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The Sales Clinic: Sales Lessons From An Art Fair

The inspiration for this month's column came from a sponsored "art fair" lunch I was invited to by my accountant, which was put on by another client of theirs.

As we went around the exhibition and interacted with the artists, curators, and exhibitors, it was interesting to note how many lessons a salesperson or business owner could learn from their "sales" techniques*#x2014;both good and bad. To wit:

1. Sell with passion and enthusiasm. This is a big lesson for most salespeople and business owners, and is something that artists and curators of their work have in abundance. If you're looking to persuade someone and get them excited about your product or service, you first have to talk about it with passion and enthusiasm yourself.

Business owners in particular have no excuse here. If they can't be passionate and enthusiastic about their own business, how on earth can they expect anyone else to be? In a market where it seems like there's bad news on a continuous basis, people who are passionate, enthusiastic, and positive stand out. You do want to stand out from your competition, don't you?

If a salesperson or a business owner isn't passionate and enthusiastic about their product or service, it shows in the way they talk about it, their presentations, their demonstrations, their objection handling, and their closing ratios. Why on earth would you take a gamble on all of that, when you can change it very easily?

2. Qualify your prospects. This happened almost every time we interacted with someone exhibiting at the fair, and you'd be surprised how many salespeople and business owners make the same mistake.

In one particular case, our group were given a "speech" by a salesperson from an insurance company that specializes in insuring art. Now, I wouldn't fancy myself a connoisseur of art, and from speaking with them, the majority of our group fell into that same category.

So what would have been a good idea for that salesperson to do at the start of the talk? Should she have talked with the organizer of the trip, or the leader of the group to find out about us beforehand? At the start of her talk, should she have asked the group what their experience of art or art-buying was?

Should she have found out how many of the group were collectors, amateurs, or people very new to the art world? All of those would be good ideas, wouldn't they?

But she chose not to do any of them. Instead, we just got a big speech about the insurance company and how they could help us insure the art we purchased, or already had. And that got me thinking: How many salespeople and business owners often make the same mistake? Answer: a lot.

If you fail to qualify your prospects before you start your sales pitch, you run the risk of losing them, as they don't see your speech as relevant to them. A little time invested beforehand (or at the start of your speech) pays big dividends in sales results later.

3. Don't Apologize. This is something I see a lot of, particularly from people who are struggling or under pressure, someone new to sales, or someone who doesn't consider himself a "natural" salesperson.

Far too many sales calls or presentations start with the salesperson or business owner apologizing. This is normally attributable to nerves, or not feeling comfortable, although I've heard some trainers teach it as a "technique." What a scary thought!

Their idea is that by apologizing, you get the audience or prospect on your side. That idea, quite frankly, is ridiculous. Its true impact is to make the prospect or audience think the speaker doesn't know what he's doing.

I was looking at one exhibition stand with some very nice photographs of New York, when the artist concerned engaged myself and my accountant in conversation. He was an interesting guy, and after asking about our experience of art and photography and why we came to the exhibition (see lesson number two), was telling us the history behind some of the photographs we were looking at.

Just at the moment when we were becoming more interested, he suddenly got uncomfortable, apologized for being pushy, and said he'd leave us alone to have a look. Then he walked away—a huge sales error.

Let's make a distinction here: the only time you're being pushy is when you haven't taken your prospect's needs into account, and you're trying to foist something on them they don't want. That's probably happened to you in the past, so you don't want to be seen to do it to others. Invest a little time in speaking to your prospects and finding out their needs first, and it won't be a problem for you.

4. Remember your objective. This is something that was missing from everyone at the art fair, and something many business owners and salespeople miss, as well. You need to keep your objective in mind at all times, and make sure you've achieved it (or as close to it as possible) by the end of the conversation.

If your objective is to close for the sale, then make sure you've asked some questions during the conversation that will give you enough value to be able to close afterwards. If your objective is to make an appointment with your prospect, then make sure you've put enough value into the conversation for them to put time in their diary and meet you.

If your objective is to come back for a further meeting, demonstration or conference call/WebEx, then make sure you've booked that before you put the phone down or left the meeting. Believe me, it will be a lot harder to do this after the fact.

Andy Preston is an expert authority on selling for small businesses. Visit him online at www.andy-preston.com and www.salestrainingbreakfastclub.com.