Just ask Ed Ras any of the traditional sales techniques and he will reel them off name and number. “Oh, the Ben Franklin,” he explains. “That’s an ancient sales closer, named for the way our bespectacled Founding Father used to solve problems. First the seller outlines all the positives for buying, then he lists all the negatives. If positives outweigh negatives, you tell the buyer, any rational person should make the purchase.”
Ras has spent nearly 30 years learning all the tricks of the selling trade, and now spends his time passing on this valuable lore. To help people pull seemingly lost sales from the fire, the Small Business Development Center is sponsoring Ras’ talk “Overcoming Sales Objections,” on Friday, April 18, at 9 a.m. at the College of New Jersey. Cost: $59. Visit www.sbdc@tcnj or call 609-443-4712.
Much of Ras’ instructive skills he credits to his mother, a teacher of 40 years in his hometown of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Graduating from Kings College in 1979 with a bachelor’s in political science, Ras worked briefly in banking, then began selling for a regional tobacco firm. He quickly moved on, joining what is now Faber Castelle selling art and office supplies. Later, as regional sales director for international craft and art supplier Unchida Inc., Ras tripled sales. “I didn’t know a thing about art,” says Ras, “but I sat down and listened to each customer and learned their every need.”
Early in 2007 Ras decided to add teaching to his selling career, and took a franchise as a Winfree Business Growth Advisor. (www.winfree.org.) He now passes along some of these tactics and many of his own techniques in his new Robbinsville-based consulting firm, Net Impact Sales Consulting (609-443-4712).
Sales objections have been voiced a thousand ways, but the message is always the same: “I do not want to part with my money.” It may come with a reference to cash flow, or perhaps loyalty to old suppliers, but whatever the objection raised by the intended buyer, his reluctance is very natural. He has worked darn hard for his money, and any salesperson had better give a darn good reason to make him give it up.
“Yet if it’s the right product at the right time, the customer will need it,” says Ras. “From there on, making it happen relies on the seller’s skills. These skills are backed heavily by planning strategy and clever technique.”
Qualifying the buyer. Matching your niche and product with the exact right potential client, while sluggish work, saves countless calls in the field. This begins with getting the prospect’s history, learning about the people and the company. “You’ve got to find the customer’s pain — that thing he needs or wants most,” says Ras. Once this is defined, the salesperson must ask some very serious questions. Is this prospect really committed to making any real change, and to purchasing? Is he the actual decision maker? In larger organizations there are many who can say no to a sale, but only a few who can say yes. Finally, can the company really afford it?
The goal in this qualifying process is to better the odds on each call, so be as exclusive, not inclusive, as possible. The whole world is not your client, Ras points out. While everyone has at least some money, not everyone needs you as a financial advisor. If you have niched yourself well as the financial advisor for those going through a divorce, you’ll have a slimmer, but much more likely list of prospects.
Message crafting. One of Ras’ recent clients ran an auto repair shop. He performed the basic oil changes, tune ups, etc., that a score of area competitors also offered. In going through his books, Ras noted that the shop owner had two customers who each had a small fleet of trucks.
Ras advised him to niche his service to these particular clients, with the following pitch: The auto service owner outlined the cost of sending two-men trucks, midday, to the shop for each service and repair, while business halted and the employees stood idle. He them promised to complete his servicing before the client’s trucks were due on the road.
A simple postcard campaign with these financial facts and the message “we keep your trucks on the road, not on the lift,” has customers flocking in. “The trick here,” says Ras, “is to simply quantify the loss for not going with you. It’s a variation on the Ben Franklin.”
Get others to boost you. The freshman trying to make varsity stands a better chance of getting the varsity coach’s ear if his freshman coach, rather than the player himself, sings his praises. Get references, make videos, take pictures, record testimonials, and give addresses of those successfully working with your product.
Anti-objection ploys. Battle the cost objection by changing the price structure. Instead of charging $100 a month, present your rate as $300 a quarter. This takes your product’s payment out of the client’s monthly bill pile, and puts it in a time down the road when paying seems easier.
The Columbo technique diffuses the image of you as slick salesperson and shows you merely as a non-threatening, befuddled individual. Like the old television detective, place thumb on forehead, rub it just slightly and say something like, “Forgive me, I seem to be a little confused here. You’ve said you have this and that need, and my product here answers those needs, but you don’t want my product. Could you help me out here?” (Be careful of slipping into too recognizable an impersonation.)
The preemptive objection counter often works well where the sales person senses an initial reluctance. For a bank to buy new software, for example, involves immense changeover hassles. The salesperson who anticipates these buyer problems and meets them up front with a logistical transition already laid out, makes his product more earnestly considered early on.
As a final ploy, Ras suggests the easy exit technique. Don’t beat a dead deal. “You’ve got to be able to see that this sale is not going to work, and tell the buyer quickly ‘O.K., I can see this is not for you,’” Ras says. By bowing out with a handshake, you’ve still got a favorable business acquaintance who might recommend you to someone who actually needs what you have.
Ras reminds all his trainees of that very natural buyer’s reluctance. In the end, one is selling to people. If the product is good and the selling is done right, you can add up the positives, and give this person some good news about a something that will make things a bit better for him.