“Nothing happens until a sale is made.” -Thomas Watson

AAll business functions are linked and interdependent. However, selling is the primary function that generates operational revenue, which covers costs and earns profit. Today, we are going to cover this crucial function that every entrepreneur must take seriously.

What is selling? Usually, selling refers to any transaction in which money is exchanged for a product between a seller and a buyer. In our context, the seller is the business organization that makes a product available to a buyer, who pays for it. Technically, however, selling includes all personal and impersonal activities involved in identifying, creating, developing, and growing demand for a given product.

The importance of selling: Selling consists of facilitating exchanges between a buyer and a seller. The buyer gets a desired value while the seller receives a payment, which covers his cost and makes him a profit. But between this seemingly cold exchange, a company’s staff would have been paid salaries, raw material suppliers would have been paid, and so on. Likewise, at the end of everything, various taxes are paid to the government. Cash from profitable sales is a very important asset that keeps a business afloat (other sources of cash such as shareholders’ equity and creditor debt can easily dry up if there is no prospect sustainable sales revenue.) Invariably, it is sales that create jobs and wealth and make investments attractive.

How do you sell? There are a few factors that will determine the success of your sales effort, as follows:

• Understand the sales process: The sales process begins with your ‘prospecting’, ‘preparation/pre-approach’, ‘approach’, ‘presentation’, ‘objective processing’, ‘closing’ and ‘follow-up’. Understanding the requirements and challenges of each step will help you prepare well in advance, improving your ability to meet customer needs and increasing your chances of success.

• Understand your customers and what they want: Your ability to serve your customers well depends on how well you understand them. Listen and observe your customers. Often you need to be on the same page with your customers and give them what they want. Other times you have to be ahead of them and give them solutions and conveniences they hadn’t even thought of!

• Offer marketable products: A major challenge in every business is ensuring that the product you offer is salable. Prior to product development and launch, you will need to conduct a diligent feasibility study and develop a solid business plan. There are many ways to sell successful products. Sometimes, it is simply a matter of “tweaking” the characteristics of the product, its presentation or the service attached to it. Other times, companies succeed by inventing completely new products. It’s up to you how you think you’ll succeed. Whichever option you choose, the ultimate goal and challenge is to achieve sufficient product sales volume to cover your operating costs and generate a profit, with the exception of loss-making products, which have all have a different purpose.

• Assemble the right sales team: There are technical and emotional requirements to sell successfully. Getting the right sales team or building and developing one is an absolute must. If you have the right sales team whose members are always enthusiastic and happy to sell, you have a leg up on your competition.

• Prepare your business for sale: Another key to success is making sure your whole business is ready to sell. The idea is that you need to educate and get all staff to have the “sales mindset”. From your front desk to the back-end of your operations, all staff should support marketing and sales efforts. This does not mean that all staff will be directly involved in commercial negotiations and logistics! Rather, it simply means that all staff must support the sales effort within their specific role or function. For example, the inventory control agent must process their paperwork in a timely and correct manner to ensure prompt product release, while the shipping agent must ensure safe and prompt delivery to the correct customer.

• Market your product: No matter how good your products and employees are, you need to know how to play with the so-called 4Ps of marketing to facilitate the sales function. These are:

o Product: A comprehensive understanding of the product you are offering as well as its features, benefits and competitive positioning.

o Location: A detailed understanding of the best location(s) to make the product available to your customers.

o Price: This is the price-to-value proposition of your product.

o Promotion: These are the best approaches to reach and deliver all marketing messages to customers.

• Think long term: By thinking and acting long-term, you aim to balance conflicting needs and avoid pitting your interests against those of your clients. By thinking long term, you will most likely give up on taking unfair advantage of your customers who will come back to haunt you. The way to make this possible is through:

o Integrity: Ensure you treat your customers fairly on all issues. Don’t let possible short-term gains cloud your view of the need for a long-term relationship that all parties will be happy with,

o Build loyalty: you must ensure that you consider the long-term needs of customers and that you will not sacrifice them for your own short-term “gains”,

o Impress your customers: Work to deliver beyond your agreed-upon commitments to your customers. If you can frequently wow your customers, you have a good chance of retaining them for a long time.

• Make continuous improvements: As nothing is static in life, your wonderful product, your very effective marketing strategy, your team of loyal and competent collaborators, etc. can all be beaten in a short time by the competition. Therefore, you must adopt a strategy of continuous learning and improvement in all components of your sales effort. You should be adept at raising the bar on your own rather than resting on your laurels and letting the competition do it.

Every function in a sales organization must be prepared to serve the customer through selling. Next week, we’ll cover Responsible Corporate Citizenship.