Up to this point, we have been discussing the role of personal selling and the degree of creativity required in a salesperson to perform the task satisfactorily. Now we will take a look at the selling process followed for completing a sale.
Though the steps in the selling process discussed below will be applicable to most of the selling situations, what will differ will be the degree of importance given to each step of the process under different selling situations. The basic step in the selling process is given in the figure below.
A salesperson must become accomplished at performing the selling steps. These steps are:
- Sales representation Handling objections
- Closing the sale
- Post-sale follow-up.
Before starting the selling job, a salesperson should make a valuable investment of time and resources to know the products to be sold, know the customers (i.e. customer types, buying motives, and buying process) to whom he will be selling, know the competitors against whom he will be selling, and finally know the philosophy, policies, and range of products of his company. In short, he should be well equipped with the fundamentals of selling.
This step of the selling process deals with the location and preparing a list of prospective customers.
- Prospects can be located through
- Identifying the potential of buying more from the existing customers
- Recommendations for existing customers
- Winning back lost customers
- Attracting competitors’ customers,
- Customer’s information requests from advertisements,
- Newspaper announcements
- Public Records
- Directories like telephone, a trade association
- Other salesmen
- References from friends, neighbors, and business associates
- Cold canvassing, that is, going from door–to–door.
The located prospects should first be qualified broadly in terms of:
- Whether they want the product and how intense their want is.
- Whether they have adequate purchasing power.
- Whether and who possesses the power or authorization to purchase and spend the required money.
The qualifying of prospects is the process of separating the prospects from the suspects.
It is worth mentioning here that the ability to prospect is the most essential ability of a successful salesperson. A good salesperson keeps examining, weeding out the already tapped prospects and updating his/her lists of prospects, and remains in constant search of new prospects.
The qualifying process of separating prospects from suspects further requires that the salesperson should possess detailed information relating to the prospects in terms of existing products consumed, their scale of operation, product range, buying size, frequency, budget, process, etc.
In short, obtain customer orientation. The sources of information for the purpose include company annual reports, other salespersons, other suppliers to the prospects, census of manufacturers, professional journals, newspapers, and market intelligence.
The availability of the above information in as detailed a manner as possible will help the salesperson in ranking the prospect in classifying the prospects in A, B, and C categories in terms of the immediacy of the attention to be given to them.
‘First impression counts.’ As such, this step needs to be carefully planned. This step has two distinct parts. One is of meeting the customer with a positive set of mind, and the second is making an impact on him.
For the former, referrals of reliable persons known to prospects, calling after fixing an appointment, use of door openers, help. For the latter the salesperson should equip himself with key benefits to be emphasized, samples or new literature to be handed over, etc.
Through advanced information relating to the prospect, every effort should be made to match the product offered to the needs/problems faced by the customer. The sales presentation should generally go according to the AIDA– attention, interest, desire, and action approach.
How can this be done? The use of key benefits or a problem solver, or a unique act of the salesperson results in gaining attention. When used attentively this part also provides an opportunity to get the main point of the initial statements made by the prospect.
The presentation should proceed in a straightforward manner to help the prospect know that you understand his problem and that that is the reason for your being there.
To convince the prospect as early as possible, the salesperson should offer evidence through demonstration of the product, use of exhibits, and models, sharing of acts, citing examples of successful applications/usage, showing testimonials, etc.
The overall approach should be to build credibility and confidence in the supplying company, its products, and also in its competence to render the specialized type of service to the complete satisfaction of its customers.
The flexibility of the sales presentations can range from the ‘canned’ or previously prepared presentation to those allowing the salesperson complete freedom in the presentation.
Though both extremes, and even the hybrid of the two, have their own situational suitability, the important point to note is that salesmanship, being a showmanship function, must arouse active participation of the prospect in the presentation process.
This can be done by introducing some action that would keep the prospect captivated. One possible way would be a joint review of the problem faced by the prospect. Another is helping the prospect imagine the projected benefits of owning the product.
It is in the last phase of the sales presentation step that the prospects start expressing doubts, or raising objections whether relating to price, need for more time to think, satisfied the existing product/supplier, or product quality claims.
These doubts or objections should be welcome and they should be answered with confidence. There is certainly no doubt that the prospect has to be thoroughly convinced that the product would satisfy his need. The ability of the salesperson to mind reading the prospect enables him to anticipate the prospect’s objections and reactions.
The golden rules for handling objections are:
- Welcome the objection and show respect to the prospect, and
- Do not argue with the prospect. Even when the objections raised are half-backed or trivial in nature, the salesperson should handle the situation tactfully. Only in extreme necessity, should a salesperson ask the prospect to adequately explain the problem faced.
- Even under these circumstances, courtesy should not be lost sight of, and while the discussion is on, the salesperson should start recounting the benefits of the product agreed upon and lead the prospect to make a favorable decision. It should be remembered that handling objections sharpen the selling skills of the salespersons.
Closing the Sale
Closing is that aspect of the selling process in which the salesperson asks the prospect to buy the product. There is a critical point during each presentation when the salesperson should ask for the order.
Pending the location of the critical point, as the objections are being met, the salesperson should help reduce the choice of options, summarize the benefits of buying, and the consequences of buying, and if need be, make use of the big idea appeal of the buying ‘now’ at that moment.
The salesperson should have the ability to catch the buying signals given by the prospect and should act on them fast. Some of such signals are changing the sitting/standing position and moving closer to the product; reading the instructions on the product; perusing the testimonials; showing hesitation in being able to afford; asking for another demonstration, if applicable; checking the warranty or asking questions relating to warranty terms.
These signals show that the time is ripe to start taking the order.
The selling process does not come to an end by writing the order. A few repetitions reassuring the benefits of the product keep the customer sold. Follow-up provides an opportunity to ensure that the product is being rightly used, and if necessary to re-explain the method of using, handling, and storing the product when not in use.
This builds favorable feelings and nurtures strong buyer-seller relationships. Post-sale follow-up not only reinforces the customer’s confidence in the salesperson and his company but also tends to keep the competition out. This also helps generate repeat business and valuable word-of-mouth publicity. The follow-up is a good source of feedback too.
Let us conclude this section by stating that although the eight steps of the selling process are essential in spirit, these may not always be followed.
This could be partly the (1) the selling situation involved (e.g. in the case of an insider order-taker or retail salesperson the first three steps of the selling process are generally not applicable as the customer walks into the store for buying a product), (2) the expertise of the salesperson (such that he can ignore or assume some information), or (3) the seller’s market of the product where customers generally queue up for the product.
Let us also look at the findings of a study by Robertson and Chase on the subject. They point out that:
- The more closely matched the physical, social, and personal characteristics of the customer and salesperson, the more likely the sale.
- The more believable and trustworthy the customer perceives a salesperson to be, the more likely the sale.
- The more persuadable a customer is, the more likely is a sale.
- The more a salesperson can make prospective buyers view themselves favorably, the more likely a sale is.
- Before you read further, attempt this exercise.