The first time I sold something I was 19.
I was going door-to-door selling digital coupon advertising on a pay-per-click basis.
At first I was too shy to ask for payment upfront so I delayed that part of the process by about… 4 months and called it a “free trial.”
Fast forward and my first sale for AutoGrow when I started about four years ago was nearly 4x as much revenue as what I made in an entire year working on that first business.
Maybe you can relate to this story because when faced with the task of selling something, many of us feel uncertain, uncomfortable or shy. “What if they say no?”
Any fear you have though quickly disappears when you realize that sales is really about trading value for value and educating people on how you can solve their problems.
This is a complete guide on how to sell and close more deals when interacting with people one-on-one. It includes a detailed and super helpful video interview with a good friend of mine, Albert Ko, who not only started and sold his own business, but has subsequently sold millions in advertising solutions for Google and LinkedIn.
Want the checklist of notes from this video interview? Put in your email address below and I’ll send you the PDF.
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Who this sales guide is for
A few assumptions.
- First, this guide is written from the point of view of someone preparing for a sales call, who already has leads in-hand.
- Second, you need to understand that when I say “person-to-person” sales I mean that it can happen over the phone or in-person. I have not had much success selling to anyone via email and I don’t recommend it.
- Last, even if you run a business where you sell products or software and you don’t have much interaction with the customer, you can still benefit from this guide. For instance you might be able to apply what’s written here to improve your sales funnel by making it more like a conversation with the prospect.
Step #1 – Review who your target customer is and why
Our target customer at AutoGrow for our custom sales funnel and landing page design offering are primarily US-based small business owners and VPs of Marketing typically between the ages of 30-55 years of age from companies with 500k to 20 MM in sales revenue, and usually with some online presence already established.
If you haven’t yet articulated who your target customer is, consider filling in the blanks for each of these.
- Income level
- Education level
- Marital or family status
- Ethnic background
- Pyschographics (i.e. attitudes, values, interests, hobbies, etc.)
Remember the idea isn’t to include everyone and “small businesses” or “consumers” are not acceptable answers by themselves.
Once you’ve reviewed who your ideal customer is, check it against the person you’re about to call. You may need to do some additional research to find the answers to questions like how much revenue their company is making (hint: if it’s a business see how big their full-time team is and if it’s a consumer, check the home values and cost of living data for their home town).
Why do you want to do this?
The idea of a sales call is not just to close, but to evaluate if your product can solve a pressing problem for them. The idea is to avoid wasting time and lose the sale as fast as possible.
“Lose the sale? What are you talking about?”
If this was your reaction just now then you have the wrong idea about how to approach a sales call.
Trying to close the sale with everyone is the wrong idea, because this will only poison the waters for others in your market (as well as yourself) when the product doesn’t actually work to help the customer solve their problem. More on this below…
This first step should take you no more than 5-10 minutes.
Step #2 – How to prepare for the sales call
After you’ve matched the lead’s basic information against your target market criteria, you want to dive into understanding who it is you’re about to speak with.
Think of yourself like a sponge right now. You want to suck up all the information you can about the person or business you’ll be speaking with.
The information you find may or may not seem directly relevant to your upcoming discussion, but the idea is to create a 360 degree full-impression of who this person or business is.
You want to go into the call feeling like your mind is a mini-encyclopedia with lots of little anecdotes and data on the prospect which you can reference in the discussion.
Here’s a handy checklist of what research:
- Google the prospect’s name and find out his hometown via LinkedIn, Facebook, About.me, or other directory websites. Do you know anything about that town or what it’s like to live there? (This will come up in the next step)
- What does he do for work? If you’re selling into a business, what is his position and responsibilities within that company?
- Does he/she have a wife/husband? Kids?
- How much does he earn?
- Does he have a personal website or blog? How about Twitter and Facebook? If so, what’s the most recent news in his life? (Note: some of this information is good to know, but not necessary to discuss — people don’t always like to be reminded how open the internet is)
- Is he involved in politics, sports, or other local organizations?
- *Key point: What indications are there (if any) that your product or service can help him? For example, in preparing for a recent call with a client of our’s, I visited his website and took notes on several key elements that his sales funnel was missing (e.g. email capture, landing page with a free, relevant offer, etc.). This showed me that his sales funnel was missing potential opportunities to convert visitors into client leads.
