Tips on selling successfully


It is said that the essence of selling is understanding your customer’s needs, and convincing him or her that you’re the best supplier to meet their requirements.

I’ll add – that to sell you need to be in an optimistic frame of mind, seeing opportunities for the customer and for yourself in each sale.

(This article is an excerpt from a recent interview with the Sunday Business Post, the unedited version!).

Some of the golden rules are

– Find out who is the customer, who is the decision maker for purchasing. You are wasting your time selling to the wrong person if they have little influence on deciding what to buy

– So don’t try to sell too hard. There is nothing as off-putting for a potential buyer as a heavy sales pitch

– Do listen to the customer, what do they want? Does it match what you are trying to sell?

– Do your research on their business. Again it is off-putting for a buyer when a new potential supplier has not bothered to find out about their business (their major products and services, their customers and what markets they serve etc.)

– Don’t be impatient. You are working to your customer’s buying cycle, and not to the cashflow requirements of your business

– Do research your competition & use any market intelligence you can gather. What are they offering, the benefits and features of their products and services, how are they responding to changes in the market etc.

Typical mistakes start-ups make when it comes to sales

Pre-startup the most common issue is overestimating sales in the first few years of trading.

Post start-up common issues are poor sales pipeline management

– having no formal simple system to manage prospects, quoted work and invoiced sales.

– and poor personal organisation of tasks and priorities, selling and business development must be ongoing in every business. Often in a small business the owner manager loses sight of the sales cycle, gets lost in service delivery and customer support – and forgets to devote a day a week to meeting new customers, and another day to selling to existing ones.

Steps of the sales process

The most common sales structure uses 7 steps, but it can be 5, 6 or 8 steps depending on whose book or blog you are reading.

The 7 steps are

  1. Preparation – plan for the sales meeting, research the buyer’s company, their products, your competitors. Prepare a checklist of questions to ensure you find out the information you need from the meeting.
  2. Introduction – be friendly and positive when you meet, establish initial credibility as a prospective supplier.
  3. Questioning – establish the needs and priorities, listen strongly (using “two ears and one mouth”), exercising good empathetic and open questioning, Who? What? Why? Where? When? and How? establishing rapport and trust with the buyer. If the needs are not understood correctly the sale will not happen. Summarise what you have understood their needs and their key concerns.
  4. Presentation – with your understanding of the needs you are in an excellent position to offer and show how your product or service will deliver. Be clear on the benefits for the buyer of your products or services. It’s best not to knock the competition, and also use sales props, samples and give the buyer a copy of the presentation.
  5. Overcoming objections – Some say objections are opportunities to reaffirm the benefits of your product or service. Often objections are requests for more information or for clarifications. If there are issues still, the approach is to understand them and to deal with each one. Common objections will concern Time, Cost, Value, Commitment level and “We’ll think about it”. Have your answers prepared beforehand, re-visit the benefits that have already been agreed and be prepared for both of you to adjust your position slightly.
  6. Close – sometimes the buyer will close the deal themselves, otherwise “I think that’s covered everything, would you like to go ahead” is a suitable close. Confirmation of the sale may depend on the personality of the buyer, how cautious they are, or that they may need to consult a colleague. If further time or information is required you are going to give it to them, so keep in regular contact.
  7. Follow-up – after-sales paperwork is important. There should be a customer follow-up and a problem resolution service. This is not the end of the sale but the start of a new sales cycle, and preparation for the next sale to this customer.


Repeat business is important

Repeat business is very important, each potential customer has potential long term sales value, and may return to you many times over the life of their company.

Always ask for feedback after a sale. And ask your customer what are their future requirements so you can plan to meet any changes in their specifications.

Books on selling?

The classic is How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. Another popular favourite is Advanced Selling Strategies: The Proven System of Sales Ideas, Methods and Techniques Used by Top Salespeople Everywhere by Brian Tracy.

Otherwise I suggest that people browse in bookshops and on the web for books that suit their approach and that are specific to their industry.

Using technology

Technology is used in 2 main ways to support selling.

Firstly creating awareness through marketing can be useful in attracting interest in your services or products. Online marketing and use of social media can target particular customer segments, and offers a clear record of what is working or not.

I don’t advise early stage businesses to invest in CRM packages, mostly because there isn’t enough customers to justify them. Usually I share a spreadsheet based sales pipeline tool with clients, and this suffices for a few years.

If you are thinking of a CRM package most appear too expensive to me, and are over specified for a small business. Cloud based CRM systems might be the way to go?


Organisations & training bodies in Ireland

For start-ups and early stage businesses

All county enterprise boards should offer subsidised courses in sales training to their clients, as a stand alone course and as part of their business start-up programmes. Enterprise Ireland provides sales training as part of their support for indigenous businesses who are their clients. The SFA, ISME and chambers of commerce also make offers in this area.

Similarly FAS has offered sales training in the past – though I am unsure of its current status (the training agency was barely mentioned in the government’s Jobs Initiative). The various Skillnet groups offer training to their members, though this is another initiative that may have reached it’s sell by date.

From personal experience I know the Irish Management Institute offered strong sales training as part of their Business Development Programme for SMEs.

We at Celtar can introduce you to specialist sales consultants and sales mentors, but they should not really be required for early stage businesses.

The recession has hit commercial training companies in a big way, many companies have been wound up. Well known training companies have reduced their prices; a Dublin training company has reduced their 2 days sales training course this May from €695 to €199, so there is better value out there.

Most importantly “don’t forget, smile when you sell!”

For further information contact

Billy Linehan

Celtar business consultants

[email protected]

086 608 6991

Interview featured in Sunday Business Post 12 May 2011