The Art of the Sale

'Sell' Is Not a Four-Letter Word

No matter what you call it, persuasion, convincing, influencing… or selling… it’s all about moving ideas

by Tom Hopkins

Mr. Hopkins is the author of The Art of Growing a Successful Financial Services Business. Visit him here.

What skills do we really need when we face the public every day? We need compassion and courtesy. We need effective communication skills. We need an understanding of the products we represent. We need selling skills.

You may have just cringed at that last sentence. The word “selling” has a negative connotation for many people. That’s simply because, as in any field, there are good salespeople and bad ones and the bad ones make the news. Think about it. A few short years ago, what image would have come to your mind when you heard about those people who used to operate in the subprime lending arena? Not a pretty one, I’ll bet.

It’s the same with salespeople. There is a certain stereotypical image that most people have when it comes to salespeople. For those of us who sell products and services for a living, it’s a daily challenge to overcome that stereotype. For the rest of the world, it would have to be the last job on earth before they would consider taking it. However, we are all involved in sales in some way, shape or form every day of our lives

The Daily Sale

If you are an average living, breathing human being, you are involved in some sort of selling on a daily basis. You may not call it selling, but it is. What follows are some examples of selling situations. See how many apply to you.

  • Did you persuade one of your kids to take the trash out this morning on his or her way out the door?
  • Did you convince your spouse that it was his/her turn to make dinner tonight?
  • Did you recommend a movie or book to a friend or associate?
  • Did you and a co-worker or client go to lunch today? Who made the choice of where to eat? If it was you, you probably “sold” them on your preferred restaurant. If it was them, you were persuaded.

What about the person who handled your order? Were you persuaded to order something extra such as a larger drink or tempting dessert? Hmm. Sounds like a selling situation to me.

Moving an idea

You see, it doesn’t matter if you use the words, persuade, convince, influence, win over or sell, the activity all boils down to moving an idea, concept, opinion, product or service from you to another person–and that’s selling. So, let’s get past any negative connotation you may have about the word so you can learn and benefit from some fun and rewarding selling skills.
In your everyday business of selling to the public, there are seven aspects of communication that are important to master.

They are:

  1. Meeting and greeting people.
  2. Making favorable first impressions.
  3. Determining each individual’s needs and assisting them in locating the right solutions.
  4. Discussing a range of products, not just your favorite ones.
  5. Addressing any concerns they may have.
  6. Asking for their business while continuing to make a warm, friendly, and professional impression.
  7. Convincing clients to tell others what a great service you provide.

What I’ve just covered here are the seven basic steps in every selling cycle. The steps go by many names, but they perform basically the same functions every time. They are:

  1. Prospecting
  2. Making initial contact
  3. Qualifying
  4. Presenting
  5. Overcoming objections
  6. Closing the business
  7. Getting referrals

With some clients, this seven-step sales process may only take an hour or so. With others, it may take weeks, months, or even years to complete. With proper preparation and training, you can complete the seven steps effectively and efficiently; and earn the increased business to prove it.

Included in all seven steps are the two primary communication skills: Questioning and Listening. Without a doubt, questioning and listening are the two most powerful communication skills anyone can develop. The proper use of questions will bring you answers which will help guide you—not unlike a sonar-seeking device—to make a direct hit, which is the product or combination of products your potential clients need to meet their financial needs.

Get your clients talking

If you are an average living, breathing human being, you are involved in some sort of selling on a daily basis

The most important key in questioning is to use it strictly to get clients talking. You see, God gave us two ears and one mouth. I have to believe in His great wisdom that is the proportion we were meant to use them. In order to be an effective communicator, especially in one-on-one situations, you must listen twice as much as you talk. You see, when you’re talking, you’re covering material you already know. In selling, your goal is to find out what they know, want, need or desire so you can direct clients to filling those needs through the services you provide. That’s where the questions come in.
The best way to determine the needs of a potential customer is to follow the basic rules of good journalism. Think back to your school days with me now. What were the six questions you needed to answer in order to write a good story? They were and still are who, what, when, where, why and how. This is so simple, but powerful in getting people to tell you what they need.

  • Think of your product. Then ask questions such as the following:
  • “Who, other than yourself, will be impacted by your financial decisions?”
  • “What are some of the things you’d like to do in your golden years?”
  •  “When do you intend to start your investment portfolio?”
  • “Where do you anticipate spending the majority of your time after retirement?”
  • “Why are you addressing this aspect of financial planning just now? Are there special considerations you’re concerned about?”
  •  “How much of your income are you prepared to invest in your future?”

Any of the above questions, asked with sincerity, warmth and empathy for the prospective client, will help them open up and tell you more about themselves, their situations, the people they feel responsible for, and their future plans. As long as you know the products you represent very well, you’ll be able to direct them to the best choice for their needs.

Once you’ve completed your analysis and have some information to share or suggestions to provide, come up with something visual and possibly physical to use during your presentation. The more senses you can engage with prospective clients, the more likely you will be to win their business. Use colorful charts and graphs. If you have a touch screen computer, let them be the ones doing the touching. Hand them a calculator and have them do the math right along with you related to the financial education you’re providing.

Physical involvement creates emotional involvement and people buy emotionally. Sure, they may logically feel your program is what they are looking for, but the actual decision to invest in it is made when they are emotionally attracted to the results they’ve been seeking.

Another point of selling skill is in realizing that everything you say to prospective clients creates pictures in their minds. So, you must be certain that what you are saying is painting the type of picture that’s pleasing to them.

Let me give you an example. Let’s take the word “sign” as an example. When you come to an agreement with people who will now become clients, you ask them to sign something, right? Of course, mom and dad taught us not to sign anything without reading the fine print. And, people view money as security so when your solution involves them allowing you to manage their “security” all sorts of warning lights are likely to go off in their heads. When you finish filling out your paperwork, don’t ask clients to sign it. Ask them to okay it, approve it, authorize it or endorse it. It’s amazing how people will approve the paperwork but not sign a contract.

Here’s another one. If someone is trying to decide between two items, don’t point out how one is cheaper than the other. Use the words more economical. The first term indicates a propensity to stinginess which is a negative image, while the other indicates frugality which is a positive trait.

The bottom line for increasing sales is to make clients feel good about being with you, about making decisions that are good for them (with your professional assistance), and leaving with not only a solution for their needs, but a wonderful, positive feeling that will linger while referring (selling?) others to do the same.