Selling is a sequential and staged process. Occasionally one meeting may lead directly to business; more often a number of different interactions are necessary, building up the case and finally converting the interest generated into commitment.
Secondly, it is a cumulative process. In other words, each stage has to go right, the prospect can lose interest or drop out at any stage and at every stage he may well be making comparisons with how a competing organisation goes through the process. Literally, if one stage is judged inadequate by the prospect, there may well be no chance to move on to the next stage at all.
Thirdly, these stages clearly involve different methods of communication, all of which must be handled with equal effectiveness. What is done must be equally persuasive, no matter whether it involves a simple one-to-one meeting, a telephone call, written communication (letters or longer, more complex proposals and so on), or a formal ‘stand-up’ presentation. Each method presents its own challenges, may demand somewhat different skills and none must be a weak link in the chain of communication resulting in definite business.
To a degree this means that selling is a complex process. None of the things that must be done are intellectually taxing, indeed much sales technique is based on common sense, but it must be carefully orchestrated to create the best approach. Habits and reflexes must be built up, and some aspects can only be refined through experience. It is certain that many technical and professional people can make a good job of selling (some in the professions have become excellent and make many a salesperson elsewhere look to their laurels), provided the task is approached thoroughly, systematically and creatively. What is more, and this is a common fear, there need be no danger that increased use of sales technique appears so ‘pushy’ that it becomes self-defeating – ‘switching-off’ prospects and making what is done seem less than professional. Indeed I would hope to demonstrate that many of the techniques that can be applied will make the technical and professional appear more helpful and more client oriented.
The basis for the techniques involved is similar, regardless of method, and must reflect not only the sales objectives but also the way clients buy technical and professional services. In addition, everything we will now deal with can be used in contacts with:
existing clients (those already worked for and their colleagues in the same company);
enquirers (those who take the initiative and make the first contact requesting information, advice or discussion); and, as appropriate, with
intermediaries (those who can recommend your services to others). Every technical and professional will have categories of intermediary that are almost as important as clients, these may include those such as banks, or other consultants.
The word ‘prospect’ is used to indicate people who might have a need for a organisation’s services, but are not yet clients.