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What the Art of Selling Is Not

By Michelle Nichols Every day, imperfect salespeople go out into an imperfect world to sell wonderful products that are an imperfect fit for an imperfect customer's situation. When you look at selling this way, it's a wonder anything ever gets sold! But billions of dollars of products and services change hands every day all over the world, and they do so for two good reasons: Customers need them and salespeople do their jobs.

If you've been looking for clients who have a problem for which your product is a perfect solution, I have bad news for you. You're probably going to starve. No matter what you're selling, your product is seldom going to be an absolutely perfect fit. So get over it now and start learning to really sell.

CLOSE ENOUGH. Your product doesn't have to be a perfect fit. In your customer's eyes, it just has to be a better than the rival products vying for his attention. Besides, if what you are selling was routinely perfect in every way, you would be out of a job: You company wouldn't need you, nor would your customers.

When you consider your product's price, features, options, size, colors, delivery, quality, credit terms, reliability, and flexability, that's a lot of perfection to expect in any one package. Then add in your company's characteristics -- things like experience, financial stability, customer service. As Data from Star Trek would no doubt say, it's only logical that you're going to fall short in at least one area.

The good news is that your competitors' products probably aren't a perfect match either. An experienced buyer knows that no solution is absolutely perfect, any more than any employee is absolutely perfect. Customers and competitors may both want you to think the competitor's offering is perfect -- but look hard enough, and you are sure to find a shortcoming or two. It's never good to bad-mouth your competitor, but it's naive not be fully aware of exactly what your competitor's products can and cannot do.

BENDING AND STRETCHING. Selling is not a military offensive. The goal of selling is not to crush the customer. Selling is more akin diplomacy, where the object is to hear and understand what the other side wants, determine what he or she can live with, and then show how your product is the closest solution.

In every sale, there are going to be a few deal-breakers, and it's best to find these out as early as possible. That's simply facing reality. Maybe the customer can't pay more than $30,000, or it may be that the goods have to be delivered by yearend. Yet it's amazing how often those "limits" can be stretched just enough to make the deal happen. In the end, it may be that they agree to $30,200 or that they are willing to take delivery on Jan. 10.

Nor is selling a debate. A customer isn't a pitcher and an objection isn't a baseball you should feel compelled to smack out of the ballpark. You're not trying to out-talk or out-think your customers, to prove that only an idiot wouldn't see things the same way you do.

OBJECTIONS AND ANSWERS. Truth is, a customer without an objection probably isn't serious about buying. Not from you, anyway, or at least not right away. Silence, they say, is golden -- but not in selling! An absence of objections is not golden, it's a very bad sign. If customers don't have any questions, it may just be that they are using you to occupy an idle hour or make the boss think they are hard at work. They may have to tell their boss that they saw five vendors before they "selected" the one they wanted to buy from all along.

Selling is not arm-wrestling. Prepare your responses to your 10 most common objections. That way, when they bring one up, you can smile and calmly say, "I'm glad you asked." You really are glad, remember, because you know it's an objection you usually get from customers. This makes the objection a silent signal that this customer is getting closer to approving a purchase order.

There is no perfect time to sell or close a sale. Sometimes, if your customer has an objection and is very worked up about it, it's simply best to say, "Let's get back to that later." Maybe you'll want to let the prospect see you make a written note of whatever it is that bothers them, so they can see you are taking their concern seriously.

THE RIGHT NOTE. You can even get them to help you write it down, "Let's see," you might begin, "you are wondering why it's X and not Y, is that right?" Sometimes, when they hear the bone of contention out loud, they can answer it for themselves. If not, it allows you a chance to think how you want to respond, and gives the customer an opportunity to calm down. You can even choose to talk about it on another day. Ignore an objection at your own peril, mind you, but sometimes time has a way of helping both of you put a concern into perspective.

Never lose sight that in all selling cycles, your goal is to get the customer's problem solved with your product or solution. It probably won't be a perfectly smooth ride, but enjoy it anyway. Happy Selling! Michelle Nichols is a Sales consultant, trainer, and speaker based in Houston. She welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at

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