Most small business owners just aren’t that good at selling, says Joe Himelfarb, an expert in the art of salesmanship. “They don’t like to do it, they don’t want to do it, and they often don’t know how to do it well. But the reality is, if you are business owner, you are in sales. No matter what your product or service, what you are really selling is yourself.”

Himelfarb will speak on “Grow Your Business by Selling Yourself,” at the next meeting of the Mercer chapter of the New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners on Thursday, April 12, at 6 p.m., at the Salt Creek Grille in Princeton Forrestal Village. Cost: $45. Reservations can be made online at www.NJAWBOMercer.org.

Himelfarb, a resident of Hillsborough, never planned to become an expert in sales. His first college degree was in physics; he received his BS degree from Buffalo State College in the 1970s, then transferred to the University of Buffalo and obtained a second bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.

Himelfarb worked for a number of years at AT&T Submarine Systems, where he assisted with the manufacturing and installation of several trans-oceanic fiber optic telecommunications projects.

There he got his first taste of the art of selling when he was sometimes invited to go along with the sales team to explain the technical aspects of projects to prospective clients.

“They’d take me on a call and I really enjoyed it, but that was all I got to do. At the end of the day they’d say, ‘back to your cube.’”

But the more experiences he had in sales, the more he found he enjoyed it. Eventually, he left engineering for a job in sales with Hewlett Packard. “It was the best seven years of my life,” he says.

Eventually, he was laid off from Hewlett Packard, but he didn’t stop selling. Almost 20 after starting his career in sales, not only does he still enjoy selling, he has found a new calling in teaching others to be better salespeople.

He has co-facilitated sales training seminars for large companies in the pharmaceutical, hospitality, and publishing industries, and also works with small business owners. In addition, he speaks at many unemployment support groups on the art of selling yourself for people who are job hunting.

Build a Pipeline. Successful selling is all about building a pipeline — a network of satisfied customers who will supply you with a constant stream of referrals. To do this, you have to “pay it forward.”

“If you make a sale and the customer is very happy, you have to hope that he will repay you by telling other people about how satisfied he is and recommending you. But there is no guarantee in sales that a happy customer will bring you more customers. You have to make the sale first. Every transaction is a shot in the dark,” says Himelfarb.

But you can guarantee the reverse. If a customer is unhappy with the product or the service, “he will spend the next decade telling everyone he meets about the terrible problems he had,” he adds. To be successful in sales, and build that pipeline, you must first make each customer happy.

Find Your Focus. It’s a sales truism: if you are selling to everyone, you have no one for a client. In other words, explains Himelfarb, if you don’t know exactly who the people in your target market are and where to find them, you will waste a lot of time trying to sell to people who are not interested in what you have to offer.

“It’s like trying to chase two chickens in the hen yard at one time. You’ll waste a lot of time and get very frustrated. But if you just go after one, you’re much more likely to catch it,” he says.

Build Trust. We don’t buy from just anyone; we buy from a person we trust. Before you can sell a product, you must first sell trust in yourself, and the best way to do that is to ask questions and listen to the answers. Himelfarb spent several years selling backyard pools to homeowners.

“I would begin a sales call not with the brochures, but by sitting down at the kitchen table with the person and asking a lot of questions. Why do you want a pool? How will you use it? Do you have children? Will elderly adults be using the pool? Do you need a diving board? Do you want a spa? Would you like the pool to be heated? When I was finished with the questions, not only did I really understand what kind of pool the customer wanted, he had come to trust that I knew what he wanted,” says Himelfarb.

It’s All About the Other Guy. Selling, he continues, is not about you, it’s about the customer. “That’s where so many business owners make this same mistake. They want to tell the customer all about the benefits of the product and why their company is so great. But the customer doesn’t care. The customer only cares about his own pain point and how you can make it go away.”

Be a Positive Influence. Many business owners are experts at what they do, but have never had any sales experience, and that often leads them to be afraid to go out and make the sales calls that are needed to stay in business. Instead of focusing on selling a product, change your approach to one of helping others, suggests Himelfarb.

He takes his cue from the book, “Never Eat Alone,” by Keith Ferrazzi. Himelfarb quotes the book, saying, “Right before you make a call say to yourself, ‘let me be a positive influence on this person’s life,’” he suggests. “If you do that, you take the pressure off of yourself. There is no pressure in trying to help someone, in telling them about a product or service that they can use. There is a lot of pressure in trying to close a sale.”

It’s Not Personal. His final piece of advice for success in sales is to never take it personally when a person chooses not to buy from you.

“There’s a great motto in sales that I live by: Some will, some won’t, so what? Go out and find someone else. If you take every rejection personally, you’ll end up as roadkill.”

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