Monday, June 17, 2013

How to Sell (For People Who Hate Sales) | The New OPEN Forum

American Express is really trying to woo small business, by presenting themselves as allies -- running commercials promoting local shopping, and again, trying (with some success, I believe) to create a small business post-Thanksgiving sales day after Black Friday.

Their Open Forum showcases an excellent variety of answers to typical questions, blogs and  discussions on topics important to small business -- and none is harder or more important than sales. Oh, it's the "New" Open Forum. I've forgotten what the old one was like...which is probably why there's a "new" one.

Contributor Brian Moran (who wears two hats: helping "entrepreneurs run better businesses and marketers do a better job reaching entrepreneurs" -- and publisher of the magazine "At Home with Century 21") proposes what he claims are three simple but sufficient steps to being able to sell:

1. Understand Features vs. Benefits: see the quarter inch hole, not the quarter inch drill.
2. Help Others Help You: solve a problem
3. Deliver Exceptional Customer Service

 These are all critical, no question. And as much as I like to sum up points in groups of three, I think for most inventors, there are two more critical points, not quite captured in these three:
4. Say "Hello," and
5. Ask, "May I take your order?"

It's true that many inventors can think only of their product and its features. Most, though, I would guess, think that they are offering a solution to a problem. It's true that I can recall more than one entrepreneur who got angry at customers who "don't get it," which is not the way to earn positive word of mouth.

But to overcome the fear of walking up to a stranger (or call one up) -- that's tough. And asking for the order should be simple after you've conquered the initial fear, focused on what the product does for your customer, solved her problem, and twisted yourself into pretzels to deliver great service. But it's not.

It's a cliche' of shy-boy-trying-to-pick-up-girl movies, but I think the best approach is rehearsal. Start with family, then friends, then relatively small customers -- who if they don't buy, won't hurt your prospects noticeably. (Of course, there are no unimportant customers -- that's one of the secrets. Treat them all well, and you'll be rewarded down the line.)  Only then will you know what to say when you approach a bigger customer.

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