Sell

Subroto Bagchi Also available in audiobook: Download our app for free listening.

Introduction

The author, Subroto Bagchi has worn many tags in his lifetime - ‘entrepreneur’, ‘business-leader’, ‘author’ and ‘public servant’, etc. But they speak little about his skills, especially his most defining skill of salesmanship.

Most professionals today have to engage in the act of selling, whether it’s an idea, product, or vision. But very few consider salesmanship to be critical to their careers, and rarely give it the attention it deserves. This book has been written to encourage you to take a wider view of the sales process and of sales professionals.

Selling is a key component of professional success in every field. This book will enable you to be more impactful in your organisation and more effective in persuasive communication, no matter what the situation might be. So if you’re ready, let’s jump right in, shall we?

The Essentials

Selling is not something to be apologetic about. It is definite persuasion with a clear end goal. Regardless of what you’re selling and who you’re selling to, the basics of selling remain the same. There is a rhythm to it which goes like this :-

Look at me. Listen to me. Buy my words even before you buy my wares. Let’s agree on the terms of our transaction. Now tell everyone about me. And come back for more.

How artfully this message is conveyed and how efficiently it is executed determines the chances of success. Selling is an empathy-led, process-driven and knowledge-intensive discipline. Because in the end, people buy from people.

The Three Legged Stool

Selling can be described as a three-legged stool: art, science, and witchcraft in equal measure.

  • The Art - A successful salesperson takes selling to the level of an art. They figure out quickly who the buyer is and what they must say to them, as well as when and how they must say it. They are good at languages and are experts at reading emotions and know how to choose their moment perfectly.
  • The Science - The merging of neuroscience, imaging, and psychology in the last three decades has allowed us to learn a lot more about how the brain works. This has allowed us to understand the selling and buying process in vivid detail, as ultimately this process happens in the brain. This extends to machines as well, as in the modern world, we are constantly buying from machines through online shopping.
  • The Witchcraft - The ability to sell is a combination of vast knowledge of the art and the science of selling processes, intuition and personal character traits, which help cast a spell through the persuasiveness of the story that is created around organizations and ideas, products and services. How a narrative is put together, how engagingly it is delivered, how it is used to build anticipation and eagerness to move on to the next process of the act is what the author terms as ‘witchcraft’.

Panning for Gold

Prospecting for potential buyers is an important first step in the sales process. It is only through diligent and uninhibited prospecting that you will uncover game-changing deals. Information about prospective buyers may come from the most unlikely source. Successful prospecting is not just about closing a deal. Many connections that you make when you are out prospecting may yield rewards of different kinds.

The best salespeople never give up prospecting, because the process keeps their spirit of inquiry alive. It requires overcoming hesitation and awkwardness, being bold and intrepid and not taking rejection to heart. Successful prospecting begins with a genuine interest and curiosity in people and places, and the world at large.

Fishing in the Right Pond

The key to good prospecting is the proper segmentation and qualification of suspects. You always have to ask yourself, what’s in the deal for the buyer? Once you have segmented your prospects, you have to reach out to them.

Nobody gives you a cheque because you sent an email. At best, an email can seek assent to a suggestion of receiving more information, or consent for a short phone call, or a meeting. It cannot substitute for the entire sales process.

The Salmon’s Journey

Keeping a wide enough funnel when you are prospecting is very important, as the trickle-down to the customers who will eventually buy from you will depend on it. The author uses the example of the Coho Salmon’s lifecycle to illustrate the importance of keeping a wide enough sales funnel. Out of the 2500 eggs that an adult coho salmon may lay, only about two make it through the process of becoming adults and finally end up spawning. Thankfully,  In selling, the ratio between landing a prospect to converting the opportunity to a sale is, at best, around 25:1,

No Monkey Business, This

After segmenting your customers and casting a wide enough net, you need to be able to qualify which of your prospects will make an actual purchase. It’s not always easy to do, and even the best make mistakes. False prospects come in a variety of guises.

  • The Great Giver Of Homework - This is someone who appears to seriously consider your proposition and asks you to come up with a ‘proof of concept’, but with little to offer beyond that.
  • The Patron Saint Of Thought Leadership - This is a knowledgeable person who has been parked aside in his job due to a lack of business savvy. He welcomes every visitor but does not have any power to make decisions.
  • The Permanent Prospect - This is someone who is always discussing a deal, but will never ever close it.
  • The Poor Brahmin - This is the well-meaning guy who badly needs what you are selling and will have real use for it, but has little to offer as payment.

When selling, you need to cut through the maze to locate the real prospects. The path to that can sometimes be arduous, but if done well, can yield great rewards.

What’s Your GQ?

