It’s weird that I now manage most of the sales leads than come through our business, because I used to hate selling. I was also pretty terrible at it! Now, I look forward to sales meetings (most of the time), and am not in a rush to outsource the job to anyone else.
I learned to sell because if I didn’t I wouldn’t have survived. My first business had a beautiful niche marketing to what I’d call “low hanging fruit.” All I had to do was send out an email or post out a flyer to a few hundred people and my workshops would fill up, and my calendar would fill.
Unfortunately that business model wasn’t very family friendly, and as a single parent of three growing girls, I took a role which would keep me closer to home. I was ready to enjoy the work being given to me, and just going out, and getting paid once done.
Imagine my horror when I discovered that if I didn’t go find the customers myself, I wasn’t going to get the work! I had to learn to sell super fast, or we were going to have issues. Before I started, I had to work on my mindset around selling, and the value of the services.
This is often the biggest obstacle when small business owners start to sell. If we know we need to sell, but we see salespeople as slimy or pushy, we’ll find it harder to sell with confidence. I often suggest getting a piece of paper and a pen, popping the timer on for five minutes and writing down all the words that come to mind about sales. Once the timer goes off, take a look and see whether you have negative ideas about sales and the sales process.
The other big block is our mindset around pricing. When I started selling, I was a single mum for whom things were really tight. What I had to quickly overcome was the idea that my budget and the budget of my potential client were the same.
I recently worked with a client who’s lived hand-to-mouth most of his life. His pricing was very low for his services, to the point where he was earning less than minimum wage for the hours he was putting in. We reset the prices during our marketing strategy to over double, with a view to increase further in six months.
The thought of doing this was terrifying to him, but he’d promised me he’d give it a go. The change went up on the website, and he got a sale at the new prices within a day. He also found he feels a lot more confident about his value and is excited that he’s going to increase his prices again. He needed to have someone who was not in the same mindset to help him see the value of his work.
We can make the sales process a lot simpler if we ramp up content marketing, and use regular posts, blogs, video, free webinars and other tools to help people get to know us, build trust with us and research us before they get in contact. Do this well, and the leads keep coming in a seemingly effortless manner (it feels effortless because you put all the sweat and tears in weeks ago), and they are easier to convert to a customer. The same goes for growing your referral networks, or doing such a good job that others refer you. These people are all far closer to a yes, than someone who’s researching a pile of people in your industry, and contact you straight from your website, with little previous interactions.
Another factor in selling effectively is working out your key motivators. While some might have thought my key identifier was survival, and to a point that’s correct, my core motivator was selling enough higher value work so I’d be able to earn enough and still spend time with my three children. Only some salespeople are truly motivated by money. As someone who sees sales as a service, matching our offer to what a potential client needs, if I’m just focussed on the money, I’m going to try to manipulate someone into a sale for the sake of it. That’s not a great way to build a business long term.
Key motivators can be hitting a target, having more time to do what you love, growing your business more profitably, or some other undercurrent idea. You need to be aware of your key motivator as this will help push you through to closing the sale later one.
It’s key to measure your sales process at each step, to see where it’s working well and what needs to change. While I’m not a fan of the phrase “marketing funnels” (I prefer to think of marketing as building a spider’s web instead), I do find sales funnels work well as a concept. We have people who make an initial interest, make time for a meeting, request a quote or proposal, stays in touch, and then finally makes a decision of yes or no.
You can use a whiteboard or spreadsheet to measure how many you have at each stage. We look for conversion rates as we move down, to measure how many leads you need to have coming in to get a sale. For example, you might have twenty people enquire, fifteen of those then making a meeting, ten of those request a proposal, and from there perhaps three become a client. If you need ten sales a month, you’ll need about sixty leads to come in to get them. (Give or take a few)
We use a CRM (Customer relationship management) programme to record and track all of this for us, along with where the leads originated from and the lifetime value of a customer. The more you can track and measure the easier it is to make better choices around your marketing, and improve your sales process.
