Today’s markets have never been more competitive. Previously resources and geographic barriers restricted markets. Now advancements in technology allow products to be offered by companies, and individuals, across the world. It’s not unusual for services to be offered and delivered by individuals thousands of miles away. Globalisation has flattened the world, and as a result consumers have never had more choice, and have never been better informed.
So how do you compete and thrive in this new world? It comes down to how you sell.
Fortunately, no matter how much the world has changed, and no matter how much it will change, the art of selling will never change. People still buy for the same reasons; human psychology doesn’t change at the same pace as the modern world. Although there is a lot of advice on how to sell, you can reduce all good sales techniques down to one fundamental principle: In order to sell anything to anyone, you have to be able to empathise.
You have to empathise with your customers, to share their feelings and thoughts, and see things from their point of view. All good sales techniques start with getting to know, and connecting with, the customer. This doesn’t mean you have to strive for a deep connection with everyone, but you have to understand their wants and needs before you can go about solving those needs.
Crucially however, it’s not enough just to understand their needs, they have to feel that you understand them. When people feel understood, they will have trust and confidence in you, and then they will have trust and confidence in what you are offering. Empathising will help you provide what your customers or clients want, but it’s showing them that you understand, that will keep them coming to you - not to someone else.
A simple way to get to know and understand your customers or clients is to start by asking the right questions. Ask open ended questions. Open ended questions are general questions, that can't be answered with a simple yes or no, or a specific piece of information. For example, instead of asking a costumer what they need or what they are looking for, ask what brought them to you. This type of question requires the person to give more information, explaining more about their situation, their motives, and their wants. Listen carefully to what they have to say and use the information they give to probe deeper. Afterwards, paraphrase and summarise what they have said. This lets them know that you heard them and understand what they are saying.
This simple technique gets to the heart of what all good sales strategies are about. It doesn't matter what you are selling or to whom you are selling. If you can't understand your customers or clients, and if they don't feel that you understand them, you might find the competition quickly swallowing up your business.
However, there is one more thing to remember: Be open, be empathic and understanding, AND have confidence in your position. The customer is always right, but not everyone is your customer. If you dilute your product or service to appeal to everyone you’ll end up appealing to no-one. Having a point of view means excluding those who won’t agree with you. Don’t change to suit the masses. No world leading product or service ever started by selling to the middle, they sold to the fringes, and the middle moved to them.
No matter how much the world changes, the art of selling doesn’t change. There may be more competition than ever for products or services, but if you can understand your customer’s needs and show them that you understand them, there will always be a market for what you are selling.
By Aaron Hanway, Toastmasters International. He lives in Gorey, Co. Wexford in Ireland, and attends the local Gorey Toastmasters club. Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Headquartered in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, the organisation’s membership exceeds 313,000 in more than 14,650 clubs in 126 countries. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience. There are nearly 300 clubs in the UK and Ireland with over 7000 members. To find your local club. Follow Toastmasters on Twitter.