Planning is essential for personal selling time to be maximized, so one must adopt a general sales sequence and a specific plan for each individual interview.
The sales process or sequence is a basic framework that must be flexible and adaptable, as each individual sales situation is different and presents its own problems. The one that follows is widely used to distinguish the key steps in the sales sequence and for obvious reason is often referred to as the ‘seven steps’ model.
1 Preparation – where the salesperson should have a good general knowledge of:
2 First impressions – A sales meeting should start in a pleasant yet businesslike way. Time is important, but so is being polite. Likewise, good personal selling involves listening as well as asking questions. It is also about being accommodating. If a buyer sets a time limit, this should be respected, although an offer to stay longer is often necessary and can be useful. Mention should also be made at this early stage of other business to be dealt with, such as expediting invoices due for payment. Such matters should be discussed and settled at the beginning of the meeting in the knowledge that it will then be simpler to discuss the real business on hand.
3 Preparation and demonstration – Salespersons should a list major selling points relating to the products or services they are selling. The most important of these will be points that give some advantage over competitors’ products. In the presentation and demonstration the salesperson should concentrate on the unique sales propositions (USPs) that are appropriate to that particular customer’s needs and interests. In a sales situation involving the need for a sales presentation or a demonstration, the salesperson should be prepared for this and secure the potential customer’s active involvement. What should be avoided is running both the demonstration and presentation together, as this can be confusing. The salesperson should use terms at a degree of technical detail that the customer can understand. During the presentation the salesperson should ask questions and listen to the answers to probe the customer’s interests further. Some products are impossible to demonstrate and here the salesperson should use models or audiovisual aids. A salesperson should avoid being too ‘long-winded’ or sales might be lost. Selling signals as simple as the buyer looking at his or her watch should be sought and attempts then made to close the sale as over-presentation often loses a sale.
4 Negotiation – The principal role for the salesperson is to know the limits of acceptance and nonacceptance. The salesperson may negotiate with the customer aspects like price, discounts, credit and selling rights. Often the final margin of negotiation is retained by the sales manager. The salesperson should obtain as much information as possible about the buyer’s needs and level of potential business and assess its potential worth. Concessions should be held back as long as possible. If not, they cease to be concessions. Negotiation is a key element of major sales activities.
5 Overcoming objections – These might be commercial objections that relate to matters like price, credit or delivery. These are common and salespersons should be trained in techniques for handling them. An objection on commercial grounds could be a disguise for a real objection or even simply be a buying ploy e.g. a buyer might argue that a competitive product has a better finish, but not fully explain how the quality of finish is better. When it is a disguise, or excuse, it is up to the salesperson to discover, by shrewd questioning, the real objection. A skilled salesperson can use customer objections to close a sale by suggesting that if the objection is answered, will this result in a sale. However organizational buyers are experienced enough to recognize when salespeople are using objections as a closing technique, and will be skilled enough to be able to pose an apt reply.
6 Closing the sale – The objective of most sales interviews is to obtain a sale, although others might be to discuss matters like service provision. There are a variety of closing techniques, which the salesperson can use:
7 Follow-up – is needed to avoid loss of contact or to bring about repeat business. After closing a sale it is important that the salesperson ‘ties up’ loose ends such as delivery times. To this end a follow-up call should be made, and if unforeseen problems occur, the salesperson can rectify them and not lose the sale or future business.
The seven steps model is probably one of the oldest paradigms in the sales discipline and it is still used widely in sales training, in sales textbooks and in selling itself. However, some have questioned its relevance in an increasingly relationship selling era
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