Selling cycles, finding the right clients

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Getting The Edge In Professional Selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

SELLING MEANS different things to different people. Certainly the orientation of the customer is very different to that of the salesperson. Most customers think of sales only in terms of the sales meeting, the time that the sales executive is sitting in front of them trying to pitch products or services. But as every salesperson knows (I hope), selling is a much more developed process.

Professional salespeople understand that this process needs their involvement from start to finish. Typically, the sales process starts with prospecting and qualifying. Finding clients to visit can be as simple as looking at a phone directory. However, this approach rarely produces expected results (unless expected results are minimal sales). The reason for this is that picking names from a list doesn’t provide any clues as to whether the company has the willingness, ability, desire, or financial resources to make a purchase.

So the prospecting phase must include qualifying to trim down the names on the list to those who are reasonably good (qualified) prospects. Have they bought from you or your competitors in the past? Are they engaged in similar businesses to other clients of yours? Are they large enough to afford your products? Is your approach going to coincide with their replacement or upgrade schedule? The objective must be to come up with leads which are compatible with whatever you are selling.

All this exercise has achieved is to provide you with a company name which may be a potential client. You now need to consider who you are going to make your approach to. Too often, I hear of sales people who enter companies and deal directly with procurement or purchasing. There is no problem in doing this if all you are hoping to sell is low-cost or consumable items. Remember, the purchasing department only buys once the need has been identified. Consider the following: If your sales activities involve going to a purchasing department and asking if they have any need for your product, you are no more than an order-taker.

I have said (slightly tongue-in-cheek) that there are only two types of purchasing departments: honest and dishonest! And with both, you are screwed. Deal with the honest ones and they will only accept the lowest priced items; deal with the dishonest ones and you will be the one buying the business! And remember, once a product has been requisitioned, the purchasing department has very little choice in whose product to buy. Influence on type and grade of product or service will always be with the requisitioner. And logically, sales meetings with this individual will be of far more value.

Who is this individual? In some cases, identifying the key players who will determine the specifications for the purchase will be relatively easy. For example, if you are selling a computer system, the IT manager might be a good place to start. However, in some cases, it will require some research and investigation to find a suitable person to make the sales pitch to.

Now you need to secure an appointment. This will usually be done by making a phone call to the company and asking the individual if he is willing to see you. The problem with this approach is that most companies screen unsolicited calls and these are not put through. Depending on the levels of interest in your products and services, you may be able to speak to someone who can set an appointment and meet with you. Otherwise you will have to leave a message for a call back. So it is imperative that you phone call is succinct, informative, and interesting such that it will get a response. Know people’s names. A call to Mr. Santos in Operations is far more likely to get a positive response than a call to “the chap in charge of production!” Back up your phone call with an e-mail request for a meeting and follow up calls to your e-mails.

Remember, your efforts should have been directed to seeing the right person. Only if you are unsuccessful should you attempt to set an appointment with someone lower down the food chain. And if you do, the purpose of your meeting should be to generate sufficient interest in your offering such that you will get to the see the right person next time.

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.