Blue Eskimo

Look before you sell

Many people see sales purely as a numbers game – you throw enough bait into the pond and surely someone’s got to bite? But more successful selling, especially in L&D, takes far more forethought.

You’ve got sales targets to meet, stuff to sell. What do you do? Pick up the phone and start dialling? It feels like you’re busy – but are you making the progress you could?

Predatory though it may sound, successful selling is often likened to hunting – finding, stalking and bringing down prey. Hopefully, your sales approach isn’t as rapacious as that, but the example stands. But if we do take our example from the animal kingdom, hunting isn’t always as opportunistic as it seems. Predators can lie in wait for hours near waterholes or learn the migrating paths of other animals. In other words, they’ve done their research.

For successful salespeople in the training and e-learning industry, research is vitally important – otherwise you can end up spending vast amounts of time chasing sales with a low probability of getting a result. You need the odds to work in your favour, so that selling becomes much less of a numbers game. Getting greater sales from fewer calls means doing your homework – so that every call counts.

Know your customers

The key word here is customers. Not prospects – customers. There are two reasons for this. First, it’s usually the case that you can sell more effectively to organisations within which you are already doing business. That might sound lazy, but it’s smart – unlike lions, you can feed on the same prey again and again. This means that your time spent selling is less, while your sales are greater and, best of all, you are keeping other hunters at bay (the fact is, if you’re not omnipresent in an account, other training companies will start to gain a toehold). Second, your account experience will be of direct benefit to other organisations – possibly because you will have gained some experience in their industry and therefore know what’s going on within it, but also because you might have cracked difficult – but similar – problems before. There’s nothing like a ‘been there, got the T-shirt’ approach to winning customer confidence, especially in a situation where there is some risk. Who would you choose – someone who’s capable, or someone who’s capable and has done it before?

Find out about your potential customers

Firing off shotguns into the thin air is a mug’s game – you might hit something, but most of your shot will land right back on the floor. When you try to get into a company, you will have a limited number of opportunities to make an impression before you find the door tightly shut in your face. Don’t waste opportunities with calls along the lines of ‘I was wondering if you need any training’. (Sales old-handers will tell you never to feed a client an initial line to which the possible reply is ‘no’.) You need to find out about the organisation – what it does, what its markets are, what its plans are. The latter is especially helpful, as it might indicate where training is needed, particularly if those plans include opening new offices or selling new products. The more you know about a company, the more likely it is you will be able to help them – and the more receptive they will be to your initial overtures. People want to do business with people who are willing to understand their needs – they don’t want someone to offload a training course and then move on.

Don’t rely on your memory: keep notes. Undertake research as a task, look at the potential customer’s website, find out what they are doing in the news, what their annual reports say, what their chief executives have tasked their workforce with. All of this will enable you to build a picture of the company, talk on a more intelligent level – and offer value beyond ‘making a sale’. Bear in mind that what seems like just a product or service to you is actually a solution to a problem to your customer – what’s the benefit to them? Frequently, customers ‘buy’ the benefit, not the product/service – perhaps to gain greater efficiency or sell new products. That’s what you’re helping them to do. In advertising, they say “sell the sizzle, not the steak”.

Know yourself

By ‘yourself’ we mean your company, its products and its services. You may feel that you know these, but is it really the case? The more you know, the more successful your sales approach will be – and the more customers will like you, because you ‘have the answers’. So, make sure you set aside some time to research your own company, in the same way you would that of a potential customer. Make sure you research your courses, your services, case studies, customers, markets – not in an encyclopaedic way, but with a focus on how those services can help others; on the business problems they solve.

Cold call, cold shoulder

Cold-calling isn’t fun and seldom does it reap real rewards. The more you know, the warmer the call – and the greater your chance of success.