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Ninety Percent Of You Stink At Selling

Remember the fundraisers when you were in high school or the Scouts? You had to sell chocolate bars, cookies, magazines or coupon books.

You didn’t want to look like a loser, so you pleaded with your parents for help. That was good for that first year, but come year two your parents didn’t seem so caring; it actually made you begin to wonder if you were adopted.

I remember in my junior year we had to sell three packs of Betsy Ross chocolate bars, and it was the first time my parents flat out told me, “No, we are not going to help.”  (I always knew my sister was their favorite.)

 I thought “Wow, are you kidding me? I’m you’re flesh and blood!” But my father told me to get off my butt and go sell them. It sounded easy enough so I started with the soft touches, the sure things: family, neighbors and friends.

To my shocked disbelief, when they saw me coming up the walk with the box of candy, they purposely did not answer the door! Even though we could literally see each other through the window, my grandmother didn’t move a muscle.

I had to change my strategy. It was time to venture out into lands unknown (well not really, just a couple of more blocks from where I lived), where clueless people would unknowingly open their doors. Then boom, before they knew what hit them, I’d launch into that killer sales pitch the candy company rep drilled into us: “Hi, I’m selling chocolate bars to raise money for my school, would you like to buy one?”

The answer was always a swift and piercing “No!”, and then just before closing the door, they gave me that look — you know, the one that silently tells you you’re a loser.

After 23 straight rejections (more times than I was turned down for the junior prom) I began to feel, dare I say it, like a loser!   

Then one dreary, depressing night after my father still wouldn’t buy from me, he took me aside to share the secret to selling. At this point I was desperate. I had lost my self-respect; my girlfriend was not taking my phone calls; and my dog Duke would no longer accompany me on sales calls.

I listened intently (I mean what else could I do, smartphones hadn’t been invented and TV was black-and-white with three channels). When my dad finished, my brain suddenly sprung to life! I used his key points, improved my delivery with each sale, and went on to sell over 3,000 boxes of candy bars and win the grand prize, a Honda 80cc Trailrunner.

To show my appreciation I shared this victorious moment with my father by letting him be the first to ride it. He was honored … then proceeded to drive it into a wall. I eventually sold it for parts.

Here then are the five keys to selling that I learned about in high school and still use today. These five keys have allowed me to consistently close sale after sale in excess of $50 million:

1. Everybody thinks they can sell. Yeah and pigs can fly. Neither of these are true. When someone loses their job they often go to car dealerships or become real estate agents. They think “Selling is easy, I’ll make a killing.” Ninety percent found they were wrong.  Look at the turnover in automobile sales: it’s astronomical, and why?  Long hours + few sales = frustration.  What they can’t do is sell. What they can do is clerk, so they really would have been better off as a barista at Starbucks.

2. Who does the sale benefit? The No. 1 reason many salespeople fail is that they make the sale about themselves and not about the customer. “How much commission will I earn? How much time do I need to spend on this sale? Why doesn’t this customer just buy? I have other things to do…”

If you don’t think it’s true, then ask yourself a few of these questions after your next sale or lost sale:  What was the customer’s name? How many times did you use it? Did I talk to the people that were with the customer? (They are there for a reason, do you know why?) What is the customer going to use the product for (gift, work, vacations, hobby)? Did you consider future needs that the customer may not have thought of, like using that new rider mower to also pull an aerator in the fall and plow in the winter? Did you find all of that out? Or did you just sell the one that could cut grass today?

3. Customers have changed, have you? Today 75 percent of all customers making a purchase research the product on the Internet. They are educated like never before. However, few salespeople do the same. Go into any U.S. car dealership or major retailer and you will find the salespeople hanging around talking to one other, waiting for a customer. Not preparing for the next customer, just waiting. 

Think about your own recent buying experiences. How often did you know more about the product than the salesperson? It’s because before you spend your hard-earned money on something, you want to make sure you are going to get the best product for the best price.

Well guess what? The customer standing right in front of you feels the exact same way.

Expand your knowledge. Learn just a little bit each day and become the expert that customers will line up to talk to.

It’s great to catch up with people at work, we all do it, but set your limits. Let the others continue to stand around talking about how poor business is while you increase your knowledge and earnings.

4. The top 10 percent of all salespeople know this: We all would like a quick sale with the least amount of effort, but the reality is that it’s not very likely to happen. The secret of the top 10 percent of sales professionals is … they know how to ask the right questions. They don’t assume, they don’t interrogate; they ask well-thought-out questions that reveal the customer’s true needs in a quick and efficient manner. Example:

Car salesperson 1:So what are you in the market for today?

Customer: I was thinking of an SUV.

CS1:Great, what color?

C: Gray or black, really not sure/

CS1:Do you have a trade-in?

C: Not sure what I want to do yet, depends on how the pricing works out.

CS:Have you thought about leasing? We’ve got a sweet deal!

Let’s stop here.  This was the latest experience I just had at two high-end dealerships that I did not buy from. The guy I did buy from did the following:

Car salesperson 2:Hi, my name is ______. Do you mind if I ask yours? Thanks for coming in Bill. I noticed you drove up in an SUV. Is that the vehicle you are considering replacing?

Upon being told yes, he continued with the four keys to selling:

*Tell me what you like best about the vehicle you drove here today;

*Tell me a few things about it that you don’t like so much, or features you wish it had;

*Tell me how you plan on using the vehicle and who will be driving it.

*What does the dream SUV look like to you?

See the difference? The first salesperson never found out anything about me or my needs. The second asked the same number of questions and got me to do 90 percent of the talking. I unloaded on him everything I wanted in an SUV as he took notes. He then proceeded to find the appropriate model and took us for a test drive. (We never got that far with the first.)

One hour later I paid $60,000 and drove the vehicle home happy, and my wife was delighted.

5. My father emphasized this next and last key as most important. It is the one that won me a motorcycle in high school and has made me successful beyond my wildest dreams. And that secret is:  

Genuinely care about your customer.

Make them happy, put a smile on their face and make them feel special.

Selling is about one thing — it’s about connecting with another person. It’s making that person feel like one in a million and not one of a million.

 As always, if I can help you increase your earnings, contact me.

Bill Stuart is CEO of Stuart & Associates, a 20-year-old results-oriented consulting firm focused on delivering added value to major retailers and global manufacturers.