Research by itself isn’t enough. Here’s what to do prepare both mentally and physically:
- Sit up straight with your shoulders back for 2 minutes before the can positively influence the production of testosterone in your body (lowers the cortisol, a hormone related to stress), which helps your overall mood and feelings of self-confidence i.e. more dominant.
- Be relaxed, take breathe deep (physical exercise helps with this by tiring you out so you’re too physically worn down to worry about “failing”).
- Talk to yourself, ask yourself honest questions, like “How am I feeling about this call? Can I do this?” instead of positive affirmations like “You got this!” According to Daniel Pink, author of the book “To Sell is Human,” his research shows that:
“[b]y reframing your pre-game pep talk into interrogative self talk, you begin to think about the sales solution that can answer that question and in doing so, begin rehearsing your strategies.”
- Keep a pen and a note pad in front of you to jot down ideas during the discussion.
- Show-up / call on-time. Not early, not late, just exactly at the time you said you’d meet with them. This creates an impression of predictability and professionalism in the mind of your prospect.
Step 3 – How to build rapport before selling
Be friendly, make small talk
If you ever talk with me as a potential client, try not to over-analyze our conversation because most of what I am systematically outlining here I do naturally — almost unconsciously — since I’ve had many sales calls over the years.
Building rapport is one of those steps I do without even thinking. Why?
For me, it feels unnatural to jump into a conversation unless you know something about a person that isn’t directly related to business. Good business is built on friendship and friendship means mutual respect, relating, and looking out for one another.
However, when you speak with your leads on the phone many will be somewhat closed off or defensive at first. This is because no one wants to be badgered or convinced of anything. No one really wants to be sold in that way (and don’t try to).
So, how do you break through those lines of defense so you can have a productive conversation?
Me: Wow, Michigan? Didn’t you guys get slammed with a blizzard last week?
Prospect: Yeah, it’s normal here for this time of year.
Me: Sure. I visited Ann Arbor one year while I was in college, they got about four feet, as kids would jump out of the second story building because the snow was so deep in some parts.
Prospect: Haha, yeah, that’s Michigan for ya. My daughter went to Ann Arbor. She told me the same thing.
One of the easiest ways to build rapport, as the example above demonstrates, is to tell short, anecdotal stories that are personal and relevant to the other person. This is part of the reason why you did research on the person in the previous step.
This same tactic of presenting yourself in a humanizing, “real” way (“I’m not just doing a sales call here, I’m a person like yourself”) has been shown to have a positive monetary impact in other situations.
For instance, a research experiment showed that waiters and waitresses are encouraged to introduce themselves by name because those who do received an average of $2.00 more compared to those servers who did not.
Discover their deeper motivations
A better suggestion than the weather story example above, comes from a book on networking, Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazi.
“In my initial conversation with someone I’m just getting to know, whether it’s a new mentee or simply a new business contact, I try to find out what motivations drive that person. It often comes down to one of three things: making money, finding love, or changing the world. You laugh — most people do when confronted with the reality of their deepest desires.
Get comfortable with that reality.”
If you’re not confident in your ability to tell crazy Michigan snow stories or to get someone to open up about their deeper motivations in life, here’s another way to build rapport that works well, but over the longer term.
Give A Gift
It’s based on the principle of reciprocity, that if you give to other people they are more likely to want to give back to you in some way. And giving back to you can simply mean lowering their defenses and being open to the ensuing sales discussion.
One thing I’ve experimented with this in the past by gifting to prospect short PDF ebook that I would customize with the prospective client’s logo and add in some actionable insights.
At first it was more of a generic template but as time went on, I saw that the more relevant I made the PDF to what were discussing, the more of a positive response it received.
The problem with this was it ended up taking too much time. Plus prospects preferred to be listened to or to opt-in to receive such a gift.
This is why I changed our tactic and have since been investing much more of my time into writing free, automated marketing course like “How to Build a List of 10,000 Subscribers in 3 Months” or “Double Your Leads in 30 Days” (see top right of this page).
This way, I’m more efficient with my time, I’m able to better scale my knowledge, and instead of force feeding potential clients marketing and design best practices, I can simply make a recommendation on which free course they can take after I’ve spent some time listening to them.
To effectively build rappor be natural, listen, practice making small talk, and always seek to provide relevant value.
Step #4 – Begin a transparent, win-win sales discussion
This part of the discussion I’ve honed over time based on what I learned a couple of years ago in a Mixergy online course called “The Four Gateways.”
