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The right stuff.


YOU CAN'T MAKE A LIVing selling by accident unless you work for a car repair shop," quips Alaskan humorist Warren Sitka. But, mirth aside, selling by accident is exactly what many Alaskan sales people had been doing. In the days when there was money gushing out of every business in Alaska, no one had to be a good salesperson; he or she only had to show up.

But boom times have gone and markets have changed. Money is substantially tighter now, and competition for dollars that are left is ferocious. Sales still are being made, though. The pavement may feel harder and the shoe leather may be wearing faster per sale, but skilled professionals still are closing deals. Herein are some of their secrets to successful selling.

According to Steve Strait, sales manager for Anchorage television station KTVA, "The primary factor in sales is attitude. If you have a sales staff that is motivated, it shows in their sales figures. With a good attitude, it's relatively easy to sell. When that attitude starts to falter, you have problems." At KTVA, he motivates employees to sell using incentives, awards and fringe benefits.

Paul Bingham, owner of Paul D. Bingham Sales Training, says "selling" is a misleading term. "Nobody sells. That's a myth," he explains. "Few things are sold, but there is a lot bought. The first problem many sales people have is believing that they are selling a product. What they should be doing is letting each customer express his or her need and then provide a product or service to satisfy that need."

Bingham says the salesperson's greatest enemy is disorganization; his or her greatest attribute is perseverance. The industry figure for the average number of calls to make a sale is 5.6. But Bingham says sales people often tend to make a lot of calls that more accurately should be called social calls.

"Persistence pays. My hardest sell, for instance, was to a man whose secretary was hard as nails. After I'd tried everything, I found out where the man lived and showed up at his home at 7:30 a.m. with coffee, toast and a limousine to take him to work. That was a 45-minute sales call and I closed," says Bingham.

He suggests a good avenue for sales people having a hard time bypassing a secretary is a telegram. "People read telegrams," he says. "They go right to the person to whom they're addressed and they don't stop at the front desk. Making sales calls between 5:00 and 6:30 p.m. is another good idea. The only people who are still around after 5:00 are the people you want to reach. And there isn't a secretary to tell you he's busy."

A former sales instructor, Dennis Engstrom of Buyers Realty, and Anchorage firm representing buyers in the real estate market, notes sales people often develop a losing attitude, becoming their own worst enemies. "When you have a good product or service but only sell 1 out of every 10 calls, it's easy to say that people are flakes," explains Engstrom. "It's important to keep in mind that 80 percent of the sales are made by 20 percent of the sales people here, in Denver, in Chicago and Nashville. Alaska is no different."

Foremost, sales people must remember the importance of meeting customer needs with their products or services, he adds. "Then the client will want to close. The best advice I can give to sales people is to know exactly why you made each sale. If you don't know, you are selling by accident. Sales is either the lowest paying easy job you'll ever have or the highest paying hard job you'll ever have. That's up to you," says Engstrom.

Elaine Bales of Vista Real Estate says a good salesperson puts himself or herself in the client's shoes. But beyond the personal aspect of each sale, success often hinges on a salesperson's market savvy, particularly in real estate transactions. "Markets change and values slide up and down. The good realtor has to be knowledgeable and stay knowledgeable about the market," she says.

"There are a lot of `shrew and roach estates' in Anchorage. A good realtor has to know the difference between a quality home and a poor value house. Then she has to pair the client with the best possible match. That requires time and patience."

Bales feels that hard times experienced by many Anchorage realtors in the recession-racked market of recent years were caused by a failure to learn what clients wanted and an unwillingness to listen to client concerns. "If you look at a client as a number or a piece of meat, that is going to show in your attitude. If you're only in the sale for the money, that will show too. The toughest sell you might have to make is yourself," she explains.

Julie Olsen, top sales person for Xerox in the Pacific Northwest, agrees that the sales person's attitude is a key factor in selling. She says, "Self analysis is critical. After each of my calls, I do a self-analysis. What did I do right? What did I do wrong? What could I have done better?"

Preparedness also has helped Olsen to become a top-notch salesperson. "You will only close a sale if you understand what that client needs and how you can fill that need. What makes me different from a lot of other sales people is that I go in prepared. I anticipate client objections. With a good product, an understanding of the client and actually thinking through some of the possible objections, I stand a good chance of making a sale."

Selling may be no different now than it ever was. But the sales force on the streets today in many ways has been driven to become more competent and more professional than it was five years ago. As demand has dimmed, skill has been given the opportunity to shine.
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Title Annotation:salesmanship
Author:Levi, Steve
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Mar 1, 1990
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