John Wood, Head of Corporate, Sandy Park, Exeter Chiefs
“You’re just a born salesman, Johnny”…were the words my gran used to say to me when as an 8 year old kid I used to convince her to make my favourite trifle for dinner.
And so the problems in my early career started, as I believed her! As a ‘born salesman’, in my head all selling was about was smiling nicely (as much as my crooked teeth would allow) and talking a lot until I beat new customers into submission through my charm offensive. Half of the time this would work, but the problem I had was that I never knew which half that was, and more importantly why I lost new opportunities.
But then my selling career changed, as I met a guy that was to become my mentor and who shall remain nameless (except for those that knew I worked for Frank Brown at Toshiba) as he is as humble as he was skilled in helping to develop unstructured talent into thinking entities when it came to selling. It also changed me when it came to the opposite sex, as the same principles apply in developing relationships, but I’m sure that’s the subject of a totally separate blog.
So in this blog, thought it might be good to share the basic principles he taught me of virtually every selling process, which create the 5 simple steps to a sale of Empathy, Needs, Facilitate, Proposal and Close…yes the easily recognisable acronym of ENFPC.
So starting with Empathy, the old adage of ‘people buy from people’ is very true, so this stage is one of the most important as unless you can establish trust then trying to convince someone to buy something you have is nearly impossible. And trust is gained by someone feeling they have an association with you, maybe because they share the same likes (sport, music, places) or because they share the same values (timeliness, smartness, politeness), or normally a combination of both. Therefore, when you first meet a client it’s very important to ask questions about them or their business, and make notes of the responses so that you clearly show interest. And whilst talking try to find, through the way information is provided, the hot buttons that will help you understand how you can establish the empathy. For example, if you can get someone to talk positively about their business, and they believe you are interested in hearing about it, you have an immediate opportunity to build confidence between the two of you. Plus if you can reflect some of your own experiences back into the conversation, then the empathy begins. However, try to be subtle with your questions, and the best way to do this and encourage long answers is to make them open questions of the “Who, What, Where, When, How” variety.
So Empathy established, now is the time to try to mould the Needs of your client to best fit what you are offering, possibly versus your competition. For example, if you’re selling a room for a 300 person Dinner/Dance and your room has 400 capacity and your competitor has 300, then lines such as “this is the xxx Suite with a capacity of 400, which a lot of our clients use for 300 dining plus an enclosed welcome area, so that your guests aren’t separated”. Again here it’s about trying to get as many facts across that differentiate your product from the competition, but without giving the feeling that you are knocking your competitors. Always talk positively about what you have, never negatively about what someone else has.
The next stage is where you identify exactly what your prospective client wants you to quote to them for, in order that your proposal is specific and of course, includes all the areas where your offering has strength. And this is where the art of Facilitation or getting someone to ask the questions you want them to ask (this is a variation on the true meaning according to Google which is actually “the enhancement of the response of a neuron to a stimulus following prior stimulation” so a bit of salesman’s licence in the translation) comes in. Through the previous Needs section and through other questioning at this stage, the plan is to try to get your client to ask for the things you can offer him that are either unique to you or you have strong points in. For example, if you have 4 screens and you know another venue has only 2 unless they hire them in, or maybe you have a strong link with a sporting club and have access to a player visit, the questions of “shall I quote for all 4 screens” or “shall I include the player visit” if agreed, can help ensure your proposal can’t be competed with on a like for like basis. This will help when the question of price arises later, which invariably it does.
So now hopefully you’re ready to deliver your Proposal. Many tend to see this part of the process as simply giving a price based on the items required, but this can be where the sale process is made or broke, so it is important to try to find a way to deliver as much information at this stage as possible, be that in a verbal form where you present the proposal, or in a written form. And the objective is to find a way to get across the key points of each offering by outlining, as in the example before, the Feature (“the room has capacity for 400”), the Advantage (“which means you can have welcome drinks in the suite”) and the Benefit (“which will keep all your guests together”). Some people call this the ‘Thunderbird’ approach as in FAB, or is it just me that calls it this?
OK, we’ve now completed most parts of the sales process, but the last one is sometimes forgotten but so very important, and is where you ask for the order or Close. If you’re an avid fan of reading Sales Training manuals, you’ll know that there are over twenty types of close from ‘Trial’ to even the ‘Benjamin Franklin’, but the most important part of any close is making it timely that a decision has to be made, and that’s why you’re asking for the order. If a client leaves your venue before making a decision, then you run the risk of him seeing another salesperson at another venue or even going back to their office and it not being a key focus, both of which could lead to a quick decision being made without all the facts being reviewed. That is why it is important to try to find ways in which there is a requirement (or maybe no barriers) to make the decision with you there and then. Say you’re showing an exhibition company around your venue, and you know that there are two other venues they’re considering in the area, then try to make your visit the last one. Or maybe spend time in the process working out the lead times before an event, and bring the decision time into this eg “if you were to say yes today, we can guarantee availability….”.
So this represents my learnings and experience from the selling game over a number of (some say too many) years, obviously in a simplified version. For some it will have been trying to teach you to suck eggs, others will probably feel that they have a different and preferred approach. But hopefully for some, the message comes across that sometimes going back to the basics is important if things aren’t quite going as planned in your sales career.