Access to information is the main thing that has changed in the selling process Today, the buyer has as much or more information as the seller. We have moved from cold calls to cold-warm calls, informed calls where both you and the customer know enough about each other and the product on offer already.

Customers are researching not just your company, but you as well, so you have to give due priority to your Google Quotient. If someone Googled you, will you show up on Page 1. Do you have a blog? If you don’t have a GQ, you are just a commodity. At the end of the day, people buy from people and they don’t like to buy from someone who is not special.

The Grain House Restaurant

Even though the sales process has become a lot more digital, the art lies in interpreting the data to identify the opportunities in specific industries and companies. Good prospectors would, in addition, also know how to form and communicate simple, hard-hitting messages to pique the client’s interest.

But the new age salesperson also relies on too much on digital information, forgetting to ask clients even basic questions. A a tool is a tool, and not the process. The best salespeople also usually see themselves as consultants who can advice their clients, bring teams together to create a solution, and finally sell that solution.

The Magic Equation

The process of selling is about connecting, educating and engaging. And, through it all, it is about trust. Customers are looking for trust. Trust is equal to Familiarity multiplied by Expertise, divided by Risk. Familiarity is increased through the preparation that you do ahead of time.

You have to go beyond LinkedIn when researching an organisation.Read the analyst briefings on the company, watch the videos of their key executives on YouTube. Read between the lines. Meet them at trade shows, and ask them about their requirements. Listen deeply.

And The Dog’s Name Is

Salespeople need to know everything about their customer, even their dog’s name. They also shouldn’t take themselves too seriously. Customers like to deal with and buy from people who are comfortable being themselves.

In this world filled with Me Toos, you have to project to your customer what sets you apart. Customers love weirdness – if you have it, don’t ever lose it. Use it!’

If you inherit a complex sale relationship which is going downhill, own it, instead of washing your hands off it. Look at the length of the relationship and it’s future value.

Navigating The Arctic Ice

The deal making process is almost as complex as navigating the arctic ice. You have to be constantly mapping the influence of the people in the organization – both the formal visible structure, and the shadow structure below it.

‘Every deal,’ ‘has at least eight different people influencing it. The person you are interacting with directly is just one of them. A good player maps all the stakeholders, identifies their personal motivations, gauges what their end game might be, and what they know and appreciate of what the seller is trying to bring to the table.’

  • The Vendor Selection Expert - On large deals, this is often the first point of contact for a seller.
  • The Buyer - This is the person who needs your product or service. This person will probably have the most say in the deal, but must also listen to the advice of others.
  • The External Expert - This person is usually a consultant from a specialised firm and knows both the technological aspects of the product being considered as well as the many ways that the deal can be structured.
  • The Influencer - These are people who often wield a great deal of authority over the deal even though they may not be the buyer or the user.
  • The Detractor - This is someone who has fundamental – and sometimes fundamentalist – objections to the overall strategy behind the deal you are offering.
  • The Coach - This is a person who has organizational memory and usually is a part of the evaluation process.
  • The Competition - They will be watching your every move. Know the antecedents of the competition. Identify their key individuals. Know as much as you can about them, or risk losing the deal even before you begin.
  • The Lawyer - Increasingly, the role of the lawyer is evolving to protect the deal, not just the client. The best way to deal with a lawyer is to do your homework well and have a basic understanding of the legal aspects of your business.

While each of these actors come and go during the selling process, usually it’s only a small group who decides. Usually, this group must contain the buyer, the guy in charge of purchasing and the money man who takes the final call.

Relationship switching doesn’t take as long as it did in the olden days. It is also much more cost effective to do repeat business than to acquire new clients. Effective client mapping is a great investment against the eventuality of being dropped and is a solid investment in the future value of a relationship. It even pays to know who is who even after you have won the deal.

What’s The Deal?

  • Good salespeople, often say no to certain types of leads that may not be worth the effort and can be a waste of time and energy
  • Treat each deal as if it’s your first
  • Take charge of delivering a complete package
  • Bring the customer into the solutioning process
  • Think about the customer’s risks
  • Present a human face at each step of the interaction
  • Make it visual

The Naked Hamburger

Even the best of partnerships become stale. This can be the dangerous point at which relations imperceptibly start to sour. The key is to think strategically and reinvent the relationship.

McDonalds has a near monopoly on the burger business because they don’t serve naked hamburgers. If you go to a McDonald’s anywhere in the world, you are guaranteed a uniform product and service quality. This is possible due to the huge amount of domain knowledge the company possesses.

When presenting a product to a customer, think of it’s perceived value instead of what it costs to manufacture. When you know and believe in the value of your product, you, like McDonald’s, are really selling the Golden Arches and not merely two buns with a piece of meat between them. Believe in the value of the product you’re delivering and then persuade the customer to believe in your perception.

