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Losing deals? 5 tips for getting your sales back on track

One of the more perplexing questions small business owners ask is, “Why did I lose that deal?” or even more worrying, “Why do I keep losing deals?”

Whether you sell to other businesses or directly to consumers, you’re not going to win them all. But there are always going to be times when a sale that looks like a sure thing goes cold — for no apparent reason.

If these times worry you and you’re looking for a better win rate, here are five things you can do about it.

*Be first and be prepared to differentiate

Those who are first through the door always make an impression. It’s true in the interview room and it’s true in sales. The guy in the middle almost invariably has less impact, simply because that’s how people process a set of repeat actions. But you’re only going to make something of that impression if you’re smart enough to understand the needs of your customers. To do this you need to do your research, but you also have to have a clear understanding of your own differentiators and the impact they can have, such as what problems will they solve. This earlier blog offers tips on doing just this: http://www.sba.gov/community/blogs/5-tips-using-differentiators-increase-your-small-business-sales

*Make this about the customer

A good sales person has the integrity and skill to let the customer do most of the talking. So follow the 80/20 rule (80 percent listening, 20 percent talking). Instead of rushing through your sales pitch, let your customer talk. Listen, understand their needs and identify ways your product or service can address these needs. A very good salesman will go the next step and look for needs that the customer hasn’t even raised. Whether you are selling house painting services to a homeowner or complex software to a business, the more you can get the customer to think about needs they hadn’t previously recognized, the more likely you are to earn their trust and spur them to action.

*Get to know the influencers

If you are in the B2B space, seek out and talk to the users as well as the buyers of your services. Be bold. Ask if there is anyone else you could talk to gather more information about the business’ needs. These are your influencers and they can have an impact on an executive buying decision. It might also be useful to develop marketing material and messages that target these users. Even in the consumer market, the big buying decisions are made by teams (like a husband and wife, for example).

*Evaluate where the customer is in the decision-making process

Knowing where the customer is in the decision-making process can give you a pretty good indication of how much time you should invest in this deal and a good idea of your chances for success. Are they still gathering information? If so, you still have time to make an impression. Have they seen several of your competitors already (a possible sign that they are shopping around for the best price)?

*Keep an eye on the follow-up

You should always try to get another appointment to review your offer or proposal or take steps to stay in touch. There’s nothing wrong with persistence, as long as it doesn’t feel like pressure. Respect your customer’s timeline and fit yours to it.

Likewise, you should be paying attention to how the customer follows up. Did they commit to doing X by Y to move along the decision-making process based on their meeting with you? If they didn’t, there has to be a reason why. Try to probe and get things back on track.

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