A lot has been written on selling since Dale Carnegie 1937 self-help book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’. And a lot more on selling services. One of the concepts from Carnegie theory has been always strong and useful: “to appreciate that people have their own views, feelings, values, and aims. The more we can understand the other person’s situation, aims and feelings, the more likely we will be able to develop rapport and trust with them, and then hopefully to arrive at suitable solutions and agreements with them.”
Selling goods and selling services are two different things. One is a tangible thing and the other is intangible. One you can manufacture, stock and then sell; the second you make while you sell and deliver, and you can’t stock. This seems a sensible issue. But it is completely wrong: we always sell services. Do you sell a car or you sell the possibility to move independently? Do you sell a ticket for a musical or are you selling a couple of hour of enjoy a show? Are you selling an house or the possibility to live in a nice place with all the commodity?
We now talk about “servitization” of manufacturing and products (Neely, 2007; Frei, 2008). With these changes, the rise of the service-based economy is evident, and it requires those who wish to operate in the services arena to understand the principles around which they should position their offering.
Before exploring these principles, it is worthwhile reviewing the common attributes shared by all services, as described by Axel Johne and Chris Storey (1998):
Intangibility: Services are usually processes, not physical things.
Heterogeneity: Service quality varies from provider to provider and over time.
Simultaneity: Services are produced and consumed simultaneously; they cannot be held in stock.
It is worthwhile reviewing the common attributes shared by all services, as described by Axel Johne and Chris Storey (1998):
These attributes require a company to develop a sales strategy that is unique to the service model. Frances Frei (2008) identified four essential ingredients for a successful service-based company or solution. By focusing on these four elements, a company can develop a robust business that is capable of responding appropriately to the unique opportunities and risks that develop when selling services:
The offering: The service must meet the needs of the target customers, but also the company should provide differentiated excellence in areas where it will be valued by its customers.
The funding mechanism: The company must identify how the costs of delivering an excellent service will be covered.
The employee management system: High-quality services require a high-quality workforce for their delivery. Effective management of employee motivation and their ownership of service engagements will be reflected in the reputation of a service business (Heskett, Sasser, and Schlesinger, 1997).
The Customer management system: The customer is part of the value-creation process in service engagements. Accordingly, service companies must develop techniques to manage customers so that their services can be delivered effectively.
We don’t want here to go through the whole complex theory of selling, but only enlighten some of the most vital element that can help mainly selling services, in different phases of selling process. All below taken from theory you find everywhere, filtered through more than eighty years practice; believe it or not you start asking people to buy as soon as you ask for milk.
Generally the steps are:
1. Preparation/planning/research/approach (using facilitative methods)
2. Introduction/opening/approach/establish initial credibility
3. Questioning/identify needs/ask how and what, etc/establish rapport and trust
5. Overcoming objections/negotiating/fine-tuning
For each of the above steps there are rules to follow and errors to avoid. We will just note some of the most relevant according to experience.
- identify as many of the prospect organization’s decision-makers and influencers as you can, and assess as much as far as you can what their needs, motives and relationships are
- try to get a feel for what the organizational politics are
- what are the prospect’s organizational decision-making process and financial parameters (eg., budgets, year-end date)
- think carefully about what you want to get from the meeting and organise your planning to achieve it
2. Introduction/opening/approach/establish initial credibility
- explain the purpose of your visit, orientate around your prospect not yourself, explain how we (your own company) approach these issues.
- This is the most important step of the sales process because it allows you to determine how you can truly be of service
- use open questions to gather information – typically for example, questions beginning with Who? What? Why? Where? When? and How?
- use closed questions to qualify and confirm your interpretation – a closed question is one that can be answered with a yes or no
- the other person (your ‘prospect’ in selling language) should be doing 80-99% of the talking during this stage of the sales discussion; if you are talking for a third or half of the time you are not asking the right sort of questions
- questioning is a fundamentally important part of selling – techniques being increasingly developed and refined far beyond early selling techniques – transferable to and from other disciplines (notably coaching, counselling, therapy, etc)
- the sales presentation must demonstrate that the product/service meets the prospect’s needs, priorities, constraints and motives, or the prospect will not even consider buying or moving to the next stage; this is why establishing the prospect’s situation and priorities during the questioning phase is so vital
- sales presentations must always meet the expectations of the listener in terms of the level of information and relevance to the prospect’s own situation, which is another reason for proper preparation – a vague or poorly prepared sales presentation sticks out like a sore thumb, and it will be disowned immediately
- the presentation must include relevant evidence of success, references from similar sectors and applications, facts and figures – all backing up the central proposition
- business decision-makers need to be certain that the new product/service will be sustainable and reliable; therefore the presentation must be convincing in these areas
- presentations should use the language and style of the audience – generally the more senior the contact, the less time you will have to make your point – no-nonsense, no frills, but plenty of relevant hard facts and evidence
- keep control of the presentation; if you don’t know the answer to a question don’t waffle – say you don’t know and promise to get back with an answer later, and make very sure you do.