It provides a simple step-by-step framework for selling just about anything, though the creator originally developed it to help him and his consultancy close deals in a highly ethical, transparent fashion without wasting time.
Here’s how the process works: both the prospective client and you are going to walk through a series of “gates” in the discussion to understand whether or not your solution is a fit based on their needs and goals.
At each gateway in the discussion, both sides must explicitly agree, otherwise the sale should stop and a recommendation to another provider who can possibly better service their needs should be made. Here are the steps:
- Identify if goals and offering match: Do we both agree that our capabilities, experience / product offering match with your goals?
- Decision process: How is the decision going to be made? (i.e. do you have any partners or key stakeholders who we should include in this meeting?)
- Budget: Here’s what it will cost / here’s a range estimate of what it will cost to achieve your goals, does this match with your budget?
- Timeline: Do you want to pay with check or credit? (If it’s a product) When do you want to get started? (if it’s a service)
If at any point in the process you and the prospect cannot agree to “walk through” one of the gateways together, it’s time to “lose the sale” and do your best to recommend a competing provider or solution.
Why lose the sale? Time is valuable, it’s a non-renewable resource — and there are plenty of other leads who are probably a better fit whom you can be servicing. And if there aren’t this will give you more time to go out and find them.
To get this process working for your business, memorize the steps, practicing it out loud (especially if you’re explicitly going to say “We have a transparent, win-win sales process process. Can I tell you how it works?”), and then doing it over and over again in real sales meetings until it becomes automatic. At that point, you’ll feel like a lead-qualifying machine.
Although nowadays I don’t explicitly explain the process up front, I still walk through each step individually making sure to be very explicit:
“Yes, well this project is interesting to me and a good fit based on our past experience and capabilities. Based on what I’ve shown you and told you — budget and timeline aside for the moment — would you also agree we look like a fit for your project?”
Laying out this process puts you in control of the discussion. It also builds trust because you’re bringing the client in on your process, showing you have no “tricks” up your sleeve. Above all, it helps both parties save time and make more informed decisions.
If is only after this step in a service business that you would submit a proposal.
Step 5 – How to handle uncertainty, objections, & hesitation
If you run through all four gateways correctly and get to the end, you have a 75-90% chance of closing the deal, which is pretty darn good.
However, you’re bound to run into common questions (aka, objections) and general resistance from the prospect. How well you answer each of those concerns will largely influence the outcome.
The 3 most common objections, no matter what you’re selling are as follows.
- Pricing – This one is the most common and frequent objection, especially if what you’re offering will cost $1000+. People simply want to get the best possible value for their dollar so it’s natural that they will try to negotiate with you and place a value on it that is different than what you’ve placed on it.If you’re selling a product where negotiating the price is not an option, the best way to overcome the pricing objection is to focus on the value it will provide and how it is unique from what else is on the market.
For a service business, where there is greater perception that there’s room to negotiate (whether or not it’s true), it’s best to take a position on the issue early in the discussion. If you’re willing to negotiate on the price, have a strategy and a number in mind that you’re not willing to go below.If you’re not willing to negotiate on price (which is often a premium positioning strategy), be clear that you do not negotiate on price, what you’re offering is a premium service and if the price were to be lowered, you would have to take something out what is ackaged in the proposal. You can add: “Lowering the price arbitrarily would sacrifice the quality of the finished product, something we don’t believe in doing and which would give a less than stellar result.”
Above all, focus on the value they will be getting. The price is not some amount of money they are losing, it’s an amount that will result in a return on investment, which is true assuming your service delivers on its promises.
And here’s a related bonus tip from Derek Halpern on why it’s an excellent idea to give multiple options when making your offer:
- Confidence – This one is usually straightforward, but you have make sure you properly diagnose it. People will often mask their true feelings for fear of being impolite, appearing unsure or simply not wanting to tell you no. Prospects can unintentionally drag you and your time through the mud if you don’t take action to help them reach a decision.The two best ways to deal with a lack of confidence on the part of a prospect are to tell them a customer story or to ask them directly why they seem uncertain.To ask them directly, try something like: “I was under the impression we could get started on this for you today, what are your deeper concerns? Be open with me.”)If you prefer a more indirect approach, telling a relevant story, for example about how a past client who used your services increased their conversions — something like that is compelling. It’s relatable from the prospect’s stand point since you talk about this other client’s state of mind prior to making the purchase, and then after, how they achieved their goal which are very similar to the prospect’s goals.
