Wondering how to sell your product or service? Sales is nothing more than sharing your product and its benefits, overcoming objections and fulfilling the order. This is the key to sales success. This is the case whether you’re selling door to door, over the phone, on social media or in a brick and mortar/eCommerce store. Understanding this is the first step to becoming successful in sales, regardless of what industry or business you’re operating in. This article explains the sales process from the sales pitch to overcoming objections and closing the sale as well as how you can maximise efficiency in any industry by taking time to understand your customer groups through market segmentation and understanding their customer groups by considering their individual characteristics, including demographics, psychographics, geographics, technographics and sociographics to enable salespeople and marketers to define an ideal customer profile who will be most suitable and most likely to buy whatever you are selling.
The Sales Pitch
When it comes to your sales pitch, it stands to reason that the number of people who are exposed to your pitch will determine the likelihood of making a sale, but this isn’t the holy grail many people think it is. You have to understand your target audience and why your product suits them. Understanding your customers’ needs and how your product may fulfil them will make you more efficient in sales, not only will you be able to adapt your pitch relative to individual customer needs but you’ll also be able to factor in potential objections they may have.
Market Segmentation & Customer Profiles
Learning what your customers need and want, the problems they face and where they hang out is key to understanding who your customer is and how you can serve them. It allows you to segment your market into individual target audiences and customer profiles and this lets you properly serve people depending on their needs.
The problem a lot of salespeople and marketers face is that they don’t know their customer, they don’t know where they hang out and they don’t know how best to serve them and can’t anticipate how they’ll overcome objections forcing them to use a scattergun approach in the hope that if enough people are exposed to our pitch, the more people will buy but this is expensive, inefficient and results in more rejection, rejection in sales lowers moral and is a leading cause of giving up.
We can divide audiences into potential customer groups (segmentation) based on different characteristics and behaviours, as well as the technology they use. We can define each segment based on their demographics, psychographics and technographics (see the table below) to define groups of consumers who will respond similarly to marketing strategies who share similar traits including interests, needs and locations.
|Demographics (broad reach)||Psychographics||Technographics|
|Age||Hobbies & Interests||Digital usage habits (what devices they use most frequently, own and have access to)|
|Where they live||Attitudes & Opinions||Technological proficiency of individual users|
|Gender||Buying habits (including early adopters of new technology)||Software and hardware capabilities|
|Relationship Status||Susceptibility||What systems they use (CMS, LMS, CRM, ERP etc)|
|Who they live with||Geographics|
|Income||Where they live (country, city, neighbourhood)
Local culture and traditions
Area categorisation (urban, rural, etc)
Climatic features (temperature, humidity, day/night cycles, etc)
|Sociographics (narrow reach)|
|Individual customer age
Individual customer location
Individual customer religion
Individual customer attitudes
These lists are not exhausted.
A Case Study
We cold started a business in the property sector in 2017 when we noticed a gap in the market that needed filling which we filled without proper planning and consideration, the business focused on the management of rental property, a sector plagued with a lack of regulation and regular articles of agents not being compliant and often going rogue by completely disregarding the rights of their tenants and legislation that protects them.
Where we went wrong was that we decided our target market would be “landlords”, naturally. And the way we pitched our service was designed to cater for all types of landlords; from accidental landlords who had moved in with their spouse or inherited a property, to deliberate landlords who have purchased one or more properties to professional landlords who own a portfolio of properties which generates the bulk of their income. We also wanted to cater for limited company landlords, including housing associations, as well as individual landlords. So, that’s at least four different audiences we’re trying to target in our website copy and content marketing without any consideration for their own individual needs and wants!
For six months, we scratched our heads wondering why our growth was non-existent and our rate of acquiring new customers was pretty much stagnant. Without understanding the different types of landlord and their needs, we left ourselves at a disadvantage and we realised this upon review of our content strategy.
We scrapped our content strategy from that point onwards, as well as our customer acquisition strategy and abandoned our advertising campaigns and went back to the drawing board. You see, it wasn’t immediately obvious the differences between each customer type we were faced with and upon realising these, only then could we see how our strategies were irrelevant for the most part to all customer types.
By targeting everyone, customer groups with differing needs won’t be able to easily see how your service fills them and will tune out before they get to a section of your website that tells them whether or not your service will suit them. Whereas if you target one customer group, every piece of content they see will be relevant resulting in higher engagement and an increased likelihood the customer will respond to a call to action.
