Resolve to Sell Better in 2002

Now's the time to come up with techniques and strategies aimed at selling faster, more, and at higher profit margins

By Michelle Nichols

The new year is coming, and you know what that means: new calendars, one more round of parties, and New Year's resolutions. In addition to the annual promises to lose weight, eat more vegetables, and spend less money, here's a resolution that could transform your business: increase your sales effectiveness.

Theoretically, anyone can build their business by adding sales reps or increasing the number of hours each rep works. But a smarter, cheaper way to increase sales is to boost the effectiveness of each step of your selling process. Sales effectiveness covers three areas: selling faster, selling more, and selling at higher profit margins. Here are five ways to achieve those goals:

Massage your message. Tear apart your selling message, reexamine it from every direction, and sharpen it so that gets right to the point. Start by asking yourself what benefits your products or services provide. Be specific. Maybe you need a snappy opening question. Maybe you need a stronger close. It's a fresh year, get a fresh start.

When a telemarketer calls me and gabs on without giving me a chance to speak, I feel frustrated for both the company that hired this person and myself. What a wasted opportunity. I understand that the callers must get frequent busy signals and hang-ups -- and yet, when I pleasantly answer the phone, I often get a machine-gun delivery of information poured into my ear.

A decent telemarketing script should sound like a conversation. It should ask questions to find out if I have any interest in the benefits the product offers. I cannot be talked into submission, and I wonder why these callers try. All of this holds true for people who sell face-to-face too.

Double your delivery. Get out and talk to a lot more prospects. Sometimes all you need is momentum. Maybe things slowed down during the holidays. Maybe you got distracted with holiday shopping and parties. Well, the new year is at hand, with new quotas, and new records to be set. Don't accept last year's assumptions.

Your eagerness can be infectious. If people ask you why you're all fired up, remind them it's a new year. Share some of your enthusiasm and energy.

Shorten your sales cycle. Don't be afraid of a "no." The goal in selling is to get to a firm "yes" or "no" as quickly as possible. Many salespeople, even veterans, are still afraid of a negative response. That's crazy. If the person you're talking to really can't buy right now, they are doing you a favor by giving a clear "no." This lets you move on and spend your time looking for, and selling to, those who can give you a "yes."

The worst situation isn't getting a "no." It's getting stuck in the gray area -- those moments when the prospect won't commit to anything more than a bland, "I'm thinking it over."

Time is the most important asset a sales person has -- and it must be spent wisely. It's even more important than money. A company can borrow money. It can't borrow time. Your success depends on choosing wisely with whom you spend your time, and how you spend it.

Coddle your customers. If they're already spending money with you or have purchased recently, keep in close contact. They're the most likely to buy from you again or to refer others who will do so. Remember that existing clients are more profitable than new ones, so do whatever it requires to keep your customers coddled. (I dare you to try saying that three times quickly!)

Reach out for referrals. Even the happiest of customers can forget to refer their friends to you. Brainstorm to find ways to increase referrals. Contest within the office? Contest for your customers? Referral bonuses for customers?

My husband, an engineer, once tried selling. He thought someone had to be a customer for six months before he could ask that person for a referral. He was shocked when I told him that, if I have a good conversation with a prospect, I will always ask if they know someone else who could use the benefits my products offer.

You'd be surprised how many referrals I get by simply asking for them. They don't have to be sure the person to whom they refer me actually needs what I sell -- all I need is a name and a phone number. It's that momentum game again.

Increasing your effectiveness takes some thinking, and as that great philosopher Winnie-the-Pooh said, "Thinking is hard work." He was right, but hard work pays well, so it's worth it. Before you add more sales reps or make your current crew work longer hours, look for ways to make each sales hour more effective. Happy selling!

Nichols is a sales consultant, trainer, and speaker based in Houston. She welcomes your questions and comments, and can be reached at

Edited by Roger Franklin

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