Tips for Improving Your Selling Skills

This column is intended to move you toward improving the skills'
of the most important salesperson you know: you. I've been fortunate enough to make a living with my ability to sell. Most of you who read this are accountable for making sales happen, as well. If you're not directly responsible for sales, I would expect that you find yourself nurturing sales made by others, helping to make them successful and preserving the expected profit.'

We never think of it as unusual for people to improve their skills related to hobbies such as bowling, golf, etc. In fact, most people are willing to spend time and money to improve those skills. Investing in a new putter seems insignificant if it will shave a stroke or two. Likewise, it makes sense to me to invest time and money to ensure you can maximize your use of computer software, the Internet, and all of the new technology available today.'

But when was the last time you invested time and money in enhancing your selling skills?
I suspect most of us would be hard pressed to come up with cases when improving our selling skills won the battle for our time and money.

Many people believe the old saying, "If you do the same old thing in the same old way, you'll get the same old results." But in today's rapidly changing world, this simply isn't true anymore.'

A changing market
Changes in the market we serve continue seem to be accelerating with the growth of modern technology, and if we continue to do the same old things, we won't get the same results. Rather, it's more likely that we'll be out of business, or, at best, existing and wallowing in mediocrity.

Plato said that before you can move the world, you must first move yourself. Likewise, if you want to improve your selling skills and move your sales productivity to a higher level, you must first move yourself.'

If you're an employee, it's nice if your company offers and commits to improving your sales skills but many employers don't see this as their responsibility. Many manufacturers offer training sessions focusing on product knowledge, but while this is certainly useful, few take this a step further and teach how to turn that information into sales.'

A major challenge facing salespeople today is learning how to sell to a customer who is a far cry from the customers of yesterday. Today's consumers have access to more knowledge than ever before, and they want control, despite having less time than ever. They have, indeed, raised the bar of expectation in their major purchasing process.'

Tips for growth
I don't have all the answers for improving one's selling skills, but I offer the following list of ideas, some of which you might find tantalizing enough to motivate you to "first move yourself."'

1. Dedicate a portion of each week to developing sales skills. Until you're willing to invest time in your selling vocation, no improvement will take place. You may feel like there isn't enough time in your schedule to do this. But until you're willing to make the time commitment, you're unlikely to see much improvement. Do you have a quiet hour on Tuesdays before you open for business, or can you find time at home in the evening? Even a 15-minute break during lunch can make a difference. I don't know when the best time is for you, but I do know if you don't set time aside in a regular and systematic matter, you will never have "enough" time.

2. Review your entire selling process, focusing on the areas of where you believe your skills are the weakest. I suggest you first focus on a specific area that you see as your weakest, rather than trying to improve everything at once. For example, I believe most sales people are weak in the questioning process. We talk too much and don't listen to our customers. This also impacts qualifying the customer, and uncovering their needs, wants, desires, and expectations. To me, its pretty simple what we know has little or no value until we know what our customer knows.

3. Find the resources to learn the skills you're interested in developing. For example, find a mentor who has had or is enjoying a successful selling career. This may be someone in your company, the person who is selling you insurance or a peer in your local NKBA chapter.`'

There are lots of successful salespeople close to you, it's just a case of recognizing who they are and soliciting their cooperation in giving you information to elevate your skills. Or seek out an organization offering sales training like Dale Carnegie. I believe you will find that this or similar for-profit companies have excellent course work designed to improve selling skills. These offer two advantages: They charge a fee, so you have a financial investment to recover, and they have regular scheduled meetings, which help to keep you on track in terms of learning and practicing the skills taught. The commitment of money and a regular schedule can help to motivate you toward working toward your goals of improvement.

4. Find the right books. Get to the bookstore, the Internet or your local library. There are many books on subject matter closely related to selling. Some titles to look for are "Body Language," "Live to Win," "Inside Your Mind," "Go For It" and "The Other Guy Blinked." For those of you who spend a great deal of time driving, try books on tape these allow you to make good use of time that might otherwise be wasted.

5. Look for seminars in your area which teach sales or related skills. These are usually one to three days in length and your investment varies from $100 to $700. In addition, you can incur travel expenses, hotel/motel costs and food costs. If you find a seminar which is a fit to your needs, this investment is modest and easily recoverable.
Don't lose sight of the fact that there are many areas of knowledge we need in the kitchen and bath industry. Sales winners will learn and possess creative skills, design skills, business skills, administrative skills, organizational skills, and risk skills.'
After teaching the "Successful Selling Skills" course for the NKBA in Atlanta years ago, I saw a tee shirt with the inscription, "Ignorance is a prison knowledge is the key."

How true this is!