- Differentiation – “What makes you and the widgets that firm X makes any different? Firm X and you seem exactly the same, except your price is higher.” Be sure to define what makes you and your product / service unique early on in the process. This should be done while you’re going through the first sale gateway and then repeated again when it’s time to close.
For example, I recently re-positioned AutoGrow to focus on custom landing page design and sales funnel design. If you were a prospective client of ours, I would tell you that “by specializing in this, it allows us to optimize all of our business processes towards delivering high converting landing pages for you in a fast, efficient manner with sales copy that’s tailored to your target market’s needs. And unlike other firms, this is a premium service because (1) we do include the copywriting as part of the full package and (2) we have award winning writers on staff with over 30 years of experience.”
Remember, questions about differentiation are an opportunity to clarify for the customer why your product or service is unique in the marketplace, and moreover, how that uniqueness translates into the prospect solving their problem.
Before your sales call you should plan ahead by playing devil’s advocate on each of the above points. Writing down how you might respond when questions arise or hesitation occurs.
Step 6 – How to follow-up with qualified leads
Most sales will not close on the first meeting, especially if you’re selling higher ticket items. In this case you’ll have to follow-up until you get a definitive decision.
According to a recent report from Leads360 (now Velocify) nearly 40% of B2B leads will close eventually if followed-up with consistently over time. For B2C, that statistic exceeds 50%. If you want access to the full report, just input your email address here and I’ll send over the link instantly:
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Recommendation #1 for following-up
In an ideal work you world you would have a robot version of youself that could send highly customized email messages at set intervals to each of your qualified leads. Unfortunately that isn’t the case but we do have email autoresponders luckily.
I recommend creating a simple autoresponder that drips out customer testimonials over several weeks. Consider also including links to a relevant resources or articles. In the past, Dane Maxwell used this tactic on his Paperless Pipeline website with great success.
Recommendation #2 for following-up
At the end of every call, make sure you have a concrete, set time when you will be getting on the next call with the prospect. If he says, “I’ll get back to you next week,” say “How about Tuesday at 4pm?” This is important because it shows mutual interest and commitment to the process.
Step 7 – Concluding the sale
If there’s still an hesitation at this point then you need to go back with the customer and review the value that will be delivered and goals that the customer wants to achieve.
This is the core of why you’re have a discussion in the first place. They should understand they are trading value for value; the only reason you are recommending your solution is because based on their goals and needs, it’s a fit “and here’s how…”
In the end not everyone is going to convert from a lead into a customer. However, a bunch will (especially now that you’ve read this guide!). And for those that give you the OK you need to make it extremely easy for them to purchase.
If the purchase requires a signature on a proposal, use software like EchoSign, or my preference, BidSketch (which is super simple and easy to use). People really appreciate not having to print something paper documents, sign-them, scan them back it. It’s cumbersome, and both of these tools solve that problem and decrease the time it takes to get the proposal approved.
For payment options, provide the basics and don’t require too much information, only the necessaries. Credit cards, Paypal, and/or ACH checks are usually best, especially for all digital transaction. Often, people don’t want to take the time to type out in their billing info, so be proactive about taking it from them over phone so that it’s more convenient for the. Stay away from paper checks, money-orders, etc. if possible.
After the payment is made, you should review again with the customer what the next steps are and specifically when they are happening, so expectations are crystal clear.
To sell is human, to quote Daniel Pink.
But don’t confuse sales with what you might see happening in movies like The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s not about deception, and it’s nothing sleazy.
And it’s not about ABC (always be closing!). This hard driving sales attitude popularized by Hollywood fails to build sustainable customer relationships.
Rather, sales is about understanding your target customer, diagnosing their problem, understanding if that problem matches well with your solution, and then doing what is within your power to show the prospective customer “Hey, this could really help you, and here’s how.”
You will be rejected and fail a lot. But as long as you remain buoyant against this “ocean of rejection” (from Daniel Pink video above) by focusing not on the end result but on maintaining and optimizing good form as you go through the process, you will succeed, and you will continuously improve.
To paraphrase Bill Walsh, “Play the field and the score will take care of itself.” So get out there, apply what you learned from this article, and come back and share your insights.
What are some other tactics for increasing your person-to-person sales rate?