Rainy Day, Damp Spirit

There are a million ways to connect with customers. Look for the story behind the product you are selling. Most customers will connect with it instantly and respond to it with the greatest enthusiasm.

Raising The Bar

Your product must mean the world to you. If you cannot get yourself to be proud of it, do not sell it. You will be doing a bad job of it, and no favours to yourself.

Who Pays Whom?

While making a deal, never lose hope. In a difficult business situation, we often arrive at conclusions in our own heads that may not be the reality. Play on your chances. Be bold and ask. Clarity often brings with it relief as well as profit.

Theory E

People who sell must be supremely comfortable with the act of asking. You have to ask for things all the time. Ask for direction, ask for leads, ask for referrals, ask for the order and, above all, ask for the money. The point is to never fear rejection and to not give up on a chance by giving in to that fear. Ask. You have nothing to lose.

Shaking Your Ash

In selling, ‘no’ does not mean the end of the line. It simply means working on a refusal or an objection and finding a different approach. Resilience and persistence are a salesperson’s talismans.

What a good salesperson needs to remember is where there is a gate, there will be a gatekeeper, and even if you can’t get your way around them, there are always other gates in other terminals. You’ve just got to be persistent and find them.

A Meeting With St. Paul

Salespeople should never forget to use marketing tools to train themselves to build the robustness of an attack and defence strategy. Training can also help develop sales hooks - things that make your message to customers both easy and differentiated.

Marketing is shifting from the war room to the battlefield.  Today, marketing is about zeroing in on key prospects and using laser-guided strikes to communicate a customized story. Sales and marketing are becoming increasingly entwined in the modern world. In most large deals, they have to work side by side, supporting each other.

Beyond your online presence – the presentation layer of who you are – you have to engage and you have to measure yourself on how well you are engaging. And that is entirely about creating content. Today’s selling is largely about content.

The Power Of The Point

When presenting to a potential client, it is important to keep the following points in mind.

Begin with the client by personalising and contextualising the slide deck. Forcing the client to follow your thought process rather than speaking in alignment with theirs doesn’t send out a good message.

  • Identify a coach in the client organisation and send him a draft presentation to go over in advance.
  • Send your presentations in ahead of time and use the meeting to sit and have a conversation, using the deck as just a guide.
  • Arrive early and invest time in preparing for the presentation.
  • Good presenters cover only the relevant slides and don’t push it all on the audience. They are cognizant of their audience’s mood and what the time requirements will allow.

The Legal Eagle

When pitching for a client, it is very important to check the legality of the information that you are presenting. Whenever you refer to something in a proposal, like data, opinions, points of view or whatever, which you actually learnt from somewhere else, you are obligated to acknowledge its source.

Every company puts their best foot forward during the pre-sale discussion or as a response to a request for proposal; but there’s a catch. They forget that any representation or warranty at the pre-contractual stage can lead to severe damages in courts of law around the world. The entire fortune of a company can get destroyed if you don’t pay attention to the legal consequences of our actions.

No Greek, No Latin

It is always better to persuade somebody rather than try to convince them. Persuasion is about staying the course, persisting with an advisory approach. It is about offering expertise and consultation, and helping people with your wisdom. Unlike the more forceful act of convincing, the end goal here is not winning, the agenda is not conquest. That is why persuasion is the higher power.’

So what are the points to keep in mind when you’re trying to persuade someone.

  • Persuasion begins with sensing
  • Persuasion requires us to respect the other person
  • Persuasion requires suspending judgement
  • Persuasion requires enquiry
  • Persuasion begins with recognising the emotional needs of people and pitching to their emotions
  • Persuasion requires advisory ability

In persuasive selling, the seller is able to present many options and explain the outcome of each one of the choices. On the other hand, if you set out to convince your customer, the field narrows down to just one intended outcome.

There are times when persuasion does not work. In moments like that, one has to suspend the act. Allow for mental and physical space. Change the subject. Take a walk. Return to the table with an open mind and a fresh perspective.

Fishy Business

When a customer voices concern, it sometimes helps not to match logic for logic, but to answer with passion, counter with pride in your product, and sell it to them with all your heart.

The Last Stretch To Yes

Closing a deal is one of the most difficult things to do in the sales process. After all the hard work they put in, salespeople fumble when they have to ask the prospect to sign the dotted line. One of the difficulties is the intrusive nature of the act of closing. We don’t like it when someone demands closure. Then there is the fear of rejection.

When closing a deal, it’s important not to rush. You shouldn’t try and close too soon or too late. Salespeople need to make sure that any unresolved issues are addressed. Observe the client’s body language. If they are looking tense or fidgety, it is a clear sign of a discomfort which needs to be addressed. If the client is appearing relaxed and happy, it indicates a willingness to close the deal..

