Every school teaches reading, writing and math as the most basic life skills that will help children grow into successful adults. Selling is also a basic skill, yet only students who choose to study sales or marketing learn how to do it in school.
The fact is, we sell as often—or more often—than we use our math skills. We sell nearly as often as we read and write. We sell every day. We sell when we apply for a job, ask for a raise, pitch an idea, request a favor, beg our kids to eat their vegetables or invite friends to a party.
We sell whenever we ask anyone to do anything. We don’t call those things “sales,” but that’s what they are.
Even if you aren’t in sales, you’re probably already pretty good at selling; you’ve been doing it, after all, since you were a kid and you got your parents to spring for a big birthday party or give you permission to stay out late. Somewhere along the way, you either forgot how to sell or you started to shy away from it. But your inner salesperson is still in there somewhere.
Whether you are trying to sell an idea to your boss, gain buy-in from your employees or ask a coworker to give you a hand, you can sell your everyday requests even more successfully by following five simple steps:
STEP 1: Plan
If you know exactly what you want, who can help you get it and how you will go about asking for it, you will greatly increase your chances of hearing a “yes” once you make your request. With a plan, you’ll be prepared, when the opportunity presents itself, to make your pitch. Without a plan, you might forget to ask. You might get tongue-tied. You might chicken out. You might lose your cool if the answer is “no.”
Planning to ask for something—to make a “sale”—is a lot like preparing to give a speech. If you go on stage without having done any research, there’s a good chance that you won’t know what to say, so you’ll freeze. Likewise, you shouldn’t approach someone with a request without a plan.
STEP 2: Look for opportunities
Once you realize that every request and pitch you make is actually an opportunity to “sell,” you’ll spot opportunities everywhere. You’ll realize that you can bring new business into your company—even though that may not officially be in your job description—simply by asking a client you’re working with to refer your business to colleagues and friends, for example.
For example, say a real estate agent and a lawyer—from different companies—meet at the settlement table with a couple buying a home. Everything goes smoothly. The agent sells houses for a living. So she knows that the transaction isn’t over for her until she asks the buyers to call her when they plan to move again and to share her business cards with their friends. But the lawyer packs up and heads for the door. His job isn’t to sell anyone on hiring him again. Isn’t it? That lawyer could potentially make a future sale just by asking the agent and the new homeowners to use his firm for future settlements or legal advice.
STEP 3: Establish trust
If you blurt out your request without giving the other person a good reason to say “yes,” you’ll probably hear a “no.” Instead of asking right away, give people a chance to warm up to you. Sometimes, that’s as simple as treating the person with kindness so she will want to help you. Getting a “yes” starts with listening—not with a request.
Before you ask anyone to help you, think about and listen to what that person might get in return by saying “yes.” Will it make him feel good to help you? If you’re trying to “sell” your services or your company, do you have something that could solve a problem or fill a need for the other person? Trying get someone to say “yes” just because it’s good for you isn’t the right way to treat people, and it’s not a good way to conduct business. You don’t like to be sold this way, so why would you sell like this? Before you ask, listen. Figure out how this can be a good deal for both of you.
STEP 4: Ask for what you want
Even some professional salespeople are afraid to ask. Just like most of us, they’re afraid they’ll hear a “no” if they come right out and ask for something. And they might. But a “no” isn’t the end of the world. And if you don’t ask, you won’t get. Don’t assume your boss will automatically give you a big raise just because you’re doing a great job or your coworker will cover for you at an industry event.
You have to speak up. Be specific. Make yourself clear.
STEP 5: Follow up
Once someone agrees to a request—what you now know is a “sale”—keep in touch. Even if you hear a “no,” it’s important to keep in touch. One “yes” can turn into a lot of future “sales” with the same person. And one “no” doesn’t mean “no” to all future requests.
If all you want from someone is a one-time deal, that’s all you’ll get. If you want an ongoing relationship, build on that initial transaction and find ways to help each other out on an ongoing basis.
Dr. Cindy McGovern, known as the “First Lady of Sales,” speaks and consults internationally on sales, interpersonal communication and leadership. She is the author of Every Job is a Sales Job: How to Use the Art of Selling to Win at Work. Dr. Cindy is the CEO of Orange Leaf Consulting, a sales management and consulting firm. For more information, please visit, www.drcindy.com and connect with her on Twitter, @1stladyofsales and LinkedIn.