Selling is probably the most powerful marketing tool the firm has. A salesperson sitting in front of a prospect, discussing the customer’s needs and explaining directly how the product will benefit him or her, is more likely to get the business than any advertising, PR or sales promotion technique available. Unfortunately, selling is also the most expensive promotional tool for the firm. Selling is therefore used only for high-order-value or highly technical products that need a lengthy decision-making procedure.
Some retail shop assistants are trained in selling techniques, in particular in shops where the customer needs advice, such as electrical goods outlets or shoe shops. In these cases the retailer may spend considerable time and effort in training salespeople both in the technicalities of the product range and in selling techniques. Selling is learned – there is no such thing as a ’born’ salesperson, although (of course) some people have a greater aptitude for selling than do others.
Salespeople fall into four categories:
What the firm expects of its salespeople is that they will close business by persuading customers to buy the firm’s products rather than a competitor’s products. The firm wants its salespeople to be able to explain the benefits of the products in terms of the customer’s needs, then ask for the order – in some industries, this results in a better than 50% success rate, which is of course vastly greater than the best advertising responses.
Salespeople have a bad reputation, largely undeserved, for being pushy and manipulative. In practice successful salespeople know that they are as much there to help the customer as to help the firm achieve its sales objectives. It is a common saying among salespeople that it is easier to get another company than it is to get new customers, so salespeople find it pays to look after the customer’s interests.
Good salespeople begin by finding out the customer's needs, and go on to decide which of the company’s products will best meet those needs. The next stage is to give an explanation of the product's benefits to the customer, connecting these to the customer’s needs. Finally the salesperson closes the deal by asking for the order. The process is the same as that conducted by marketers generally, except that the salesperson is dealing on a one-to-one basis rather than with a mass market. In this sense, selling can be seen as micro-marketing.
This means that the customer can ’pick the brains’ of the salesperson, who presumably has superior knowledge of the products that are available. This can cut a lot of the effort out of the search for the most suitable product, and the salesperson can also help people through the decision-making barrier. Experienced salespeople often say that the hardest part of the job is to get a decision, not necessarily to get a sale.
The salesperson therefore combines knowledge of the product (obtained beforehand) with knowledge of the customer’s needs (obtained during the presentation) and knowledge of sales techniques (which are aids to decision-making) to help the customer arrive at a decision.
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