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(Dec. 6, 2002)
The Basics
Seven practices that are the foundation of sales success

By Marcia Gauger, For SBT
Question: My sales manager has asked me to concentrate on the basics as it relates to my sales growth. The trouble is, I’m not sure what "the basics" are. Can you fill me in?
Answer: While every sales position is unique in one way or another, "the basics" refers to those sales skills that are foundational to sales success. The skills required to succeed at one sales position over another may vary based on market, whom you are calling on, and your distribution network.
For instance, the sales skills required to sell to multi-level influencers within a complex account are slightly different than those required in retail sales or pull through distribution. For example, in retail selling you usually don’t conduct formal group presentations but make many spontaneous connections with customers and need to build rapport quickly. In more complex sales situations it may be just the opposite.
Because every sales position is potentially unique, it may first be best to ask your manager how he or she defines "the basics". After years of research, here are some of "the basics" that we have found common to top sales performers:
1. The ability to understand customer needs and apply solutions according to those needs – Over the last two decades most companies have adopted some sort of consultative sales model. Most embrace the belief that product information is best utilized in response to customer needs.
Basic tip: Always demonstrate the value of your product in terms of what it will do for each individual customer, and only after you understand what that is.
2. The ability to adjust to each customer’s individual logic, behavioral and communication style – This is not as much an art as it is a science. Most salespeople assume that you either connect with a customer or not. In fact, if you rely strictly on product knowledge without regard for the other person’s behavioral and communication style, you have a 1-in-64 chance of connecting.  Adjust to your customer’s behavioral style by preparing sales calls that appeal to different customer types such as direct, outgoing, steady and analytical. Then, adjust to their mental map by appealing to their communication style such as visual, auditory and kinesthetic.
Basic tip: Prior to sales calls, ask your customers how they would prefer the information and adjust accordingly.
3. The ability to build relationships and connect with the customer – Initial comfort and rapport is best built by perception. The more customers perceive you to be like them, the more rapport you will have. To build initial rapport, match the customer’s tone and pace of voice and body stance. To build long-term relationships, match the customer’s goals.
Basic tip: Do everything you can to help your customer achieve their goals. In turn, you will achieve yours.
4. The ability to overcome stalls and objections – Stalls are excuses that customers give for not moving ahead. Stalls are dangerous because they often sound harmless but are rarely the true intent of the customer.
Basic tip: Clarify stalls by asking open-ended questions such as, "What do you see changing in a month?" Or, "What specifically would you like to see in the information?"
5. Persistence in pursuing new potential business – Most of us know that so-so salespeople give up after the first or second sales attempt. Very good salespeople hang in there, often getting the sale after the fourth or fifth attempt. Top performers identify who will do business with them in advance and never give up on the prospect. The key is identifying the right type of business and then positioning for that business.
Basic tip: Schedule time for business development weekly. Treat potential customers like they’re already doing business with you.
6. The understanding that customer satisfaction is a minimum level of performance – Assume that the customer has agreed to make the purchase and is satisfied with the terms of the sale. The average salesperson would make sure that nothing changes negatively. The top performer however attempts to improve the transaction to the point that they delight the customer and exceed their expectations. As one top performer put it, "I want them so delighted with my total package that they will never question who they will come to for their next purchase."
Basic tip: Realize that customer satisfaction is a minimum requirement. Underpromise and overdeliver whenever possible.
7. The ability to gain commitments –  Closing the sale is simply a formality and different than gaining commitments. In the "old school" closing meant using a "closing technique to persuade the customer. The ability to gain commitments happens throughout the sales process by initiating customer commitments and affirming their decisions.
Basic tip: Gain small commitments throughout the sales process by affirming that you have met customer needs appropriately.
Marcia Gauger is the president of Impact Sales, a performance improvement and training company with offices in Wisconsin, Florida and Arkansas.  You can contact her at 262-642-9610 or Her column appears in every other issue of SBT.
Dec. 6, 2002 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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