Business Sales: Three Common Sales Scenarios and How to Handle Them

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customer mazeIn today’s market a small business owner had better make it their business to improve their sales skills. No, we’re not talking about smarmy sales “tricks” or attempting to “manipulate” people into buying from. Those type to sales tactics lack integrity – which means they also communicate to your potential buyer that you – and your business lack integrity as well.

Many small business owners started their businesses during Boom Times and, up until now, thought that all those experts trying to tell them their service of product wouldn’t sell itself were dead wrong. But after a few years of declining or flat sales they’re coming around to thinking that just maybe they should learn more about “professional sales best practices.”

On the flip side, many small business owners have started their businesses up just prior to, during, or as we’re pulling out this little blip on the economy’s radar scale our grandchildren will most likely refer to as “The Great Recession.”

Like their Boom Time predecessors, many start up business owners were under the mistaken impression that their “innovative” or “creative” product or service was going to sell itself. Or they were just too darn busy dotting those “I’s” and crossing those “T’s” on the road from startup to take-off they just plain didn’t pay enough attention to the fact that, in real-world markets sales will either build or blow your business.
You certainly can’t learn all there is to know about selling from reading an article about it – but with this article you’re going to learn about some common sales scenarios and effective ways to deal with them that lead to winning the sale.

You’re not sure who you’re dealing with. In order to close a deal you’ve got to be dealing with a decision maker. You may start off (and you usually will) with a decision influencer – but the role of any influencer plays in professional sales is acting to open the door to you’re getting to speak directly to a decision-maker.

Depending on the length of your buying cycle, how many times you should speak to or meet with an influencer will vary. For instance, if you’re a used car dealership and a 17 year-old comes in to look at cars with a story that his parents want him to check out what’s available, ask the kid for their names and phone number. If he doesn’t hand them over – forget about it.

On the other hand, if you’re in the business of selling business phone systems to mid-sized businesses, you can expect to meet quite a few times with various stakeholders (such a procurement and IT) before being handed over to a decision-maker.

Which leaves the question: “How do I know who the decision-maker is?” The answer is to ask. “Are there any others who will be involved in making this buying decision?” However, never (and we do mean never) humiliate who you’re dealing with by flat out telling them you’re only interested in speaking to the people who will make the decision. There have been countless lucrative sales won by making a great presentation to a receptionist who then took that material to their boss.

Your prospect doesn’t seem all that interested. It’s pretty easy to tell when a prospective customer or client is interested in doing business with you: they ask a lot of questions. They raise objections (think of objections as “concerns” the prospect has, such as “I don’t know that your company has the capacity to fill my orders.”)

It’s also pretty easy to tell when a prospective customer has decided they don’t want to buy from you: They say “No.” Now, not all no’s are definite no’s. The easiest way to determine which way the wind is blowing is to ask a few questions yourself. For instance, if a prospect says “No, I can’t do business with you because you don’t have the capacity to fill my orders’ – that’s an objection, not a definite no. You simply use that information to get down to the brass tacks as to exactly what you’re prospect needs.

The third case we’re going to present is the most difficult: The prospect is sitting on the fence. They aren’t asking questions, they don’t share any objections or concerns. If you’re certain that the prospect hasn’t given you a definite “No” – stop worrying about closing the sale and start concentrating on maintaining (or building) an advisory relationship. It could be that they simply don’t trust you or your business enough to buy from you. When they see that you are willing to contribute to their success in ways other than selling them your product and/or service it’s likely you’ll be the first one they call when it comes time to open their wallet.

You aren’t sure how much time to spend on a prospect who seems interested in buying from you. This can be a toughie. You don’t want to “give up” but it just doesn’t make any sense to spend all your time on a prospect who seems interested and stop paying attention to prospects who are interested in buying from you. This is a problem that you need to tackle early on. In your first conversation, be it with influencer or decision-maker, you must ask when your prospect will make their decision.

This question can be asked many ways. You can ask it directly. However, one way to get an answer to this question is to ask what the prospect’s goals are for their business. For instance, some selling business phone systems asks that question and finds that the company is expanding and intends to bring on 3 more employees by the end of the fiscal year. Now it is much easier to not only continue that conversation around the prospects needs and problems with their phone system – but tie that into a hard deadline for purchasing said system.

On the other hand, if you’re the owner of that car dealership and that 17-year-old did give you their parent’s names and numbers but when you call you find out the kid just turned 17 last week but knows they’re going to buy him a car when he turns 18 – you’d proceed by finding out their criteria and giving them a call maybe every 3 months or so to see if their criteria or deadline for buying has changed.

You don’t know how to tell if the prospect is blowing you off by asking for a proposal or if they are really interested in making a decision to buy from you. This is closely related to knowing how much time you should be spending on a particular prospect. It’s really easy to get all fired up and spend countless hours on a proposal only to find out what they really wanted was a price quote.

There are prospects out there that will buy pretty-much based on price alone, but don’t outright ask you for quote. Somehow they think having you twist yourself into a pretzel coming up with a perfect proposal is a better approach.

If you find yourself in this situation, you may be stymied as to which way to turn. However, you’re truly not in a bad situation. You’re in the perfect situation to ask what not only what their goals are, but the specific criteria that the prospect will use when making their decision.

If your prospect objects (remember, they might only be interested in getting price quotes), advise them your goal is not to waste their valuable time on a proposal that doesn’t provide them with the customized solution they are looking for. Doing so is likely to make your proposal a cut above the rest of the pack who simply fired up their computers and shot the prospect a generic proposal.

Last modified: April 7, 2013
Annie Kile


This story is part of our Small Business Corner, a peek into the life and trials of small business owners.

Category: advertising, Insider's perspective, marketing, MPR Authored, sales, Small Business, Small Business Corner, small business owners, tips

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