Shoptalk: The Fine Art of Selling
Selling is hard. It’s also distasteful to most IT experts who prefer to interface with motherboards, not people.
But if you don’t sell, you don’t eat, so we’ve assembled a few tips to help you put food on the table.
Don’t Be a Salesman
You read that right. For IT experts, the first rule of selling is “don’t sell”—at least not in the traditional way. You’re simply not a salesman. They work in a specialized field that takes a certain character (often a perky, glad-handing one) that IT experts infamously lack. Instead, just be sincere. Look your prospects in the eye and tell them what you do and why it matters. Remember that a useful service tends to sell itself.
Ditch Those Cold Calls
They rarely work. And don’t you hate it when you get a sales call? It’s annoying, and there’s no better way to lose a sale than to annoy the client. Far better to target a select few people who truly need your service, then write them in advance and let them know you’ll be calling. Even better: Ask them to call you. Those who do—and brace yourself, as they’ll be few (the response rates to direct mail are anemic)—will have a true interest in your work.
Find the Right Person
Trying to sell to executives might be a bomb. They’re busy, rarely make sales decisions except for big-ticket items, and unless they like the nuts-and-bolts side of IT, they might not understand what you do. Instead, target the network admins, backup experts and day-to-day engineers. They’re more likely to come to the phone or take a meeting.
Get a Champion
Next, turn those admins and engineers into advocates. If they want your intrusion-detection expertise or your knowledge of DNS, they’ll make the sale for you. But they’ll need some tools to convince the powers that be that you’re the right person for the job. These include first-rate brochures, a PowerPoint or Flash show, your blog or a podcast.
The Beauty of Repeat Business
Making a sale is great. Making a second—and third and fourth—to the same person is even better. A customer who likes you will come back again and again, often for more expensive work. Sales is a process of trust that builds with time, and there’s no better way to build your bottom line than to please your existing customers.
Mind Their Business
Before you make a sales call, do some research. Learn the ins and outs of your prospect’s business—in fact, learn them thoroughly. The more you know, the more you’re likely to impress them with your research and the depth of your knowledge. And you’ll show them you care about something more than a mere sale: You care about what they do and what they need.
Don’t Forget to Write
Follow-ups matter. It’s one thing to dash off a quick e-mail—badly written and badly planned, no less. But a real, honest-to-goodness letter, which few people take the trouble to send these days, is far more impressive. Just don’t inundate your prospects with too much mail. One or two pieces are fine. Send more and you’re (ahem) pushing the envelope.
Free is Good
It’s a bromide, but it’s true: You have to spend money to make money. That means you have to give things away for free—whether it’s a bit of software, some advice or even a few hours of service. Free is like candy: It’s too sweet for the average executive, admin or network engineer to refuse, and it can get your foot in the door, where you can prove your excellence firsthand.
Don’t Ask for Coffee
On a sales call, your prospect might ask if you’d like coffee or other beverage. Don’t. It’s a nice way to break the ice, but it also takes precious time. Don’t waste minutes by forcing your hosts, no matter how gracious they are, to pour you a drink. These days, people are grateful for speed.
Believe it or not, it’s the hardest tip to master. No one likes a bore. Whether you’re selling in person or by phone, whether you’re talking to the CEO or the receptionist, enjoy yourself, stay loose and remember that humor—that oft-forgotten sales technique—is among the most potent of all.
David Garrett is a Web designer and former IT director, as well as the author of “Herding Chickens: Innovative Techniques in Project Management.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.