How To Become A First-Rate Sales Professional

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By Elinor Stutz

Taking on a new sales position is a daunting task, whether you're brand new to the profession or seasoned. It's a race against time to prove yourself within a seemingly short window. The pressure felt is enormous.

These five steps will improve your outcome:

1. Determine the best-matched industry or clientele for your personality and interests. Those new to business will do well to try a variety of prospective industries to learn where the conversation flows most naturally. For example, if you're interested in food and wine, approach restaurants, cooking schools, chefs, winemakers, breweries and tasting rooms. Now compare conversations against other industries, such as automotive, software and fashion.

After numerous approaches and subsequent meetings, consider where your personality is a better match. Which conversations were more interesting and engaging? Where do you see greater possibility of building sound relationships and sales over time? Once you're able to zero in on your favorite area of concentration, you're ready for step No. 2.

2. Become the vertical market expert. As you uncover the industries in which your services receive the warmest welcome, strive to become the go-to expert. Read about the problems the industry invariably encounters and the benefits they bring to communities. Become familiar with who the major players are and how the smaller companies fare.

Also familiarize yourself with their vocabulary to use appropriately when meeting with clients. While in conversation, ask how the company is coping with the industrywide problems, such as water shortage currently experienced in California. Research ahead of time, sincere empathy and a showing of understanding go a long way in business development.

The benefit to doing the research and speaking your prospect's language is that you become a trusted vendor and friend. The "friend" portion is vital to establishing the long-term relationship. As in any friendship, developing an understanding of one another is at the core of what leads us to strategy No. 3.

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3. Inquire why your prospective clientele agreed to meet. This question by itself supplies a road map to continually developing your business. This one question lends insight to two very important matters: You must have done something right to have been invited in, and there is a need ready to be divulged. Otherwise, the meeting would have never been offered nor would you be privy to the conversation.

Once you hear similar reasoning from several of your prospects, you will know precisely what works well for you. Continue doing the same to enter more doors. And the key to entering more doors is increased time efficiency; step No. 4.

4. Time efficiency is essential. Entering more doors requires you pick a specific area of concentration. Calling on those establishments located nearby one another adds hours to your day.
Create a methodology such as making prospective calls in the early morning, in-person sales calls midmorning to midafternoon (to miss major traffic) and make the follow-up calls and entries into a database in the late afternoon.

Keep a calendar recording appointments, follow-up calls and email. Record specific notes of importance to include the next time you speak with your prospective client. Lastly, make a conscious effort to increase your productivity during each workday, including self-education; step No. 5.

5. Demonstrate caring and a willingness to learn. Leading with questions always brings greater insight than the traditional telling-selling. Prospective clients want to see that you're genuinely interested. Rather than trying to slam a sale to meet a quota, this approach works significantly better and is referred to as a heart-based approach.

Most people scoff at the idea of approaching business with heart, but ultimately this is the key to becoming the top producer or thriving entrepreneur. Making a habit of only selling to client need and complementary enhancements versus selling anything just to earn some income builds your trusted personal brand best.

At this stage of sales production, you'll have built a very strong sales pipeline with continual sales filtering through. The hard work and the pressure exist only the first few months as you begin, whereas laying out a strategic foundation eases the stress.

With this methodology in place, you experience building repeat business, referrals and testimonials.

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