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How to Improve Your Small Business Sales Skills

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May 10

Do You Want Fries with That? and Other Tactics that Small Business Owners Can Learn to Close the Deal

simple sales tips for successful small businesses“I love what I do, but I hate having to sell myself to do it!” It’s a typical complaint from small business owners.  That lemonade stand of your youth was great fun.  You were playing the sales person and who couldn't resist the pleading eyes of a five-year old holding a Dixie cup of homemade lemonade? The summer sales just poured into your cigar box.

Today times are different and all of those brave childhood moments have faded away leaving you with adult fears of failure.  Many small business owners often start a business to follow a passion often without the foresight that running a business is very different than following a dream.  Components of the business like marketing, taxes, bookkeeping and accounting can weigh down an entrepreneur – especially when it comes to being aggressive about closing a sale and filling the sales pipeline. 

A crash course in how to sell – yourself and your business.

Prospecting isn’t just for miners. To effectively sell, you must understand your potential target market. Are your potential customers mothers between the age of 24 and 39 with young children, small business start-ups, restaurant owners? Whomever the target, create a pathway of how you will find them.  Know where they live and work. Understand the issues that are important to them. Research how they spend their money.

Where to prospect:

  1. Research tools using online, library, or other resources
  2. Purchase a prospect list such as a direct mail list, phone contact list
  3. Referral marketing – aski your business contacts to refer your product or service to their networking circle. 
  4. Make time daily to prospect for new clients. If you don’t prospect with scheduled frequency, the day will come when your pipeline is empty with no potential customers in sight.

Getting the meeting. Now that you’ve made a first contact with your prospect, it’s time to set a face-to-face meeting.  Why? Because business is conducted with people, not in the mail or via an electronic device.  People need to feel that their time and more importantly, their money will be well spent.  Give the prospect a sense of time commitment. After your prospect has agreed to the initial 20-minute meeting, provide two options for appointment times, which gives flexibility to the prospect while still keeping you in charge of your calendar.

Speak to your prospect’s issues and concerns. What pain points is your potential customer experiencing that your product or service can resolve? There are several approaches to answering this question in the mind of your consumer. 

  • Fear as a selling tool.  For example insurance companies use the fear of death and leaving your family without the proper financial resources to survive after your loss as a way to encourage individuals to buy life insurance. 
  • Problem/solution conversations. Dish soap manufacturers use images of kitchen sinks filled with piles of grease laden dishes and then snap to a smiling housewife standing in her spotless kitchen holding a bottle of their soap as a way to answer the problem.
  • Features/benefits approach – The tactic often provides a listing of exceptional characteristics of the product or service while explaining how much better one’s life will be after making the purchase.

Whatever marketing approach you take, and often you can combine or take multiple approaches for the same product, remember that this is only one component of a larger selling program.

  • Take notes during your meeting.  It indicates to the prospect that you are interested in what he or she has to say and that you are a detail-oriented individual.  Later, refer back to your notes to ask questions or clarify the prospect’s needs.
  • Was your offer fully understood? By circling back to the discussion and reviewing your understanding of the offer you’ll be able to confirm the client’s understanding as well as spot any areas where the client is uncomfortable or unclear regarding the agreement.
  • Asking the important questions by summarizing.  Often customers will still be apprehensive of making a purchase, especially in large ticket items like automobiles.  Address these concerns by reviewing the areas where you've already reached agreement.  Provide an affirmative phrase like, “I believe we’ve agreed on the sapphire blue, leather-interior specialty package and V-6 engine type, correct? Are there any other questions or concerns that you still have?”
  • Suggestive sell. - If your prospect is leaning toward making the purchase, now is the time to "up-sell", or suggestively offer additional add-ons to the deal.  Car dealers are experts at the up-sell.  Buying a car isn't so much about the vehicle as it is the extended warranty, the Sirius radio system, leather seats, and other 'upgrades' that can be quickly included in the package. All of these add-ons can add thousands to the final ticket price, but when broken down into "manageable monthly payments", who can say no?
  • Closing the deal – Now that you’ve met with your client, presented your sales pitch and answered all of his questions, it’s time to lay your cards on the table with an offer and make the sale. This is the make or break section of the sale.  Did you actually ask for the sale? If you didn’t then you’re asking your prospect to take the leap to buying without being asked.  That leap often won’t happen because prospects want additional time to think about the purchase and ultimately, not spend their hard-earned money.  If you’ve asked for the sale and the prospect still needs more time, then agree but set a specific follow-up day and time so they know to expect your call and will be prepared to answer. 

Successful Sales People Should Avoid:

Phrases like “Trust me” and “I’ll be honest with you.”  It puts doubt into your customer’s mind and makes the whole meeting feel somehow shady and dishonest.

The Do or Die Phrase – Any type of perceived threat and your prospect will walk, or perhaps even run for the door and never return.  

Offensive Language or Comments – It is amazing how quickly a jovial meeting can turn south.  One slip of an inappropriate comment and it can feel like the world has suddenly slipped off its axis.  Never, never use derogatory racial descriptions, gender or sexual orientation or other politically incorrect phrases. Topics to avoid entirely include religion, politics and sex. There is no place in a sales negotiation for comments about last Friday night’s club experience, ever.

PASBA member accountants bring the collective resources of a nationwide network of Certified Public Accountants, Public Accountants,  Enrolled Agents and other practitioners available to answer your tax and financial questions and streamline your business accounting, bookkeeping, and payroll operations. To find a trusted accountant in your area, visit www.SmallBizAccountants.com.

Please be advised that, based on current IRS rules and standards, any advice contained herein is not intended to be used, nor can it be used, for the avoidance of any tax penalty that the IRS may assess related to this matter. Any information contained in this article, whether viewed or subsequently printed, cannot be relied upon as qualified tax and accounting advice.  Any information contained in this article does not fall under the guidelines of IRS Circular 230.

Copyright Information 2011 Professional Association of Small Business Accountants

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