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Improve Your Career With Sales and Marketing Skills

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Sales and marketing often get a bad name because of people like the prototypical “slimy used car salesman,” or the stores that bring you in the door with leader ads, only to “run out” of the item you came to purchase. Then you get the salesman who is ready to sweet talk you into spending more money on a similar, but pricier item.

But sales and marketing is about much more than upselling the customer to earn a few more dollars. Sales and marketing can be a quick way to satisfy your customer and garner attention from your employer – earning you commissions and promotions. But sales and marketing is also about building long term relationships and giving the customer what they need.

I recently featured a guest article by Bob from Shark Investor. The guest article, The Remarkable Approach To Your Finances, was about how to invest in yourself. Some of the tips included learning how to speak in public, learning a new language, increasing your financial intelligence, and improving your sales and marketing skills.

Don J. wrote in and asked:

I’d love to hear some suggestions on how to learn sales and marketing. This was the section that really jumped out at me in reading this article, and I have known for a long time that it was a weak spot for me. Right now, I think that it is holding back my career in several ways.

Don, I think this is an area in which many people can improve. I worked a sales position before joining the US Air Force, and even though I eventually changed careers, I learned a lot during my time as a salesman. I have learned more since then by working as a consultant and observing others in my field and when shopping. These tips may not make you the salesman of the century, but if you follow them, your sales and marketing skills should improve – hopefully improving your professional prospects as well.

What it takes to become a better salesman or marketer

It’s not about you, it’s about the customer

Sales are great. They help your company turn a profit and put money in your pocket. But your company wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for its customer base. Unless you are meeting your customer’s needs, he will not return. Ask yourself what problems you can solve for the customer. Solving your customer’s problems will increase customer satisfaction and improve sales.

Know your customer

The best way to sell someone a product or service is to know their needs. The more familiar you are with their product and needs, the easier it is to provide solutions to their problems. Solve their problem and you will have a repeat customer.

Listen more than you talk

The best way to give someone what they want or need is to have them tell you what they want or need. And they will if you let them. Just be sure to actually listen to their answer. You should be an expert regarding the product or service your company offers and you should have no problem recommending something to fit their needs.

Know and understand your product or service

Sales is more than just handing over a product or service in exchange for cash. Sales is about problem solving and you, as the salesman, are the expert problem solver. Customers may have an idea what they want, but of sometimes they don’t know what they need. You can give them the information, service, or expertise they need to get the job done. Consulting is a prime example of this in action.

Be prepared

Know your product, know your customer, and be prepared. You will increase your sales if you can anticipate your customer’s needs and solve their problems. Part of being prepared is rehearsing your sales pitch. You don’t want to come across like you memorized a sales guide, but you don’t want to stammer through your response either. You should aim to come across in a confident, conversational manner. Remember, practice makes perfect.

Be passionate

If you aren’t enthusiastic and don’t support your product or service, why would anyone else want to buy it? You are the face of your company and the more enthusiastic you are about your product, the more the likely the customer will feel the same way.

Sometimes the downsell is the best sell

Sometimes, selling the customer less than what they ask for is better than giving them their initial request or selling them more than they need. While this may seem counter intuitive, this is really just good business. You want your customers to know that you are more concerned with meeting their needs than making a much money as possible. This level of trust can bring you repeat business, and repeat customers are almost always more valuable than one time customers.

Sometimes you need to plant a seed

If you have a prospective client who may become a big customer, it may benefit you in the long run to make a deal or two that may seem disadvantageous at first glance. Maybe you need to throw in a little something extra to sweeten the deal the first time, or maybe you give the customer a one time discount to seal the deal. But sometimes that is worth it. Once you have a customer, they are more likely to stay with you than go through the trouble of finding a new vendor. That doesn’t mean you need to give away the farm. But sometimes you need to be creative in order to land contracts.

No last minute upsells

The last thing any customer wants is an upsell when they think the deal is done. Last minute upsells can come across as underhanded and can break the trust you worked so hard to establish. If there is the possibility of additional services the customer can purchase, let them know before they agree to the deal. That way there isn’t the perception that you are trying to pull one over on them, or are only concerned with lining the company coffers. Remember, it is about providing a service to meet the customer’s needs, not yours.

Ask for the sale

The power of suggestion can be a strong one. That does not mean you need to be aggressive and overpowering when making sales. But sometimes, all people need is a little suggestion before they will make a decision.

Anyone can become a better salesman

Some people are born salesmen. They have the gift of gab, recognize opportunity, and seem to excel at every chance that comes their way. While I can’t guarantee you will replicate their success, I believe anyone can improve their success at sales and marketing. And I don’t think you need to go to college to learn sales or that you need to read numerous books on “sales techniques.” At its base level, being a salesman is about problem solving. If you can solve the customer’s problem, you can be a successful salesman.


