Effective Selling Techniques for Small Businesses

We take a look at basics from how to identify potential new customers to the best way to close a deal, to help you to start selling the right away

Effective Selling Techniques for Small Businesses

Every business must sell, sell, sell to maximise your chances of success. For many entrepreneurs, it will be their first time directly selling a product to customers, which can be a daunting prospect if you don’t have a sales background.

This article is intended as an introduction to effective selling techniques for new sellers but includes steps that will help a business owner at any stage. You don’t need to use smoke or mirrors or demonstrate world-class charm to close a sale – by simply following some of the techniques found here, you will be well on your way to becoming a truly effective salesperson.

We cover how to identify potential customers and reach decision-makers quickly, then move on to the actual process of making a sale; how to get the customer interested, how to sell the benefits of your product and how to deal with objections.

Finally, you will learn some invaluable tips to navigate the trickiest part of sales technique – closing.

How do I identify potential customers?

Before you go ahead and contact sales prospects, you need to do your homework and find out whether they actually need your product. Otherwise, most of your sales calls will be a waste of time. Before contacting anyone, establish whether they need your product. You can do this by identifying exactly why they will need it – the tangible benefits it will deliver over and above products they already use.

Then learn who the customer’s current supplier is as you will need a compelling reason for the customer to choose you over them, and check their ability to pay. A cash-strapped business with no capital to invest in your product is a useless prospect.

Finally find out who the decision-maker is and whether you can get an introduction. Work out who has budget responsibility and can authorise purchases themselves. A common mistake made by start-ups is wasting their energy selling to someone with no authority to make business purchases.

How does my business reach decision-makers?

When you have narrowed down your list of prospects, the next step is getting in touch with the companies and reaching a decision-maker – this is someone with the authority to approve purchases themselves. Unless you are very lucky – or the company is very small – you are unlikely to get through to one right away.

When calling the initial contact within the company, take the following steps to quickly reach the decision-maker.

Make sure to be open, friendly and honest. Explain who you are and where you are calling from. Obfuscation and hedging will only create suspicion. It is best to be reasonably clear about your intentions from the outset. Also try demonstrate that you know about the company. Do your research and demonstrate knowledge right away by name-dropping a product the company sells and demonstrate that you have taken your time researching the company by showing knowledge of who the decision-maker is.

Finally make sure to emphasise the benefits of your product and arrange a definite appointment. Don’t be fobbed off by a vague promise that someone will call you back – arrange a specific date and time when you can talk. ‘Send us an email’ is another classic avoidance tactic, respond by stressing that it would be best to talk to the decision-maker in person first so you can better understand their needs.

How do I create interest in my product?

Your first call with the decision-maker is crucial. Create the right impression straight away by using the following tactics:

Ask ‘yes’ questions

Don’t jump into the benefits of your product right away. Ask questions to which the only reasonable answer would be in the affirmative. A good opening would be ‘I supply treated birch wood and I understand you use birch in your custom Jacuzzis, is that correct?’. Here, the only possible answer (assuming they do use birch wood) would be ‘Yes’ – instantly, you have involved the prospect in a dialogue and bought yourself valuable time.

Investigate your customers’ needs

Using open questions, work out what the prospect needs and would benefit from. Ask questions like ‘Where do you currently buy your wood from?’ ‘How much do you pay for it?’ ‘Do you have to get it treated separately’? Listen carefully and note down their answers – effective selling involves more listening than you might think. Get them to agree that their need is such that action should be taken to address it.

Tailor your pitch to the customer’s needs

When you have worked out their needs, match the benefits of your product to the needs of the customer. Emphasise the tangible benefits your product will bring, rather than just listing features:

  • ‘This wood is pre-treated’ is a statement that simply describes a feature.
  • ‘You don’t need to get our wood treated separately – we do it ourselves, saving you X amount of money’ is better, as it describes a benefit such a feature would bring to the customer.

Quantify benefits with evidence

Use hard evidence and figures to back up your claims and crystallise the benefits of your product in the mind of the customer. For example, ‘If you buy pre-treated wood from us, you will save £10,984 per year compared to your current supplier’.

Don’t shy away from discussing the competition

Acknowledge that competing products exist, but emphasise the unique benefits your product offers and provide proof to back up your claims.

How do I deal with objections?

People are naturally resistant to change, and the potential customer will almost certainly raise a number of objections to your pitch. How you recognise and deal with these will be the crucial determinant in your sales pitch’s success.

All objections should be acknowledged make sure to and appreciate concerns. Don’t get defensive or start to argue about the validity of a prospect’s concern, as this is a sure-fire way to lose a sale. Tell them they are right to be concerned and appreciate their point of view. Finally explain how your product can meet those concerns. Approach the problem from the customer’s point of view, and demonstrate how your offering can specifically meet their concerns.

Some specific concerns might include that the price is too high. If this is the case then emphasise how, considering the benefits it will bring, your product actually represents excellent value for money. Remind them of any extraneous features included in the price, such as warranties, after-sales support or training.

Also customers say they don’t have enough money. First, ask them whether they would buy the product if they had the money to hand. If they say they would, talk them through ways they could afford it (e.g. through credit arrangements or payment by instalments). If your product will save the customer money in the long run, keep emphasising this fact.

Finally they may say they already have a supplier; try tress how you could improve on what the existing supplier could offer, and suggest the prospect try you out with a small trial order so they can compare the two.

How do I close a sale for my business?

Closing is one of the most difficult aspects of selling, but by following some simple techniques you will maximise your chance of success.

Always remember to stop the pitch when the customer is ready to buy and use a closing technique which suits your style. Some people prefer the direct approach (‘So shall I put you down for 5,000 units then?’), whilst others like to present alternatives (‘Do you prefer the PVC or wooden frames?’). Always use a positive, friendly approach when closing.

Also use ‘conditional closing’ to deal with objections and close the sale. If the prospect has one hold-up preventing them from agreeing to the sale, see if you can deal with it and close the sale at the same time. For example, ‘If I can negotiate interest-free payment by instalments over 12 months, will you place an order?’ This way, you turn objections into reasons to buy now.

What legal obligations should I be aware of?

Two legal obligations your small business should be aware of when selling are:

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008

This prevents you from using intimidating or aggressive tactics to sell or falsely stating that a product will be available for a very limited time only, amongst 31 other unfair trading tactics that are banned. A guide to the Regulations can be found here.

The Consumer Credit Act

This provides consumers with a number of rights related to credit agreements, including a seven-day cooling-off period and the right to settle the credit agreement in full at any time. Read more on the Act here.

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