In his post "The panhandler' s secret", Seth Godin tells us how he discovered the secret of a successful sale:
"When there were old-school parking meters in New York, quarters were precious.
One day, I'm walking down the street and a guy comes up to me and says, "Do you have a dollar for four quarters?" He held out his hand with four quarters in it.
Curious, I engaged with him. I took out a dollar bill and took the four quarters.
Then he turned to me and said, "can you spare a quarter?"
What a fascinating interaction.
First, he engaged me. A fair trade, one that perhaps even benefited me, not him.
Now, we have a relationship. Now, he knows I have a quarter (in my hand, even). So his next request is much more difficult to turn down. If he had just walked up to me and said, "can you spare a quarter," he would have been invisible.
Too often, we close the sale before we even open it.
Interact first, sell second."
Actually, a successful sale is a 4-step process, and only 4 steps.
I personally have applied it all along my professional life in the High Tech business-to-business without knowing I was following this very process, like Monsieur Jourdain in Moliere' s "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme" was speaking prose all his life without knowing it.
Since a few years, I'm experiencing this 4-step process in the real life, I mean B2C. Helping a friend of mine, owner of a luxury menswear store, during the Winter and Summer shopping festivals here in France, I'm selling Pierre Cardin suits (and jackets, shirts, ties...) during the weekends. Ever been selling something to consumers ? During a shopping festival ? On the saturdays and sundays ? I tell you : it's tough. To me, selling a 259€ Pierre Cardin' "Travel" suit in January is way harder than selling for $ 1M of Optical Test equipments to a Telco during Downturn. Because the competition is harder (there are plenty of other stores selling suits, at lower prices) and convincing the decision maker (i.e. the wife or the mother ;-) is more difficult.
However, I achieve the quota, and even more. There's no secret here, just evidence. Here are the four steps of a successful sale :
#1 : engage. What Seth Godin calls "interact", or my dear coach Hal Stitt names "ingroup". In the case of this menswear store, it consists of... greeting the clients. Say "hello". With a big large smile.
You can't believe how this first step is important: it is the key differentiator against the competition. I tell you: so many people coming back to us saying "you are the only store where we feel welcomed"...
#2 : listen. Here, it's a two-fold step: first, observe the end-user - ooops, the guy, and his decision maker - ooops, his wife (or his girl friend, or his mother, or his... boy friend - yes, it happens sometimes ;-) Which jacket or suit they touch, how they talk to each other, etc.
Then, and only then, you can go to them and offer them your assistance: "how can help you spend less time here" was the winning formula I found this year last January. Apparently, so unusual that it's an instant ice-breaking, giving you the opportunity to start the discussion with the client : what are they looking for, which usage (for instance in the case of a suit: is it for every day, if yes which kind of job, is it for a wedding, if yes, is he the lucky guy, etc.), what budget, if any, etc.
#3 : suggest. Once the end-user has clearly expressed his requirements, you can propose him a selection of your products which might fit to his needs. Sounds familiar, right ? In the case of this store, it can be the same suit but in two different sizes, or the same style but made of different wool, etc.
Here, don't forget the back-up plan: maybe the first solution you'll propose won't fit. Then, you have to be ready to immediately suggest a second solution. In the case of a suit, it can be a different size, a different style, a different fabric.
#4 : close. The end-user is happy with your solution ? Fine. Now the tough part: make him pay. First of all, you need to get the decision maker on the same line. In the case of Menswear, surprisingly enough (at least to me when I started a few years back), it's the Woman who decides, statistically 80% of the deals. Make sure she likes her man in this beautiful 2-buttons Cardin 2008. In other words, make HER shine. Tell her husband that looking nice in that suit will make his wife look even cuter. Speak respect and honor, things that women loves to hear from a man because it so rare those days. In summary, pay attention to HER problem.
In the case of B2B, it could be that the decision maker - the CEO, the Procurement manager, the Field Op director, whoever - is facing issues with manufacturing, shipments, deliveries, data processing, whatever problem making his days a real pain. There are tons of business books and blogs out there on the subject, so this is not the purpose of this post to explain it ;-)
In summary: engage, listen, suggest, close. Efficient in both B2C and B2B. The key is: pay attention to the customer. Say "hello".