5. Overcoming objections/negotiating
- lots of objections are simply a request for more information
- an old-style technique was to reflect back the objection as a re-phrased question, but in a form that the sales person is confident of being able to answer positively, for example: the prospect says he thinks it’s too expensive; the sales person reflects back: “I think what you’re really saying is that you have no problem with giving us the contract, but you’d prefer the payments staged over three years rather than two? – well I think we could probably do something about that…”
- another old-style technique used to be to isolate the objection (confirm that other than that sticking point everything else was fine), then to overcome the objection by drawing up a list of pro’s and con’s, or analysing to death all the hidden costs of not going for the deal, or re-selling the benefits even harder, and then to close powerfully, but these days such a contrived approach to objection handling is likely to insult the prospect and blow the sales person’s credibility
- the ‘feel-felt-found’ technique was another popular tactic in overcoming objections: this is a response built around the three ‘feel felt found’ elements: “I understand how you feel/why you feel that…//Other customers have felt just the same/that…//But (or ‘And’) when… they have found that…” The method uses empathy in stage one, neutrality and group reference (shifting the issue away from personal confrontation) in stage two, and then counters the objection and reinforces the benefits using (alleged) majority evidence in stage three, in the hope of persuading the buyer that he/she is isolated and missing out if deciding not to buy.
Eighty percent of sales are lost because a salesperson fails to close. Closing is about advancing the sales process to ultimately get an order.
- here are some classical closes – the traditional golden rule was always to shut up after asking a closing question, even if the silence became embarrassingly long – (a who-talks-first-loses kind of thing) – it works some time:
- the alternative close: for example – “Would you like it delivered next Tuesday or next Friday?”, or “We can do the T50 model in silver, and we have a T52 in white – which one would you prefer?”
- the ego close: “We generally find that only the people who appreciate and are prepared to pay for the best quality go for this service – I don’t know how you feel about it?…”
- the negative close: “I’m sorry but due to the holidays we can’t deliver in the three weeks after the 15th, so we can only do it next week, is that okay?”
- the sympathy close: “I know you have some reservations that we can’t overcome right now, but I’ve got to admit that I’m pretty desperate for this sale – my manager says he’ll sack me if I don’t get an order this week, and you’re my last chance – I’d be ever so grateful if you’d go ahead – and I promise you we’d be able to sort out the extra features once I speak to our production people…” (How could anyone live with themselves using that one?….)
- the elimination close: “I can see I’ve not explained this properly – can we take a moment to go through all the benefits and see which one is holding us back from proceeding?” (At which the sales person lists all the benefits – the positives, and runs through each one to confirm it’s not that one which is causing the problem, crossing a line through each as he goes. When he crosses the last one out he can claim that there really seems to be no reason for not going ahead…)
- after-sales follow-up depends on the type of product and service, but generally for every sale the sales person must carry out a number of important processes:
- The sales person should also make follow-up contact with the customer – as often as necessary – to confirm that the customer is happy with the way the order is being progressed; this helps reduce possible confusion and misunderstood expectations, which are a big cause of customer dissatisfaction or order cancellation if left to fester unresolved
- Customer follow-up and problem resolution must always be the responsibility for the sales person, who should consider themselves the ‘guardian’ of that customer, even if a well-organised customer service exists for general after-sales care
A couple of suggestions now from experience:
- Never give the prospect (would be client) the sensation of being a privilege to become your client;
- Never ask a prospect, proposing a financial service, to fill in a form and provide lot of documents before even to be allowed to be part of your clients community. This are usually procedure, time ago, applied mainly by commercial and financial banks.
- How to Win Friends and Influence People is one of the first best-selling self-help books ever published. Written by Dale Carnegie (1888–1955) and first published in 1936, it has sold over 30 million copies world-wide, and went on to be named #19 on Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential books in 2011.
- Strategies for Selling Services, Patrick O’Halloran
- The Four Things a Service Business Must Get Right, Frances X. Frei
- New service development: a review of the literature and annotated bibliography, Author(s): Axel Johne, Chris Storey
- The Service Profit Chain. New York, NY: Free Press. Heskett, J. L., Sasser, W. E. J., & Schlesinger, L. A. (1997).
- The Ultimate Question, Fred Reichheld (2006 How to Sell Services More Profitably, Werner ReinartzWolfgang Ulaga