Have you ever met someone who is a natural-born salesperson with a sixth sense for knowing the right thing to say, so the sale magically happens? Moments of brilliance like this don't require supernatural inspiration; they can be carefully planned and executed. The magic results from painting the picture that enables your prospect to envision a beneficial change, thus creating a desire for something new and better, rather than posing a challenge to the status quo.
The most difficult part of the task is the preparation. Most sales professionals look at the goal: what is this going to get me -- a bigger bonus, final sales, more money? But the sales process must begin with effective preparation. This is what raises a sales professional a step above the rest.
The first task is to find prospects that can benefit from your offering. Start by researching the qualified organizations in your area, in order to understand their structure and purpose. This can be as simple as going on their websites and looking for their core principles. For example, my alma mater, Arizona State University, states "excellent students, excellent faculty, excellent programs and an excellent place to be."
If you read further, you learn that students work 24/7. That being so, you might reason, they may want to have snack machines in a certain area that run 24/7, too... and now we are getting somewhere. This research has helped you to identify a desire that may be a key factor in how the location approaches its vending service.
Next, start engaging the prospective customer with a phone call, or suggest an in-person appointment. When you've set one up, use it to determine their objectives. Learning that they would like to promote a healthy lifestyle, or have machines available for use 24 hours a day, seven days a week, are crucial elements of your pitch. For example, if promoting a healthy lifestyle is one of their primary goals, then inform them of the range of healthy products that you can provide.
To discover more about a prospective client, use "high-gain" questions. An example would be, "Can you paint a picture of your ideal vending set-up?" This inquiry does several things: it invites the prospect to evaluate the present machine setup and encourages them to imagine, and describe, what they really want. This opens up opportunities for you to prove how your business will fulfill that desire.
GOING FOR THE CLOSE
Working with the prospect in a partnership will show your interest and build trust in you and your organization. After listening to all of the prospective client's needs, describe the benefits of your product -- not the functions (yet). Demonstrate how a customer benefits from working with you. These benefits can include the level of service you provide or the variety of options you offer. Tailor the benefits to the objectives that were uncovered in the discovery phase. Once you have discussed how your organization will promote the prospect's organizational goals, then ask for a commitment.
This is the part of the process in which sales representatives have the opportunity to close the deal and get to work with the new account. But what happens when the prospect decides not to move forward with your organization? This doesn't mean all is lost. It just means you have to follow up.
Probably the two most important words in the whole sales process: follow up. If your potential client says, "Not at this time," ask why? It could be a matter of the pricing being off, which can always be adjusted. Or perhaps they wanted to have a screen on the machine for nutritional information and you didn't offer them the option, but you have it available. The follow-up is not limited to making certain that you have put your best foot forward, but it is also the gateway to future business.
A prospect's saying "No" doesn't prevent you from soliciting their business in the future. Your contact may need to know the organization's budget constraints, and may be aware that a meeting to determine them will be held in the next month or so. If you didn't follow up in order to make sure that you can stay in touch, that sale could go to your competitor.
I believe the best part in following up is that it enables you to keep track of how the needs of customers change, or how they can help you win additional business. People network and have contacts within other branches of their companies, or other companies in the same area. If they are not prepared to change their vending service provider right now, they may know someone who is.
The bottom line is that the sales process takes time and research to identify those features of your company that will benefit your clients and appeal to prospective customers. There are several sales processes out there, but the ultimate focus of all of them are your customers, present and prospective. Learn about them and their needs, and serve them better.
STEPHANIE BEGLEY is product-marketing manager of Vendors Exchange International Inc. (Cleveland). Begley describes herself as a passionate sales and marketing professional who enjoys pushing the envelope on new media. Her experience stretches from hospitality to manufacturing. At Vendors Exchange, Begley is involved in industry research, and regularly connects with experts and businesses in the automatic retailing world, which she endeavors to help shape. Stephanie.Begley@veii.com