Three steps to sales success
Your first steps to sales success
There are heaps of articles on the Internet on the subject of sales. Mountains of paper and ink have been dedicated to the subject because it is so foundational to a business operating in a market economy. However, most of what you find will be talking to a different audience. They are written for the professional salesperson or sales managers, generally people with professional sales experience in a team environment. You are looking for information relevant to selling as a freelancer or a solo business owner.
There are still some good bits of information for you, the solo-entrepreneur, the freelancer, but allow me to distill it down to the good bits for a person in your shoes. We'll start here with a high level view to get started selling for your business.
1. Know your value proposition
The first step is simple, define what you are selling and who you want to sell it to. Hopefully it is something they want to buy, maybe you can find some evidence that they already buy similar products.
You may come back to this step from time to time to refine your concept. Your understanding of the market and customers will change, and where you want to go in your career will change.
A value proposition is the promise of a benefit that will be received if they buy your product or service.
Your product may be graphic design services, but new art (generally) isn't the benefit they are looking to buy. Think about what it will do for their business and the problems it will solve for them. How will your service get them more customers and make their business more profitable.
This is a critical step. Without a clear understanding of what you are selling, to who, and why they should buy, you will have great difficulty moving forward with your business. It is critical, but not difficult to get this understanding. Perhaps start out by identifying a few potential customers and ask them for an informational interview, not to sell them your services but just to ask them about the problems they have in relation to your product.
2. Master your product knowledge
Whether you are selling a "thing" or you are selling your own freelance services you need to know the details of what you are offering. Not only the details of your solution, you also need to learn what the competition is doing too.
Here we are getting into the details of how your service will solve your customer's problem. Know the details of your product and your competition to help you effectively answer questions and handle objections to moving forward with the sale.
As a service provider this might seem like an oh duh sort of step. After all, if they are hiring a writer the service is written words and they know what to expect. Right? Not entirely, you might be hired to write 500 words but you aren't going to write the same 500 words as the next writer, your process and interactions with the client are features of your product. How much you already know about the subject and how much research you will do have real impact on the quality of the finished product, and on your costs.
Product knowledge is knowing how what you are selling solves the customer's problem. Knowing the details of how your product delivers the value proposition, that promised benefit, will help you speak fluently about your solution. Being an expert on your solution begins to establish you as an Authority in the field, and that builds trust which leads to sales.
3. Work a system
Formal processes are used by successful people in all professions, they ensure we know what to do next and avoid mistakes. There are many books and articles on the sales cycle and various sources will define the steps a little differently. The process is often defined in terms of how much evidence has been gathered with respect to the customer's interest and intent to buy.
In four steps we can view the stages as Prospect->Lead->Opportunity->Customer, but I will break it down a little more mechanistically.
- Step one is discovery, where you identify potential customers.
- Step two is to reach out and contact them, also called prospecting. In this step your goal is to find out who is interested enough to set an appointment for a live conversation.
- Step three, the appointment. Your job here is to ask a few questions and listen closely.
- Step four is a conversation, building on what you learned about the customer's problems by listening you share how you can solve their problems. There is still a lot of listening at this stage as you go back and forth to better understand how your service is a solution for the customer.
- Step five is the close, once you have established that your service can solve a problem that they care about you have to ask for their business. Some might take the initiative after realizing they need you, but most will need you to make the next step clear. Don't lose sales through ambiguity, it isn't being pushy to simply tell them how you can move forward solving their problem!
Finally, working a sales system means allocating time to each step, everyday. It is a process, over time it will result in plenty of new customers, but you have to put in the work consistently and conscientiously.