The “basics” of selling are the foundation stones on which the success of sophisticated selling depends.

It's imperative that salespeople know as much about competitive offerings as they do about their own.

There is a tendency in every profession, and selling is no exception, to become so involved with subtle and innovative techniques that we unconsciously backslide on the basics. It's a natural tendency, but in sales it can be fatal — the “basics” are the foundation stones on which the success of sophisticated selling depends.

The first essential is to enter every selling situation in the right frame of mind. Although your long-range objective is to obtain an order, your immediate and continuing goal must be to help your customer solve or avoid a problem, or to awaken the customer to a need of which he or she may be unaware. Our primary function in selling is to serve the customer. If the customer senses this, obtaining orders will be easier.

  • In your pre-sale planning, consider all the reactions available to the customer. Think beyond what your reactions would be if you were the customer. What will his be? Elements you might consider of minor importance may have a major impact upon the customer. A salesperson aware of that will rarely be surprised into off-the-cuff responses to customer objections. Even if that snap reaction is correct, it may give some customers the impression that you have not given serious consideration to their objections. Remember, the customer may have been struggling with that problem. Too speedy a reply (and solution) may cause the customer to lose face because he or she has not been able to find a solution after having given their problem much thought.

    At the least, try to convey the impression that you are giving real consideration to the objection raised. Then, provide the customer with a solution. There are times when you will be able to explain that, having faced this same objection before, you know it can be solved without too much difficulty. When possible, avoid naming other customers for whom you solved similar problems unless you are certain your present customer holds them in high regard. That way, your present customer will not feel that he or she has been less than intelligent for not having thought of the solution.

    Try to create the impression in the customers'' minds that they are “managing” the selling situation. Try to lead them to what you believe to be the right solution by making them feel that it was their idea in the first place.

  • One of the best ways to accomplish this is to be a good listener. We''''ve all heard people say, “He talks too much.” Have you ever heard anyone say, “He listens too much.”? Keep in mind that when customers do most of the talking, they will subconsciously feel that they, not you, are managing the selling situation. Listening is not just hearing the customer's voice. It's hearing what the customer means. And it's difficult to hear that while you're talking. That's why, in many selling situations, effective salespeople let customers do most of the talking.

    The exception is when a question arises that requires you to give a full explanation to supply the information your customer obviously wants. When the customer is talking, give full attention to him or her. How often have you become annoyed when you notice that the person to whom you''''re speaking is looking around the room or facing you with that glassy look that indicates a mind that''''s not on what you''''re saying? Customers will react to such situations the same way you do.

  • When possible, provide customers with a range of choices. This is another way to persuade customers that they are managing the selling situation. But try to make the decision an easy one, perhaps by narrowing down the options. Facing too many choices, a customer may not feel comfortable making a decision and say that he or she needs more time to decide. This delay can open the door to the competition.

    We can learn much from professional salespeople who sell, for example, women''''s dresses. The salesperson may exhibit a number of dresses. Watching the customer''''s reaction to each dress carefully, they put aside those in which the customer has shown little or no interest. On the occasion that the customer asks, “Where is that white dress you showed me a long time ago?” the salesperson can immediately produce the dress that was placed out of sight to pare down the field. Similarly, having considered and bypassed several possible courses of action without finding an obvious solution, a customer may decide to take another look at one of your earlier suggestions.

  • A second part of pre-sale planning is to consider every possible competitor. Never underestimate the “new kid on the block” who in the past may have been a minor player. That minor competitor may become major with the introduction of a new product or a new feature, or a door-opening low price. Consider what such competitors may be able to do to “sweeten the offer.”

    In many fields, it''''s imperative that salespeople know as much about competitive offerings as they do about their own. Equally valuable is knowing as much as possible about competing companies — their organizations, their marketing strategies and their problems. In every field there are trade papers and a number of publications that frequently run major articles about the companies that are, or can become, competitors. Obtaining such information can often enable a salesperson to determine, in advance, the kind of problems new competitive products or strategies can create. This, in turn, makes planning a possible counteroffensive.

  • In the course of planning, a salesperson should keep informed about the features of new products and/or services the competition may be offering — especially those the salesperson''''s own company lacks or has not heretofore offered. This includes any financial plans the competition is or may soon be offering. Then consider what can be done to offset their appeal to your customers.

It is always a temptation to point out to customers the dangers of buying new features. And this may, indeed, prove effective. Keep in mind, however, that it may boomerang when the salesperson''''s own company introduces a new product or service or feature at a later date. A customer made wary of untried and unproven competitive offerings may apply that same wariness to all new products.

If you feel you must warn customers about the hazards of buying competing products, don''''t generalize. Let the customer know specifically what you feel are the potential faults. Above all, don''''t be so sold on the superiority of your own products that you fail to keep an eye on what the competition is doing or planning on doing. Only informed can you prepare; only prepared can you prevail.

Selling, of course, involves more than satisfying customers'''' product or service needs. As often as not it also involves satisfying or nourishing the customers'''' psychic needs. There are four fundamental psychic needs — the intensity of each differs from one person to the next. They are:

  1. The need to be rich (to make money).

  2. The need to be famous (to look good in our own eyes and in the eyes of others).

  3. The need to be secure (to avoid worrying situations).

  4. The need for power (to dominate situations, to have the final say, to resist any threat to one''''s position).

It is absolutely essential to identify which of these four needs will be uppermost in customers'''' minds during selling situations. To some degree, each of us has these needs, and they vary in strength depending on the situations in which we find ourselves.

For instance, the same customer who seeks power in business dealings may have no need of power at home, where he or she is content to let his or her spouse make the decisions. Our concern, of course, in not with the customer''''s domestic arrangements, but with the customer''''s need in selling situations, where many buyers feel that exercising decision-making authority will increase their power in their own organizations.

Quite different are those customers whose major drive is the need for security. This sort of customer may make all the buying decisions at home with an eye to their impact on the family security. But, this person may also have a great fear of making a buying mistake in a selling situation. These customers need proof and assurance that their buying decisions will be safe ones.

The need to be famous can be interpreted as the need to have a good reputation in one''''s field of work, in the community or within one''''s professional organization. These types of customers often make buying decisions based upon how those decisions will make them appear in the eyes of those they wish to impress.

Fortunately, in most cases a salesperson only has to be concerned about which of these psychic needs will have the greatest effect upon each buyer''''s decision. Every customer has a full set of these needs, and a wise salesperson is careful to avoid threatening any of them. Typically, two or three are dormant and play little or no role in buying decisions — until some word or action on the part of the salesperson is seen as a psychic threat. It is essential to pay close attention to customers so we can identify which need is dominant. We must then take pains to nourish that need.

If you have any doubt about the importance of identifying those four basic needs, ask yourself if there are stores, gas stations or other suppliers from whom you won''''t buy because of how you or members of your family have been treated. The long lines at the cash registers in many supermarkets, the problem of finding an employee who can answer questions, the general feeling that customers are not seen as individuals…all can cause potential customers to buy elsewhere, even at higher prices. Customers often say that they buy in smaller stores because the quality is better. Often, this is simply a case where the “need to be rich” (to save money) is, at that moment, less important than the “need to be famous” (to be seen as important).

Selling is the process of satisfying the customer''''s needs, whether psychological or professional. And just as the salesperson makes every effort to identify which product features will best satisfy the customer''''s needs, he or she also must identify which of the customers'''' psychic needs will dictate, often to a major degree, the final buying decision. Time spent understanding the customer both as a buyer and a person can pay rich rewards.