“Everybody is a salesperson,” says Martin Limbeck, a keynote speaker, sales trainer, and bestselling author in Germany, whose book NO is Short for Next Opportunity is now available in English. “The first date is nothing else than a sales pitch,” he says. “If you have kids at home, you have, every day, a sales pitch.”
For some entrepreneurs, selling is the most difficult part of running a small business. Sales, however, are a crucial and unavoidable part of every business. “The CEO is always the first salesperson of the whole company,” says Limbeck, noting that an entrepreneur can have a great idea and still fail “if nobody knows that.”
The good news, according to Limbeck, is that there are concrete steps that small-business owners can take to improve their sales ability. Here are five sales myths along with Limbeck’s tips for becoming a successful salesperson.
Myth #1: You Need to Be a Born Salesperson
“Anyone can sell. It is within us,” says Limbeck. “The truth is, hard work always trumps talent.” He adds that “nobody is born as a salesperson” any more than people are born doctors or cab drivers. He suggests treating sales the way you would treat learning medicine or learning to drive: Take seminars, read up on selling, or even apprentice yourself to an experienced sales professional. Most of all, Limbeck urges small-business owners to get out there and make sales calls. He cites the rule of 10,000, which says that anything you do that many times in your life you become truly good at. “Diligence always surpasses talent,” he says.
Myth #2: If You Can Talk Someone’s Ear Off, You Will Be Good at Sales
“In sales, what’s most important is that you are able to listen to someone, to their needs,” Limbeck says. He says a good salesperson will split the time 50/50 between listening to the customer and talking. A great salesperson will talk only 20 percent of the time and listen 80 percent. “It’s very important that you learn to hear the motives of your customer,” he says. “What does he really want? Read between the lines.” Any question your customer asks, about colors, product specs, or how the product is used, are signals to a good salesperson of where to steer the conversation next. Ask questions that allow your customer to better understand his own wishes and, Limbeck says, “the customer can sell himself your product.”
Myth #3: If You Have a Great Product, Business Will Find You
“You have to pitch and you have to sell” your products, Limbeck says. “You are a sales machine because you need customers.” He reminds his students that they need to work on their company as well as in their company: Planning and dreaming can make the difference between just having a great product and selling that great product to build a successful business. He gives the example of a student of his who makes and sells chutneys using all fresh ingredients. Everyone who tastes her chutney loves it. But because she has only two workers in her company and makes all her chutney fresh, she has no time to sell her product, much less think and plan for the growth of her company. Limbeck says this is one of the major failure points for entrepreneurs, and advises small-business owners that making time to work on their companies is as important as spending time working in them. His chutney-making student hired additional employees to handle production and started calling on potential customers, taking the concrete steps needed to grow her startup.
Myth #4: The First Three Minutes of the Client Meeting Determine Whether You Will Close the Deal
Sales are not truly closed at the customer meeting; you need to take certain steps to ensure you make a sale before meeting with a prospect. “Your sales success hangs on the three hours before your meeting, on your mental programming,” says Limbeck. Before he meets with someone for an important sales call or presentation, he researches the person through Google and LinkedIn, speaks with contacts who may have worked with the person and finds out what kind of presentation would have the most appeal: storytelling or statistics. Then he visualizes the person saying yes to what he is offering. “Negative thoughts [lead to] negative results,” he says. “You win and lose between your ears.”
Myth #5: When a Client Says No, That’s the Final Word
“Most of the time, a client’s no is short for ‘next opportunity,’” says Limbeck. “You have to learn to handle that no because that’s normal.” He adds, “Don’t be hard on yourself, don’t blame yourself, just go on.” While some sales reps only try once with a cold call, he says he finds that most deals are closed between the fifth and 12th meeting. Limbeck compares selling to a courtship. “If you can laugh with your customer, you can sell,” he says. “If you don’t laugh with your customer, you won’t sell anything.”