How to approach customers as a salesperson

Your phone rings. It’s that telemarketer, for the third time today. They simply don’t understand why you are not jumping at the opportunity to buy their product.

But what if the tables were turned? 

You might not necessarily need to cold call, but if you have a product to sell, people can get testy upon trying to convince them that they need your product. Here’s help.

What is your challenge?

If customers came delivered in boxes, they would be labelled ‘fragile, handle with care’. They are the lifeline of your business, but they come with no guarantees.

Your customers in South Africa today are likely being extremely careful with their money. They are probably on the grumpy side too, considering the endless list of challenges facing us on a daily basis.

Of course there are exceptions, but these are the people you need to convince to support your business. Simply put, you need to get them to like you, and then give you their money. You sure got your work cut out for you.

The above is daunting, but don’t have a panic attack. Rather jump into action. The business that does the right things is the one that will make it. Here’s what to do to ensure that they sign on the dotted line.

How to approach customers as a salesperson

The golden rule of sales

James White, Founder and CEO of InTouchCRM, explains that the most successful salespeople have one thing in common: They seek first to understand before trying to be understood.

When approaching a customer, it can be tempting to rave on about your offering, as you desperately try to convince them to do business with you. Stop this. 

Winning over that customer means that you will have to learn to listen. And not just listen, actually hear what people are saying. Your goal is to get to know your customer, and understand their needs.

White explains that you can do this by asking questions, and really listening to the answers. Ask about their circumstances, what they are trying to achieve and how your product could help them achieve their goals.

Get to know them as people, but also get to know their business and their customers. Could your product possibly align with them? Ask a lot of questions, don’t make assumptions.

Ask about the things that are causing them issues. Why are they having this problem? Where and when does it happen? How would they like to resolve it?

The beauty of asking these questions is that it places you in a position to find ways to help – and win over that customer. 

Offer advice that goes beyond your own product. Solving a customer’s problems with your own product as well as going the extra mile is the kind of thing that makes you stand out.

Make notes while you are talking with your potential customer. The information you get while you are asking them is what you are going to use to prepare your strategy and future communications with this person.

Information is your key to success. It will help you position yourself and your product as the solution to the customer’s specific problem. 

In some cases you would even be able to modify your offering to specifically suit the customer’s needs – something that is sure to impress them.

This is the thing that sets you apart as someone who actually cares, instead of the pushy salesperson who would say anything to get the deal.

10 ways to approach customers 

There are many ways to speak to a potential customer, depending on what type of business you are running. 

Here are a few approaches you can take while remembering, as explained above, that actually caring about the human will be the thing that makes you stand out.

  1. Create urgency. When discussing your customer’s goals or problems, remember to ask by when they need it resolved. This helps you provide a timeline of what needs to happen when to reach the goal.
  1. Make use of customer stories to show your product’s value. This is especially effective if the past customer was in a similar situation as the current one.
    Go about it by explaining the situation the past customer was in. Then, explain why they chose you over a competitor – what features, services or values made up their mind?
    Lastly, how does their situation compare today? How did your assistance change the situation to the past customer’s benefit, and potentially for the new customer.
  1. Keep in mind that people do research before they buy. They will know your competitors as well as they know you.
    Therefore you need to know your competitors as well, enabling you to immediately explain what makes your offering uniquely beneficial.
  1. Some potential buyers have no problem with finding the weaknesses in your sales pitch, and offer as many objections as possible.
    Many industries are familiar with the most common objections, and salespeople are taught how to handle them.
    This can work, but be careful of appearing like the typical smooth salesman who has an answer for everything.
    Another way to handle objections is to tie them back to the problem/goal that the customer is facing and how you are able to be the solution.
  1. It’s often said in the business world that ‘people do business with people they like’. Hence the importance of finding ways to build rapport with the person you are approaching.
    If you are a naturally friendly, sociable person, this could be a very effective sales technique for you.
  1. If the social side of things don’t come naturally to you, you could opt for the guru approach. This works great for the more logical, rational and intellectual buyer (and salesperson).
    With this approach you ensure that you know everything there is to know about your industry, as your main offering to the prospect is facts.
    In doing this you present yourself as an extremely credible expert, worthy of trust.
  1. Selling based on the customer’s personality is an interesting way to go about it. In this approach you will tailor your sales technique based on the personality of the person sitting in front of you.
    For example, if you are dealing with someone who seems suspicious of salespeople, you will want to spend more time building rapport and trust.
  1. A soft sell is when you interact with your prospect without putting pressure on them to purchase your product on the spot.
    You provide as much info as you can to entice them, but leave the decision in their hands.
    For example, you would mention how popular your product is, how the product made a difference to your own life, or how affordable it is compared to your competitors.
  1. In contrast with the soft sell, you can also opt for the hard sell. This is a persistent approach. You will essentially make the prospect feel like purchasing immediately is their only option.
    This is a tricky one as not everyone will respond well to it, but it can be useful at times when you are running a promotion on your product.
  1. When utilising SNAP selling, the salesperson creates an environment where the salesperson and customer are equals with the same goal.
    The purpose is to keep the customer’s needs as the focus of the conversation.
    SNAP stands for simple (keep it simple and provide basic information); i(N)valuable (showcase why the customer needs your product); always align (stay in sync with the customer’s needs).
    P is for priorities – keep important decisions and solutions at the forefront of the conversation.
Closing the deal

In sales we generally distinguish between a hard close and a soft close. 
The hard close is a direct method of closing, and requires an immediate response. You will, for example, say something like “Will you buy this today?”

This is a technique that allows you to control and steer the conversation with authority, but it can easily backfire and destroy the rapport you have built with the potential buyer.

Those who are uncomfortable with this direct approach might prefer a soft close, which is a more indirect approach. It looks a bit like these:
The assumptive close: “It looks like we agree, I will send over the contract after our meeting.”
The summary: The salesperson gives a short summary of what was discussed, and ends with something like “When would you like this to be delivered?”
The choice: Would you like option A or B?

The role of body language in sales 

According to Forbes, the best salespeople are experts at reading body language. They explain that, during your interactions with a potential customer, you are both communicating on a verbal and nonverbal level.

When negotiations get tricky or subtle personality complications come into play, you are most likely to spot it on the nonverbal level.

Your prospect’s body language can indicate interest, receptivity and agreement with what you are saying. It can also show resistance, defensiveness, disagreement and even hostility.

The person might not necessarily verbalise these feelings, but keeping an eye on their facial expressions, head movements, body positions and hand and arm gestures can help you notice and address them appropriately.

Reading body language is not as hard as it sounds, as you have been doing it unconsciously all your life. It’s just a matter of practising taking conscious note of them.

As a salesperson, you also need to be aware of your own body language. Here are a few tips:

  • Don’t avoid eye contact as it will create the impression that you are hiding something. Do not stare at your prospect either. A healthy amount of eye contact will make people feel like they can trust you.
  • Keep your face relaxed and friendly, with a slight smile, when you talk.
  • Do not cross your arms, as this is a sign of defensiveness.
  • Do not slouch. Lean slightly forward to show that you are paying attention.
  • Do not tap your feet or anything else, as this could make you appear impatient.

Final takeaway

So which sales approach should you use? Experience will teach you which ones you are the most comfortable with, and works the best for you.

You could even employ different sales techniques at a time. A lot will depend on what you are selling, your own preferences as well as the personality of the person sitting across from you.

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