The secret to successful selling

Sarah wearily placed her bag on the chair, and sat down for her coaching session with me, and sighed

I never realised that selling would be so hard, and that I would hate it so much. But I know I have to do it or my business will fail.

Sarah is the not the only one of my clients who dread selling, and I know I hated it when I started my own business 11 years ago.

Selling, closing the deal, cold calling, finding prospects were things I never did in my corporate job.

No, that was for the sales and business development teams. Whilst I’d been on a few sales courses in my corporate life, nothing prepared me for having to sell my ideas and myself to a complete stranger.

It felt very exposing, as if I was asking someone I had a secret crush on for a date.

Would they say yes, and validate me, or would I get a ‘no’, and feel deflated and gun shy? I also felt as if I had no control over the process, again like dating.

If I followed up the day after our meeting, would I seem too keen, and if I kept on calling, would they think me desperate and thus devalue my offering?

I soon realised I was skilled at building relationships and having the initial conversation but clumsy and generally unsuccessful when I tried to convert that into cash. In desperation, I signed up for sales training.

And not just one, quite a few…all with a different approach, very different trainers and radically differing philosophies. But the one thing they had in common – that theirs was the best!

Over the years, as my business grew, so did my confidence.

Reflecting on that investment, and my now, seemingly intuitive sales approach, I realised that I had morphed the bits I liked from these courses into my own style.

And that is the key to enjoying selling. It feels natural, genuine, and is authentically who you are. When you approach sales in that way and have a set of tools to boost your confidence, it will become much easier.

1. Sex, salvation or success?

It has been said that people only buy for one of three reasons.

Will it improve their relationships?

Save them?

Make them more successful?

Think about what you are selling. But not in the way you would normally think about it.

I want you to pretend that you are your ideal prospect.

When they think about your offering, what reason from the list above would they have for buying it? What problem or pain do they have, that your offering will solve?

Take a piece of paper and divide it into two columns. On the left-hand side write down all the problems and pains your ideal prospect has that are relevant to your offering. Then in the right-hand column, write how you will solve those problems. Be mindful to use words that your prospect would use.

Once you have this list, you will be able to build trust with your prospect more quickly, as they will feel that you really understand their situation.

2. How many times until they say ‘yes’?

Over the years, there have been many sales experts that claim a prospect needs to meet you either face-to-face or virtually, between five and seven times before they will buy from you.

Yet, most people give up after the second or third meeting if they haven’t got a ‘yes’. Thus they lose any chance of closing a sale.

Like dating, you need to build a relationship – it takes time before someone will buy from you.

It’s highly unlikely that someone will move in with you after the first date. Selling is the same.

I like to use the Know, Like, Trust, Buy model when I think of selling.

Before someone will buy from you they need to:

  • Know you
  • Like you and what you offer
  • Trust you and that you and your offering will do what you say it will

This process of deepening the relationship with a prospect takes time and exposure.

If you are selling to large corporates, it may be two or three meetings before you get the opportunity to even write a proposal.

And if you are selling to private individuals, they may need to see your product repeatedly before they buy.

Once they know, like and trust you, buying from you becomes the next logical step.

Take a moment to reflect on your typical sales experience.

How many times do you keep talking to someone before you give up? Before I understood this, I would generally have two coffees with a corporate prospect, and if nothing was in the offing, stop there and move on.

Once I realised this, I then kept on with the coffee and relationship building, until we had a rapport and trust had been built. Soon enough, requests to pitch for work came in.

3. Remove the stalker mentality

Some of you reading the advice above would have immediately thought, ‘but that makes me seem like a stalker’.

And yes, you’re right, unless you have a system and are communicating the steps of your sales process to your prospect.

Most often, as a seller, we let the prospect drive the sales process.

We wait until they get back to us, we fear calling them to ask them how it’s going; we don’t want to be seen as too desperate, or we may try once and then give up.

Imagine if you drove the process, so you got the answers you needed on your timetable?

Try this approach:

Create a plan for how many meetings you plan to have with your prospect. Think about the purpose of each meeting, your desired outcome and the ideal time frames.

For example, for a corporate it may be:

  • Introductory meeting
  • Meeting to discover more of their problems, pains and needs
  • Meeting to discuss your ideas for how to work together
  • Meeting to discuss a proposal
  • Meeting to respond to their questions
  • Meeting to agree details, and close the sale

At the end of each meeting agree the date of the next meeting, or if more relevant, when you will call them to have the next meeting in your plan.

Doing this keeps the control with you, as you are driving the timings of the process.

It also removes the feeling that you are stalking them, as by agreeing to the timing for the next contract, they will be expecting your call or meeting.

Be explicit with them about what your desired outcome for the meeting is. For instance, in the example above, the desired outcome for a meeting to discuss ideas, maybe ‘to discuss how we could work together, so I could prepare a discussion document’.

This then sets very clearly, that you intend the relationship to move forward.

4. Don’t waste your time

Very early on, you must ascertain if you are talking to the decision maker.

I have wasted weeks in a sales process, not to mention countless hours creating a proposal, only to have it turned down from above, as I wasn’t able to get in front of the real decision maker.

Ask your contact if they will be making the final decision, or are there others that need to be involved in the process? If so, get them involved early on in your discussions.

5. Set yourself up to succeed

Help yourself to do well at selling by setting a strong intention for each sales interaction.

Prepare by following this plan:

  1. Write down what your best outcome would be from the meeting
  2. Also, write down how that would make you feel
  3. Write down what your prospects’ best outcome could be
  4. Then think about what you need to do, or how you need to be in the meeting to achieve that
  5. Then, last but not least, spend a few minutes running the meeting through in your mind’s eye, and imagine the room, the conversations, and most of all, how smoothly and successfully it goes, and how you achieve your desired outcome!

Successful selling is an art and a science!

I love blending the practical processes, the steps and approaches, with the inner work…how it makes me feel, and I love that I can be totally authentic in the process.

Remember…through your relationship building and the ‘know, like and trust’ model, buying is the next logical step.

And the more prepared you are, and clear about the steps and timings involved, the more you are in the driver’s seat.

So, what are your thoughts? Do you know why your clients buy from you? Do you have a sales process or are you flying by the seat of your pants?


Wendy Kerr

Director for The Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Auckland University.The Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is the hub for the development and promotion of innovation, commercialisation and entrepreneurial activities within the University.We create experiential programmes, workshops and events to unleash the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship, to transform the mindsets of our students and staff to support the growth of New Zealand as a prosperous and creative nation.

Be the change that you want to see. Step into your leadership.


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