I want my side business to surpass my current income within the next few years. The most important skill I need to develop right now is selling. Through my research and experience, here are my top 10 actions to being the best salesperson in my market.
- Know Your Business & Market Better Than The Competition – You need to be an expert in your field. Of course, you need experience to be that expert. One of the quickest way to gain experience is learning from others and reading. In my side business of preparing taxes, I need to know more than the person sitting at the local H&R Block office. When clients call asking questions about allowable deductions or Roth distribution rules, I need to know the answer. I get my information from the IRS website or Thomson Reuters Checkpoint access at the local University. As far as the market, read the business section of your local newspaper, follow Chamber of Commerce events & press releases and subscribe to industry publications.
- Know The Client Better Than The Competition – Without being a stalker, you need to find out as much information as possible about potential clients. Birthday and anniversary dates can be great, everyone sends a Christmas card, but if you send a Birthday card you will be remembered. What are their hobbies? Where do they attend church? Make sure to Google the client before any meetings for any current news articles.
- Getting Past The Gatekeeper – Nothing is more cost-effective that calling businesses on the phone; however, most companies have a receptionist to ensure they are not bombarded by unwanted calls. By researching the client from step 2, you should know who the main contact is. The best way to get to that person is when the receptionist answers, you say “Good morning, is John in?” If you introduce yourself and your company first, you will be put in voicemail or rejected on the spot. If you are sent to voicemail, make sure you leave a memorable one.
- Convince The Decision Maker To Meet Face-to-face – Either on the phone or through email, I always ask the client if I can stop in at a certain time for 20 minutes. If they are not available at that time, I ask them when the most convenient time for them would be. Other than the company name, I never tell them more without meeting in-person.
- Create Instant Rapport With Buyers – From your research in step 2, you may share common interests that you can use to build rapport. I use fishing (if a fish is mounted in the office) or kid related activities such as ballet or school. People you meet at church or social events are also great ways to build relationships. It’s also important you maintain your appearance. A buyer will notice if you look unkempt, have bad breath or body odor. First impressions are important, you may only have seconds to convince a potential buyer.
- Do Not Waste Time On Those Not Buying – Cold-calling can be demoralizing, mailing is expensive and personal visits are costly and time-consuming. If you have a read on a potential client that is negative, move on. The more people you see, the more sales you will make, so don’t let one stop you from the next sale. I keep an Excel file of every person I contact and label as A-F leads (like in school, A is great and a guaranteed sale.) I do not contact D or Fs again at this time. I have not contacted any Cs again yet, but at some point I may send out an annual Christmas card or 1 email per year. I contact Bs monthly. The As are those that I have commitments with and will move from the contact list to the client list once I perform their return this year.
- Find The Buyer’s Pain – If you know what makes the client tick and have a solution, you will have a sale. The best advice I can give you to discover the pain is to listen. Most people talk, but the client does not care about you and what you offer unless it solves a problem for them. You get to the pain by asking a question, then shutting up. When you get a response, always ask why. Keep asking why or for more detail until there is nothing more to give. Make sure to take notes.
- Ask For The Order – If you can solve the buyer’s pain, do not be afraid to tell them so and get a commitment. I also turn down business at this point. I recently lost a potential client (3 tax returns) because I am not equipped to handle his greatest pain, payroll. I referred him to a CPA firm instead, and told him I would love to help him in the future or if he would let me prepare any of his returns. This was the first business I turned down, but I want to make sure I only provide quality service and I have never performed a weekly payroll.
- Keep Price Out Of It – I charge everyone by the time it takes me, but they do not know it. If I am solving their problems, they would probably pay me more than I bill them. It’s easy to go out and try to be the cheapest to get business, but someone else will eventually come along and undercut you. Plus the buyers that are shopping for price, will always look elsewhere anyway.
- Ask For Referrals – This one is a no brainer, but a lot of people are afraid to ask. Referrals take steps 3-6 out of the equation. Make it a point to ask every client to provide the name of two other people that can use your services every year and your business will grow.
I am not in sales anymore as a career, but I was for 7 years. First, I sold industrial bags and sheeting. I left and started selling life and health insurance. In 2004 and 2005, I made over $90,000 and netted over $70,000 each year. Early 2006, the company that I sold most for was acquired by a foreign company and had major changes in underwriting policies. I saw my net income drop to $26K that year. I started selling concrete products in December of 2006 through April 2008. In 2007, I was the number one salesperson out of over 200, but it was a salary plus bonus position, so I only earned a little over $53K. The company did away with the bonus in April 2008, dropping my income to salary only, which was $35,700, due to the decline in new construction. I left sales and returned to school to complete a degree in accounting. I had saved a bit up to that point, but lost $30,000 in the market in 2008/09 and cashed out the balance to pay for college without incurring any debt. I finished in 2010, debt-free, but with less than $10,000 in savings.