Here are 11 ways to improve the selling skills at your small business, including some suggested by the sales productivity website PipelineDeals.com:

1. Know what Customers (Really) Care About: It helps to know what they probably don’t care about, like how “great” your service is; how “low” your prices are, and whether they might have been your customer in the past. Loyalty runs thin these days, and old sales platitudes fall flat. What customers do care about is how smart you are about their business; how you can lower their risk; and how strong of a reputation you’ve built with people they might know.

2. Establish a sales process. When sales slow, many small business owners panic. They suddenly forget what they know and start throwing ideas against the wall to see what sticks. They jump from activity to activity, neglecting to follow any kind of sales process. A sales process tells you exactly what needs to happen in order to complete a sale. Imagine an emergency room. When a patient comes into triage the hospital doesn’t try multiple check-in procedures and leave their process to chance, or things would be chaos. There are procedures and orderly steps that need to happen every time in order to correctly treat a patient.  The same is true in sales.

3. Help, don’t sell: Be on the customer’s side. Focus conversations on customers’ needs and goals by asking questions, listening and answering questions.

4. Collect the right intelligence to strengthen your pipeline: Work smarter, not harder. Understand that  people change roles and jobs. Keep an eye on these changes to find new leads and maintain existing customer relationships.

5. Focus on what’s in it for them: Stop selling products and start selling outcomes. Focus on what prospects can accomplish with your product or service to meet their own “bottom line.” It’s about their needs, not sales compensation plans.

6. Show up early: No, not getting up at the crack of dawn, but arriving at the beginning of the decision-making process. Focusing on prospects that are ready to buy now may be starting too late. Engage in conversations earlier to learn about their needs for the best sales pitch possible.

7. Use the 3 Ps: Preparation, practice and planning: Get a system down. Prepare by researching a company or person before contact. Rehearse your pitch and anticipate questions to improve it over time. Each meeting should have a desired end-state to measure success rates.

8. Keep prospecting. If you only pay attention to current customers you will sacrifice long-term sales. When a business gets to a certain size, employees feel like they can relax and that they are past needing to prospect all the time. Don’t fall for this trap. Few people like to prospect. You don’t have to like it; you just have to do it. While it’s important not to neglect existing customers, you need to be on the lookout for new customers in anticipation of the peaks and valleys throughout the year.

9. Score your leads: Time is money. Invest it on the sales leads with the highest potential first. Referral and word of mouth are best, followed by those generated by direct outreach programs, with website and marketing programs next.

10. Establish fans for life: Sales is like a relay race. Getting a meeting or closing a new deal is only the first leg. Strong customer relationships have long-term benefits, including repeat business, referrals and positive market perception.

11. Ban “Loser Talk.” If you really want to kill sales, create an atmosphere of learned helplessness. In fact, many business owners do this and don’t realize it. Stop blaming the economy or other things out of your control. Let sales people close deals within parameters, and be responsible and accountable for their own progress.

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Key Topics

Sales