The Gracious Loser

In sales, we obsess about winning. But in order to innovate and improve, we need to fail. To avoid shoving the losses under the carpet, one has to develop a reflective space, have the ability to step back and be authentic. When the inevitable failure crops up, handle it with tact, poise and brilliance.

Be There, or Be Square

At some point in life, you will have to convey bad news to a client. The range of bad news can be anything from a delayed delivery to a defective product, a key employee leaving or a system crash. In such times, what matters the most are authenticity, timeliness, assurance and follow-through.

The author lists 12 things to do after conveying bad news to a client.

  • ALLOW TIME for the news to sink in.
  • IF THERE IS AN OUTBURST, take it.
  • AFTER THE INITIAL REACTION, say that you are sorry, that you know and realize how the other person feels.
  • YOUR BODY LANGUAGE AND VOICE, in person, over a video call or on the phone, must convey three things: Concern, Competence and Confidence.
  • CONVEY A MITIGATION PLAN, however incomplete or simplistic it may be.
  • MANY A TIME, what you may be delivering is breaking news – that is, it is incomplete since the situation is still unfolding; you do not know the full story yet. Even so, tell the client however much you do know
  • ASK THE CUSTOMER FOR ADVICE and help.
  • AT EACH INTERVENTIONAL MOMENT, publish the risks you see for the path chosen and how you plan to deal with them, along with the trade-offs, and get the client’s approval on all of this.
  • COMMUNICATE. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate – right through the life of the disaster. Do so in person or on the phone rather than by text or email.
  • WHEN DAMAGES ARE KNOWN and business loss has occurred, offer to bear the pain. Depending on the nature of your product, you could replace equipment, rebuild broken systems at no extra charge, provide credit against future purchases, work in a total refund – whatever it takes to show that you are an equal partner
  • DON’T JUST MOVE ON after the ‘oil spill’ is cleaned up. Send a formal, final report to the client on the root causes, lessons learnt and the future course of action.
  • AND – ALWAYS – GO BACK ONE MORE TIME to say how sorry you are for whatever has happened. One day, it will stand you in good stead.

Thinking of You

Saying ‘Thank You’ is often a mechanical act, a formality, but gratitude is a feeling. Whenever we feel grateful to someone or for something, it is preceded by a moment of mental calm. That is in itself, therapeutic. The successful culmination of any job, sales related or otherwise, is the outcome of collaborative work on many fronts, and being grateful to each of those fronts for having worked to their potential can lead to further success and fruitful alliances.

Do It Like The Swedes

The author mentions that he has always respected the Swedes for their egalitarian values, their respect for individuals and their attitude to many aspects of doing business. After working with the Swedes, the author realised that large customers are beginning to look at big ticket purchase decisions very differently. Since the buyer has a global brand and is giving a large order, they know that they can pick any partner that would deliver high quality goods and services at competitive prices.

Hence, the focus is more on the innate character of the service or goods provider, the value they can add beyond the deal and how its reputation can be an asse. People observe the culture of a company not in the sales pitches or slide decks but by looking at the everyday life of the company.

Some of the more important things they look at are :-

  • The degree of hierarchy within the company
  • Signs of inclusion, equality, and actions towards sustainability
  • Whether you admit to your past mistakes, how you learnt from them, and what you learnt in the process.
  • Your organisation’s governance standard
  • How much fun it will be to work with you

The Champion

The author lists ten characteristics of a champion seller.

  • Have a strategy to win - Read as much as possible. Salespeople need to be informed and interesting at all times, and reading is the best way to keep abreast and up to date. Also do not exhaust yourself by exerting a lot. This allows you to be in the field for a longer time.
  • Know where to play and how to win -
  • Your motto should be ‘Prepare, Prepare, Prepare’  - The better prepared you are, the more likely you are to succeed.
  • Aim to win, win, win - The real champions know that when you close the deal, your customer must win, your company must win, and most importantly, the individuals involved in the customer organisation that steered the deal must win.
  • Don’t lose sight of the purpose of the pursuit -
  • Never lost the story
  • Keep improving every time, even if you’re your only competition
  • Take a broad view
  • Kill your fear
  • Communicate effectively

Final Notes

People who sell well are a joy. They sell without needing to sell. The way they go about selling elevates the act to the point where they are serving a customer’s needs. They make us happy, they make us grateful. We look forward to meeting them again, to buying from them again. Our relationships with them becomes one that we cherish.

12min Tip: If you liked this microbook, why don’t you check out ‘Persuasion’ by Robert Cialdini.

 

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