, explains

Does everyone have what it takes to sell?

If you can communicate effectively, then potentially, yes, you can sell. If you're worried about your confidence or ability, you can improve. Even if your people skills are lacking, don't worry – I've seen some highly effective selling by some extremely boring people. It takes skill, but practice and experience helps you get better.

How can I improve my chances?

Be clear who is likely to want what you're offering. Understand what problem your product or service solves for them and know what value this offers. Be clear about what makes you special, too. Have a strategy for contacting prospects and opening up opportunities. Communicate sincerely, it encourages trust. And remember – no one buys just because something's cheap. Your price is only under pressure when it bears no relation to value. Don't ever offer discounts for no reason – only poor sales people lead with discounts.

What about self-confidence?

Lack of confidence puts customers off. It can come across as lack of interest in them. Most of what is believed and trusted in the communication process is body language and tone of voice. If you don't have comfort and consistency in your whole communication – words/tone and body language – you won't be believed or trusted. Knowing how you should approach a customer will help you relax. Also, thinking about their needs helps the communication process. They must believe you want to help them – not just take their money. If you can help someone make more money or save time, you'll stand a fair chance. The more personable, positive and energetic you are, the better.

What preparatory steps should I take before approaching a new customer?

Consider who the person is and what problems they want to solve by giving you their time. If necessary, write down a list of questions that will engage them. Also, think about how you'll open the conversation. Cheesy lines don't work. Be direct and honest. Don't try to hide the fact you want to sell, but make it clear you want to help the customer and provide value to them.

How important is it to grab their attention early?

If you are making a 'cold' approach you must demonstrate you're there for their benefit or you'll lose the opportunity. Use positive trigger words rather than words with negative connotations. Using a person's first name is an advantage, because it is a positive subconscious trigger, phrases such as 'new idea' or "people like you" create and reinforce positive feelings. Ask interesting questions to get the conversation focused on them – not you. It is all about psychology, so treat potential customers as you'd want to be treated.

How important is it to listen?

Paramount: otherwise you won't know what the customer needs or why they might buy your product/service. You must sell the benefits of your product – not just its features. You can only sell benefits if you know what will be of benefit. Listen carefully and never talk over a client.

Should I practice selling?

Role-play with a colleague can be beneficial. It's a safe way to anticipate likely objections and practice responses. Some 90 per cent of each British soldier's career is spent practicing for the 10 per cent that really matters. Business people tend not to practice anything – and spend fortunes on failure as a result.

What are common selling mistakes?

Sales people talking too much and failing to ask the right questions, because they aren't really interested in the customer. You should focus on genuinely wanting to help your customers, that encourages trust. If someone doesn't trust you, they won't buy from you.

I really have no sales experience, where do I begin?

Start with your contacts and 'easy wins'. The easiest sale is via recommendations and referrals. Cold selling is time-consuming and tough, so develop your network and opportunity for introductions. Find the right people to talk to about what you do and listen to their needs. Find out what keeps people awake at night and you have gold dust – providing you can help them sleep.

Written with expert input from Andrew Milbourn of Kiss the Fish.

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Andrew Milbourn

Graduating in 1982, Andrew joined Haymarket Publishing as a sales executive and was head hunted by an international marketing business to work with the Spanish car giant SEAT.

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