Once you’ve got a sales meeting set, you need to prepare. This might include getting pen and paper to take notes, have sales information on hand and any details on your core offers. While it can depend on your target market, I encourage small business owners to try to have at least the first sales meeting via zoom as so much time is lost in traveling to sales calls. If you need to be on site, you can at least have filtered out people who are really at the researching phase with this method.
For us, we now have all sales meetings via zoom. As our business is also nearly all conducted this way, it helps set up the relationship the way it will continue. It also allows us to spend more time working with our existing clients, and keeps our team resources lean.
I still sometimes have days where sales feel hard. I have a little saying I use before starting a call. “This is going to be good. This is going to be fun. This is going to feel easy.” This helps me set a positive mindset. I also always say to myself “I’m here to serve” before a sales call. The last thing I want to be thinking about is sales targets, and how I need to close the sale as fast as I can.
Before the meeting I also set my intentions. For some businesses, expecting a sale after a meeting is possible. For us, our ideal outcome is that the other person will want a proposal. This is my first objective.
My second objective has nothing to do with the potential client, and everything to do with me. No matter how good we are at selling, not everyone is going to choose us. Our second objective is to help us develop and improve, no matter whether we get the sale or not. For me, some of my second objectives over the years have to be to not talk too much, to ask a specific question, to try out a new method, or something else that I need to master. See each sales meeting as an opportunity to get better for the next one.
Once the meeting has started, we need to spend a bit of time using small talk. I’m naturally hopeless at small talk so I have to remind myself. I often want to go straight to the good stuff! The more someone knows about your brand through content marketing, generally the less small talk you need. This helps warm you both up, sets the tone for the rest of the meeting and helps you both become a little more open.
Once you feel both of you are relaxed it’s time to lead with questions.We want to ask open ended questions that allow your prospect to talk more, and tell you what they really need. If they are just giving you one worded replies, you are either asking the wrong types of questions, or you didn’t build enough rapport earlier. My personal favourite is “Tell me a bit about your business” or “Tell me why you contacted us for help” as they can start the conversation off well.
The worst thing you can do is try to jump in and solve, or sell too early. I bombed during a “dead cert” sales meeting early on, by overselling, over solving. The person was almost ready to sign up for a twenty thousand dollar sale. By the end of the meeting he didn’t want anything. I accidentally talked him out of it by over-selling. You want to focus on listening, and take notes when they mention something they need that directly relates to the solution you sell.
Once they’ve talked, I like to ask them permission to tell them how we can help. I haven’t always done this, but I find it does get a better result. It’s a powerful thing to seek permission to sell during a sales meeting! I’ll start with mentioning the needs they themselves identified in their conversation, and then match it to the offers we have to remedy those needs.
I’ll then ask for the sale (Or for me, ask if they want a proposal.) I’ll also sometimes ask what time frame they are working towards. This can help me get an idea of how interested they are in working with us. These questions are called closes. There are hundreds of different sales closes you can use at the end of a sales call. Most people in sales will have four or five favourite types that work well for them. It’s important you find ones that suit your own style and personality best.
Once I’ve asked for us to move to the next step, and they’ve said yes, I end the meeting by stating what happens next. I’ll walk through what I’m going to do, what they will need to do and then what we’ll do together. For example I might say “‘I’m going to send you an email quote within forty-egiht hours, and you’ll take a look at it and come back to me with any questions. I’ll follow you up if I haven’t heard from you in a week. And we’ll move forward and get you booked in once you’ve agreed to the quote.
This gives them a clear path of action. It also helps me in one very important way. Following up after a meeting is one of the most common omissions small business owners have when it comes to selling. Most sales happen when you follow up. We will follow up weekly after a sales meeting, unless we hear a firm NO, or if they come back with a “can you get back in touch in a few months please” I can not overstate the importance of following up enough.
Sales are essential for service based business. If you have plenty of strong marketing leads coming in, but the conversion to sales are few and far between you need to take the time to upskill yourself in sales, and close more of those deals.