When we adapt our strategies to target accidental landlords, who we could train to be compliant and to adopt best practices, the number of enquiries we received immediately improved. Within three months, we had doubled the number of clients on our books demonstrating the importance of understanding your target market and how customer groups differ.
Developing a Customer Profile
When you’ve outlined your different customer groups, you want to construct a customer profile of your ideal customer. This lets you visualise exactly who you want to be responding to your content and engaging with your brand. Yes, we’d all like everyone to be buying from us, all 8 billion of the world’s population but this is unrealistic. The vast majority will find your product irrelevant in most cases and for those who don’t, worldwide distribution of your product as it becomes a household staple will be a headache in itself and far beyond the scope of this article. By realising a single, ideal customer profile, we can tailor our products, services and content to them even if there is an absence of real customers, such as the case for cold startups in their planning phase.
To define a customer profile, you need to understand their characteristics relevant to their demographics, sociographics, geographics and technographics. If you’re operating business to business (B2B) then you will also need to figure out your ideal buyer persona, Shane Wiley of Hubspot features an illustration (below) featuring a generic organisation’s ideal customer profile and buyer personas in one of their articles which illustrates this point well. With business to consumer (B2C) transactions, our ideal buyer persona will usually be that of our customer profile – they differ slightly in that a customer profile details customer characteristics whilst buyer personas seeks to understand individual challenges and personalities of customers, however, for those outside of a corporate setting, and for most in a corporate setting operating a B2C service will be forgiven for lumping them in together as being one and the same.
Bringing it together
Now you’ve built the foundations of a successful pitch. By understanding your customers and their needs and how your product fills those needs, their affordability and whether your product suits their budget and their susceptibility to your marketing communications, you should be able to identify areas of your pitch you can adapt relative to individual needs and characteristics of your customers and their personas.
For example, if you’re a retail sales assistant in a luxury department store like Selfridges or Harrods in London selling any of their stocked brands’ products, you will be better-suited understanding your regular customers will likely be more affluent with more disposable income who understands and appreciates the high-prices as it often determines a product to be high-value therefore you do not need to justify the price of £290 for an Ariana logo-print Burberry T-shirt when you can buy a similar Burberry T-shirt on Amazon for £81.70 whose average customer may not be so affluent.
Using the customer profile you’ve developed will enable a door-to-door salesperson to select an area to canvas, if they’re selling a high-value product like a Yale smart home security set up and subscription then selecting a deprived area with low average incomes defined by the Income Inequality Index and low crime rates (though this is seldom the case in areas with lower than average incomes) isn’t going to be the best choice compared to areas with higher than average incomes and recent spikes in burglaries. Whilst a business selling American sweets (or candy), chocolate and fizzy drinks to a UK market via an eCommerce store like Shopify or WooCommerce may find advertising to teenagers and young adults in the UK regardless of income level (provided their prices are affordable for the average consumer) or which area of the UK they live in (provided they can deliver or post orders to them) will find greater success.
Another reason you want to develop an ideal customer profile is to anticipate any objections they may have, anticipation is crucial to sales success. When it balls down to it, you’ll often hear sales masters say there is a maximum of ten objections to overcome regardless of who the customer is. And this is true, but it’s not the full picture – as you can imagine, it’s not that simple. You see, how you overcome each objective will differ depending on the customer and their attitudes and behaviours. These objections are:
- It’s too expensive
- I don’t want to commit to a contract
- I’m already in contract with a competitor
- I don’t have time
- I don’t make the decisions
- I don’t like the product
- I had a bad experience with a similar product
- I don’t trust you
- I’m unsure
- I don’t understand the product.
A perfectly rational person who has run out of bread will visit a supermarket and grab the first loaf of bread they see because this immediately fills their need, but humans are not perfectly rational and depending on their own characteristics will determine whether they opt to fulfil the need now with a 32p loaf of Tesco own-brand bread or whether they choose a loaf of Warburtons at nearly three times the cost for a substitutable product. Their objections could be “I don’t like/trust the brand” or “my partner wrote the shopping list and made the decision” – without a sales assistant being present, there’s nothing to overcome these objections and with own-brand products, not enough budget is dedicated to them to allow staff to dedicate their resources selling own-brand products, selling their own-brand ranges are not the core business model of most, if not all, supermarkets so overcoming objections to purchasing individual products isn’t a high priority, the risk of customers not buying anything at all is offset by the increased variety available to customers which increases the customer’s propensity to purchase anyway.
