Leonard McCoy in Star Trek might not have spoken those exact words, but his exasperated outbursts when expected to do something or know something about areas outside his medical expertise are ones which strike a chord with most of us.
Perhaps the greatest example of all is the concept of sales. Being a good salesman is something that is seen as almost a God-given gift. The phrase “he’s a born salesman” is something you hear time and again. How many times, on the other hand, have you heard someone described as a “born web designer” or indeed a “born financial adviser”?
The question might seem trite, but the point is that if we need to, we will sit down and spend a little time learning about web design or quality management or other functions that have a peripheral impact on our core work. Yet when it comes to sales, we tend to fall into the trap of thinking that selling is something we are either good at or not.
Yet the area of sales is the most fundamental topic of all. If we can’t sell our services, we have no business, it is as simple as that. So here, we offer some sales tips that financial advisers can take to heart.
Understand the sales process
To become comfortable with sales, you need to understand sales. It has nothing, or very little, to do with the clichéd “foot in the door” image, or the used car salesman with his interminable patter. Instead, selling is about guiding someone to an end result and driving change in their mindset to get them there.
Think about the best sales experiences you’ve ever had. In all likelihood, it was as if the salesperson wasn’t even there – a successful salesman is someone who understands the customer’s problem or need and helps them to a solution. Which brings us to the next point.
Understand your leads
The best leads are warm leads. These are people who know something about your business and what you have to offer them. That’s great, but it is only half of the coin. What do you know about them? What do they need from you, what’s keeping them awake at night that you can help resolve? It’s not a case of telling people what they want to hear, but of understanding how you can be the solution to their problem.
Plan and practise your pitch
A “sales pitch” might sound like a frightening prospect, but that is exactly what you are delivering, even if the potential customer doesn’t realise the fact. Putting together a sales pitch is not something you should do alone. You might choose a trusted colleague, peer or friend to role play. It is not until you give it a try that you discover just how valuable this can be in terms of learning how conversations are liable to evolve. It’s also a great way to find out what sort of approach works and what doesn’t.
The great thing for financial advisers is that you don’t need to practise with an expert. In fact, it is better not to, as those with a knowledge of finance are unlikely to ask the questions that the average customer might pose. The idea of sitting down and practising a sales pitch on your grandmother over a cup of tea might sound surreal, but it could teach you a whole lot.
Stay calm and professional
However hard you prepare, things can go in unusual directions and you might feel that the wheels are about to come off. If this happens, stay calm and don’t panic. The most dangerous thing you can do if you feel things are going in the wrong direction is to over-compensate and turn into that car salesman.
Try to take a mental step back and remember the key tenets from earlier – it is easy to fall into the trap of talking at the client about your core skills and strengths. But this is taking things from the wrong angle, and frankly, the client doesn’t care. Set your ego aside and get back to the business of focusing on what the customer needs.
Sealing the deal
Succeeding in sales means understanding not only the customer but the buying process. However successful your pitch goes, there are customers who will want to go away and think about how they want to proceed before they commit to anything. That’s fine, but what you do now can have a major impact on whether you will ultimately seal the deal.
Press too hard and the client is liable to be frightened away. Do nothing, and the next best option up the road will most likely be a little more persuasive and you’ll never see them again. Ask permission to take some appropriate next step – perhaps you are able to offer some free value-added service that will get the ball rolling without any commitment from them. Or confirm a time or date on which you will follow up. If the lead sees you gently investing a little time and effort into them, they are more likely to evolve into a fully-fledged client.
Keep the long game in mind
Ask even one of those “born to be” salespeople, and they will tell you that when you are selling, you are going to have as many knock backs as you have successes. Perhaps this is why the best salespeople seem to have such a thick skin – they are accustomed to rolling with the punches.
When things don’t go so well, it is, of course, worth evaluating what happened and seeing if you could have done something better. But if we have learned anything from the above, it should be that it is not all about you.
The other point to bear in mind is that in the world of sales, there are always opportunities for second chances. Don’t be afraid to revisit potential clients after a few months – after all, they know you, you know them and warm leads are always better than cold ones.
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