It’s not hard to see that salesmen have something of an image problem. “I often start my seminars by playing a game of ‘Password,’” says Jeff Callahan, owner of Sandler Sales Institute, a sales management training program with offices in Princeton and Freehold. “I write the word ‘salesman’ on a chalkboard and ask people to give me one-word description of what it means to them. Usually someone starts off with something like ‘pressure.’ Then someone, a little less timidly, says ‘pushy.’ Then it’s not too long before the whole room comes alive with people shouting out things like ‘liar,’ ‘cheat,’ ‘dishonest,’ ‘can’t trust ‘em,’ and it just goes on and on.”
Callahan, whose company has been offering businesses sales training through public and private in-house training programs for over six years, says that in order to make sales and boost profits in the 21st century it is important for salespeople to take a more modern approach to the selling and buying paradigm.
“It’s a good idea to look at the traditional sales approach — something that is all too easy to fall into — and then take a closer look from a buyer’s point of view,” says Callahan. “If you examine each one side-by-side you can start to understand where there is a good match and where there is a huge disconnect.”
Callahan speaks on “Keeping the Cash Flowing in Tough Times: Proven Ways to Boost Your Sales Now” on Thursday, August 17, at 3 p.m. at 116 Village Boulevard in the Forrestal Village. This seminar is aimed at business owners, salespeople, or anyone whose job it is to bring in revenue for a company. The cost is $99, which includes lunch and two business books. To register or for more information, call 800-814-5333 or visit the website at www.SellWithConfidence.com.
Whether you’re selling men’s suits, stock options, or pre-owned automatic external defibrillators, the basic dynamics are the same. The traditional sales approach, prevalent well before the days of Willy Loman, still reigns supreme for many would-be salespersons. But Callahan says that there is an inherent problem with it that results in unneeded pressure and stress on both parties.
“Usually a salesperson, filled with tons of false enthusiasm, will call a potential buyer on the phone, often around dinnertime, and quickly launch into a sales pitch,” says Callahan. “The first and only thing they (the recipients of these pitches) want to do is get off the phone. Most people can relate to that.”
In the days before the national do not call list, some residents would often get two or three sales calls an evening. But today, whether it is on the phone, in person, or online, such methods of solicitation all too often leave a bad taste in a potential customer’s mouth. In order to combat negative responses, Callahan says it is important to know what triggers them, and then avoid them like the plague.
“There are certain patterns that salespeople tend to fall into if they are not careful,” he says. “False and insincere enthusiasm on the part of the salesperson, saying something right off the bat like ‘Hello Mister Doe, how are you today?’ is something that really sets people off. People see through that very quickly. You have to figure out a way to take a more human approach to selling.”
Callahan suggests that salespeople tell prospects upfront just how long they will be on the phone with them, let them have some say in the conversation, and hold no grudges if they are not interested. “I find that approach works pretty well,” he says. “Most people, when they learn that they have control of the situation, feel more comfortable and more receptive to you.”
A resident of Monmouth, Callahan and his wife Lisa (who does most of the marketing for the Sandler Sales Institute), have three daughters. “I grew up with five brothers, so having a family in which everyone is female except me is something I haven’t quite adjusted to yet,” he says.
Callahan earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Maryland, majoring in audiology. “My first career consisted of sitting in the basement of a hospital twisting dials,” he says. “It was intellectually stimulating for a while, but I’m the kind of guy who gets bored easily.” He was then approached by Bausch and Lomb, where he worked in sales for the hearing systems division, traveling between Rochester, New York, and Minneapolis.
In a materialistic world, perhaps its surprising that salespeople have such a bad reputation. After all, our culture revolves around the concepts of buying and selling. There has to be a way to reel in sales without alienating customers. Here are Callahan’s tips for doing just that:
Prospects are human too. Don’t deal with prospects as if they were merely names and numbers on a page. Talk with your potential clients, get to know them a little, and show that you are interested in working with them in order to make things better for both of you. “Launching into a rendition of your selling points right away, without allowing the prospect to get a word in edgewise, is usually not going to result in much success,” says Callahan.
Save time and qualify your prospects. “Most salespeople make the mistake of spending an inordinate amount of time chasing people, calling people, E-mailing people, stopping by their offices, in order to make a sale to a person who is just never going to become a customer,” says Callahan. “It’s a huge time-waster. I know that some have been trained with a never-take-no-for-an-answer mentality, but too often it just doesn’t work. It’s good to get to a legitimate ‘no’ as quickly as possible.”
Tone it down. It’s a common mistake for salespeople to spend too much time talking and not enough time listening. Rather than hit their sales points in a prepared selling patter, good salespeople know how to allow the prospect to assume control of the conversation. “I’ll start out by introducing myself and then ask if I can have their permission to take just 30 seconds of their time,” says Callahan. “Then if they decide they want to go further they can. If they don’t want to, that is fine too. Then we can both hang up the phone and get on with their lives.”
Talk expectations. Have a conversation with your prospects about their needs are and what the expectations they have in working with you. “Most salespeople are deathly afraid of talking about price, and they won’t talk about it until the very end,” he says. “But if someone has a budget of $500 and the widget I’m trying to sell them costs $10,000, then it is a waste of both parties’ time to talk about price only at the end. Time is a salesperson’s most valuable asset.”
Shorten the selling cycle. “There are just 40 business hours in a week and the more sales calls you make in that time the more likely you are to make a sale,” says Callahan. “You want to get to that point more quickly in those calls where you just aren’t going to make a sale, no way, no how. It’s just not in the cards. Then you can better use your time on those who in fact may buy from you. A quick ‘no’ can be a good thing.”
Perhaps it is not surprising that in these post-modern times where technology dominates that it is the human qualities that will more often result in success and sales. According to Callahan, salespeople must emphasize their communication skills. Keeping prospective clients relaxed and comfortable is a prime goal. Showing a sincere interest in their needs is important, and allowing the tone of the conversation to take on a defensive quality is a sure path to “no sale.”