The Secret Rules of Selling

I once walked into a winery in Napa Valley, on a mission to do some research for a consulting job. I walked out with the research, PLUS a nice bottle of wine that I hadn’t planned on buying, but was thrilled to show my wife. Why? Because the man knew how to sell.

A salesman called Six Sigma Ranch last week, on a quest to sell me his hot sauce for our wine tasting room. It was an awkward conversation, not because he wasn’t a nice guy, or because he wasn’t selling a good product, but because he broke the rules of selling. We’ve all seen the great salespersons, the ones that connect us with exactly what we need, and we’ve all seen the other guys. Here’s the secret that sets them apart:

A great salesperson understands that there are 4 distinctive steps to selling anything.

1. Qualification: Does the prospect (potential customer) have the need for, AND means to purchase, what you’re selling? If not, you have no business selling them anything. That was the rule Mr. Hot Sauce broke; hot sauce is a terrible pairing with wine, and thus I wasn’t a qualified customer.

2. Rapport: People buy what they need and want from those they KNOW, LIKE, and TRUST. This means you have to take the necessary time to build rapport through honesty and conversation. Also get a chance to know the customer by asking questions, and to determine if your products really do fill a need. And note that rapport evaporates; if you sold a man a butchered steer last year, you may need to rebuild some rapport 12 months later, before selling him another one.

3. Education: Once the prospect trusts you (but not before!) you can begin offering him or her information about your product. At a farmer’s market, this means you start by chatting with a customer, and THEN tell them about your products. Normally, a customer will indicate that he or she is ready for the “education” by asking questions.

(Note, at this point nobody has forced anybody into anything yet, and nobody feels awkward!)

4. Close: The final, most dreaded step, is the close. But it shouldn’t be dreaded. If you did steps 1-3, the close comes automatically. If it doesn’t come automatically, or with a friendly nudge (ex. “would you like me to ship that for you?”) refer back to the beginning.

BONUS: When we added pastured meat to our offerings at Six Sigma Ranch, it at first surprised me how easy it was to sell. But it shouldn’t have. Most of our existing wine customers also enjoy quality meat, and they had already completed steps 1 and 2. As soon as they learned that we sold meat, they asked for brief “education” on the product, and closed the deal with limited fanfare. I learned that adding quality, complimentary products can quickly fill more needs for your existing customers.