Published or updated March 14, 2011.
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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ron@TheWisdomJournal

“…I have known for a long time that it was a weak spot for me. Right now, I think that it is holding back my career…”

If you’ve KNOWN it was a weak spot, is IT holding back your career, or are YOU?

The key thing that most salespeople fail to think about is how the product/service will benefit the end user. Usually salespeople are too interested in getting a YES or at least a referral, that they forget their main mission is to act as a servant to the customer. When a customer realizes that a salesperson is actively seeking ways to help them, they buy.

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2 Ryan

Jesse,

I think being assertive is good, but I would caution against being overly aggressive. That can be a big turn off and drive customers away. But confidence and assertion can be big pluses. Sometimes it’s a fine line. ;)

Ron,

Great points. I think it’s important to address career issues when they arise. And now is as good a time as any!

Great tips on sales, by the way!

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3 Jesse

I think the hardest part for me is being persistent/aggressive. Im naturally a very laid back person almost to a fault and so sometimes I have a really hard time buckling down and pushing.

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4 Steward @ My Family's Money

I have tons of respect for a business that will down sell me, especially if it is a car repair shop. They will definitely make a repeat customer from me because they have gained my trust that they are as much about fixing my car right as they are about making money from doing it. I like that a lot.

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5 Ryan

Steward,

I’ve got a lot of respect for salesmen that will downsell as well. The closest example I’ve had with a car shop is when they recommend getting mid grade items like tires or other accessories, instead of buying the highest quality. Most often, the highest quality is rated for more than daily drivers need.

I used to downsell a lot when I sold musical instruments. A lot of times people would want to buy their children an instrument and thought they needed to drop a grand on a flute for a 5th grader. Until you reach a certain skill level, that instrument won’t sound or play any better. As long as the instrument is easy to play, it’s probably good enough to start with. I also usually recommended people buy used instruments when they were beginning. You can save so much money that way!

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6 Steward @ My Family's Money

@ Ryan – What happened to me was I had a leaky head gasket on a 10 year old car with 150,000+ miles on it. Instead of recommending I have him replace the head gasket (big bucks), he told me since the leak wasn’t too bad to just make sure it was toopped off with coolant until I had enough saved to invest in a newer model. The car is still running fine and we have saved up enough to replace it, but are waiting for the right price on a newer used car before we spend it.

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7 Frugal Dad

Great advice–related to “listen more than you talk,” I picked up the following little interesting word trick somewhere along the way. The words “silent” and “listen” have the same letters.

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8 Ryan

You know I might have been told that once, but I don’t think I was paying attention. ;)

Seriously, I hadn’t noticed that, but it is a good trick to remember. :)

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9 Emily

I think this is very valid, even if you don’t have a “thing” to sell — lawyers, freelance writers, actors, massage therapists all have to sell a service or personality. Knowing how to sell or market yourself is vital, regardless of whether you see yourself as a salesperson or not. When you interview for a job, you are essentially selling someone on you and your abilities!

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10 Ryan

Emily,

Very true! I think those who are self employed – including professionals such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. need to pay special attention to how they represent themselves and their services. Word of mouth plays an important role in their business and if they are not careful, they run the risk of running themselves out of business.

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11 Greg Woodley

Hi Ryan,

a lot of good common sense in what you say. As a salesman of 20+ years it amazes me how so many sales people can stuff it up?

My first sales mentor used to say, “you have 2 ears and one mouth, use them proportionately”

Be keen/enthusiastic, know your product, listen more than you talk and keeping the customer’s interests at heart will get you a long way in selling. The subtleties lie in learning what to listen for and what questions to ask as well as maintaining your enthusiasm, controlling your emotions and being organized.

Greg

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12 Ryan

Greg, Great tips. I especially love the quote, “”you have 2 ears and one mouth, use them proportionately.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to have salespeople try to tell my what I want instead of listen to me describe my needs. My patience for that is extremely low. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

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13 susan esther chikwendu

please tell me how to manage a home and at the same time be a good sales person and marketer

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14 ajay sharma

the points are no doubt good but they can be made splendid by giving an example…. for example the downsell example…….

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15 Ryan

Ajay, an example of a downsell is the opposite of the upsell. For example, if you are a car salesman and you know a family has specific needs and a limited budget you should point them to the model that best fits their needs and price range, not the one that provides the highest commission for you. It will not only be easier to make the sale, but the family will be happier with the experience and more likely to share their good experience via referrals and recommendations.

Another example would be not recommending high end a gaming computer to someone who only plans on using the computer for e-mail and word processing.

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