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Adding value to a commodity purchase – Part 2

Ron Furlong
Ron Furlong - Contributed

Chamber Chat with Ron Furlong

As local business we want people to have what they need. But we also want as much of the money as possible to stay here. We don’t produce everything people use locally, and someone is always willing to sell cheaper than we can. So why should people buy from you? Last month we looked at adding value to the product or service itself. This month? Adding value to the sales process.

process – Seven basic steps of the sales process are: 1) Prospect for leads; 2) Connect with and qualify leads; 3) Research; 4) Presentation; 5) Handle objections; 6) Close the sale; and 7) Follow-up.

Sales process step 1) Prospecting - In a retail offline storefront business the first step, prospecting, is generally done through advertising and word of mouth. Focusing the message on letting people know they should contact you when they are looking for specific products or services. This approach is customer driven, making it the customer’s responsibility to see your promotional material and contact you. Prospecting is all about identifying an individual or a customer type who is interested in the solution your product or service can provide.

If your customers have something in common, or you can figure out an indicator of when they might be in the market you can prospect them. For a real-world example, in the 1980’s I had a photographic studio. One of my services was wedding photography. My prospecting for wedding clients consisted of giving a local jewelry store certificates for engagement photos they could gift as a thank you to couples who purchased an engagement ring from them. There were no strings or conditions, I just wanted couples who were planning on getting married to know me and my work when they considered their wedding photography.

Sales process step 2) Connect with and qualify leads – Once you know someone has an interest in your product (this is where online prospecting excels) then its all about connecting with them. For the purpose of this article we’ll stick to bricks and mortar retail, and these potential customers walk in or call. How you connect with them, the questions you ask, the way you build trust, the perceptions they have, are all in what you say, how you sound, and what your store looks like. That’s equally true for online stores, but you can fake it much easier online.

The key is not to skip steps. You can rush them if that’s what the customer wants. Twenty-five percent of them will want that. But don’t skip the research or presentation. Just be prepared to adjust them to fit the customer. Connection is all about getting the customer to consider you, and to determine how you should consider the customer.

Sales process step 3) Research – “What problem is the customer trying to solve?” That’s usually way more important than “What is the customer asking for?” However, when the customer knows more about the product than you, the customer’s issue is not the key information you should seek out. They’ve already done the research. But in most other cases you will have lots to offer. Add value by confirming with the customer what you heard the problem as being, before you move forward.

Sales process step 4) Presentation – Offer a solution. First in the same terms they asked. Then in terms of how your recommendation solves the problem they confirmed. The value is in talking to the customer in terms of the problem they’re looking to solve.

Sales process step 5) Handle objections – There are all kinds of “techniques” for “overcoming” objections, but first consider: a) “I don’t trust the solution as you’ve defined it,” b) “I don’t want to spend that much to solve it,” or c) “I’m not ready to say yes because I might be missing a better solution.” As you can see none of these can be solved by pushing the product before finding out what the actual objection is. How you investigate the true objection is how you add value.

Sales process step 6) Close – Asking for the sale can be as simple as asking if you can ring it up or order it for them. If you take deposits it should cover the cost of any restocking charges. That way you’re both protected if things change. The value is confirming they are responsible for the sale, and the relationship will be every bit as professional with a failed delivery as it will be with a successful one. It keeps surprises to a minimum, and if they take what they’ve learned and shop you elsewhere, including online, they know their end cost includes sending yours back.

Sales process step 7) Follow-up – This is toughest without online connections to customers. You might not want to open the door on each unique set of circumstances that likely didn’t go as planned for the customer. And that’s regardless of how well you prepared them. If so follow-up periodically on the customer relationship. Know which customers contribute your profit, not just cashflow. If you don’t want to ask how a sale went? No problem. The value is in asking how doing business with your business is going. That’s what you really need to know.

Next month: “Price.”

Ron Furlong is the executive director of the Amherst and Area Chamber of Commerce.

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