The same is true for supermarket sandwiches we often see featured in meal deals in Sainsbury, ASDA, Tesco and Morrisons. The sandwiches sold by Tesco are exactly the same sold by Ginsters (for those outside of the UK, Ginsters is a well-known ready-to-eat food producer whilst Tesco, Sainsbury, ASDA and Morrisons are well-known supermarket brands, ASDA is part of the Wal-Mart group) – I know this because I used to work in a factory which made sandwiches for both Ginsters and Tesco using the exact same recipes, ingredients and quantities as one another. The same people who would buy a Tesco meal deal for £3 would argue a Ginsters sandwich on its own (without the packet of crisps and drink) for £3 is far too expensive compared to the value and this would be most agreeable knowing that the sandwiches are exactly the same but placed in different packaging. For anyone wondering, the sandwiches are made in the Samworth Brother’s factory Bradgate Bakery in Leicester, United Kingdom. Samworth Brothers also produce the famous Walker’s Pork Pies and Tesco porkpies. Yup, they’re exactly the same! This is one of the joys of contract manufacturing and taking a resource-based view of supply chain management and is common throughout the food manufacturing industry – what, did you really think these brands owned their own production lines? Don’t be daft, they don’t even own the recipes or use any special ingredients that differentiate them from other brands. Look at Ariel and Bold washing detergent, both brands owned by Proctor & Gamble yet they’re exactly the same product under different brands – this is how they capture different markets, each product is tailored to a different consumer group and for those who don’t trust one, well, there’s every opportunity they’ll choose another that’s owned by the same company!
The point is, any objection you come across can be easily overcome one way or another, it’s all down to how well you understand your customer. The more resilient, less forward-thinking salespeople amongst us will experience rejection after rejection until they develop a knowledge-bank of known objections which they’re forever adding to disregarding other factors that may have affected the sale. These salespeople usually burn out from time to time, lose their morale or quit sales altogether and end up making sandwiches for supermarkets on a night shift in a cold factory.
Successfully overcoming objections (or avoiding objections entirely) will lead to closing the sale. They, whoever they are, say a sale is only closed if money changes hands, they sign on the dotted line or otherwise the salesperson earns their commission and anything else is unsuccessful. I disagree. A sale closes with success whether you sell, which is the aim of the game, and if the sale doesn’t happen because the product is genuinely unsuitable for the customer and selling it to them would be unethical. Acting in an ethical manner pays dividends in the form of trust which garners referrals and boosts credibility down the line. Also, if you ever have a product that is suitable for them and you’ve already broken that trust by acting unethically then you’ll have already lost the sale before you’ve even knocked on the door; regaining trust is significantly more difficult than earning that trust in the first place.
When it comes to closing a sale, data according to The Brevet Group shows that more than three-quarters of clients require at least five follow up calls before placing the sale after the first contact and that 44% of sales reps give up after the first follow-up, if they bother to follow up at all and if you’re in the minority of sales reps who do give up so easily, or the minority who don’t follow up for fear of rejection, you’re missing out on key opportunities to maximise sales.
This is easier said than done, I mean, how often do you visit the same neighbourhood in a reasonably short enough period of time to remain memorable to clients you’ve previously canvassed in your door to door sales? Unless your business is local and you beat the same path on a regular basis, the answer is not very often so it isn’t always feasible to make multiple contacts and there’s no help for you, I’m afraid. For you, it comes down to strategy and how you conduct yourself on the doorstep in your first and potentially final meeting. But for other businesses including eCommerce, telesales, email marketers and those building sales funnels on platforms like Keapa (formerly InfusionSoft), Clickfunnels or ReplyPipe, making several contact points is easy – until you start abusing personal data that is, i.e. if they tell you to go away and not contact them again and you continue to do so… well, you could see all the money you generate from sales being paid towards massive fines from the ICO for breaches of the Data Protection Act 2018 (GDPR).
So, now you know how to define your customer groups and customer personas and how these are critical to the success of the sales process you should be able to anticipate objections and construct your pitches, content and adverts in a way that appeals to your target customer group.
You should step away from the scattergun approach, attempting to attract all types of customers at the same time because doing so doesn’t make your service any more relevant to any individual customer group but may limit the relevance and therefore engagement, decreasing the likelihood of sale amongst all customer groups. Take the low hanging fruit instead of reaching for every fruit you see.