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10 Reasons for a Salesperson's Success or Failure

Updated on November 7, 2013

My dad, Felix Coggins, has an incredible life story. He grew up in a broken home and had polio as a child. Yet, he chose to be a responsible citizen and to persist in the face of obstacles and uncertainty. I have written of his story found in other articles on the web.

In 1960 Felix began a sales career as a route man for Dads Root Beer where he was responsible to recruit and service clients. In 1961, he went to work for Auto-Chlor Dishwashing Systems where he had a long and distinguished 30-plus year career as a salesperson, sales trainer, store manager, and eventually executive vice-president. When a new president took over Auto-Chlor, Felix was pushed out of Auto-Chlor, but had to sign a letter of no compete in order to get a severance package. Then over 60 years of age and not allowed to compete in the commercial dishwashing industry, Felix had to find a new line of work. In order to support his family Felix accepted a commission only sales position with an office cubicle systems company. After 8 months he was $8000 in the debt to the company; yet, Felix continued to work his sales plan and eventually he grew his accounts to a six figure income.

In June 2011 just three months shy of his 75th birthday, Felix was diagnosed with lung cancer (he had not smoked for nearly 35 years) and given two to five years to live. Even in the face of this new challenge, Felix has chosen to live life at the fullest rather than give up. In late November, only five months after his diagnosis and while enduring a new round of chemo, he will return to work as a salesperson for a small cubicle refurbishing organization called ABM Office Solutions. This hub pays tribute to my dad by outlining some of the principles that led him to a successful sales career.

Attitude Determines Altitude - You Have to Love Rejection

This point was added after the original ten and yet is perhaps the most important tip tied to success in sales. Leadership guru and motivational speaker John Maxwell likes to say that "attitude determines altitude." That means that success is usually found along the path of faith and enthusiasm. To be a successful salesperson you have to believe in yourself and you have to believe in the face of opposition.

Furthermore, this means that you have to love rejection. The top salespeople love rejection because they are convinced that each no takes them that much closer to a yes. Successful salesmen and saleswomen maintain a positive attitude and love the word "no."

Know Your Product Line

The first reason for success or failure as a salesperson is to know your product line. To know your product lines means to know everything about all the different parts and nuances of the product or products you are attempting to sell. Read the owners' manuals, look up product reviews on the web; get to know your product inside and out. Know everything it can and cannot do. Knowing your product line inside and out will give you confidence when attempting to sell the product to a potential client.

Know Your Target Audience

The second reason for success or failure as a salesperson is to know your target audience. To know your audience means to find out who the product will most benefit. In techincal terms, this means to know or pay attention to your demographics. A Zamboni is a vehicle used to resurface the ice in ice rinks. If you were a Zamboni salesperson you probably would not want to offer the product to a street paving firm. You have to know who the product will benefit most and narrow your efforts to that target audience. If you try to be all things to all people you will probably not sell as much as you would if you focused your attention.

Formulate a Sales Startegy and Plan

To know your target audience is to scan the external environment to determine who your product line will benefit. Once you have determined your target audience, the third reason for success or failure as a salesperson is to formulate a sales strategy and plan. When Felix first began as a route salesperson at Dad's Root Beer and then Auto-Chlor, he probably did not know the best way to go about picking up new clients, but he eventually learned that if he had a plan and executed that plan persistently then he would be successful. As a newbie in the cubicle systems industry, Felix did not know everything about his product line, but he did know how to formulate a sales strategy and plan. With no clients to inherit, Felix began walking the local area and made 30 door-to-door cold calls every day. Then at the end of each day, he would take the cards he collected, make follow-up phones calls, and if possible set up appointments. He did that for eight months with little results. Finally he landed his first real account and built from there. He formulated a plan and worked it day in and day out until he succeeded.

Write Out a Script and Brainstorm All Possible Objections

The fourth reason for success or failure as a salesperson is to write out and memorize a sales script related to each item in your product line. When writing out the sales script, brainstorm all possible objections and prepare an answer for each objection. Know what you will say so well to the point that it sounds natural. Knowing your script haphazardly will make you sound unnatural and will make your potential client uneasy with you. Knowing it well will give you confidence and allow you to be more relaxed. The client will feel more at ease with you and you have a better chance to close the deal.

Know and Use Your Clients Name

A fifth reason for sales success is to know and use your client's name. This tip was made real to me in 1979 as a freshman at San Diego State University. In that year, a recruiter from a book selling company came to the campus to recruit salespeople to sell books door-to-door during the summer break. I was personally drawn to the man's appeal because he learned and used our names. People love to hear their name or title. It makes the conversation much more amiable and can make your potential client(s) think you care him(them) as a person.

Speak in a Low and Slow Natural Tone

A sixth reason for success or failure as a salesperson is to speak in a low and slow natural tone. This reason for success is tied to knowing your sales script. The better you know script the more in control you will be and the more relaxed you will be. Some people do like and respond to hype and hyper-positive people, but most are put off by them. They think an overzealous salesperson only wants to notch another sale in their belt and doesn't really care about the client's needs. Being calm and natural will be more comforting and appealing.

Kindly Answer All Questions

As you go over the product line, kindly answer all questions. If you do not know the answer to a question; kindly admit that you do not know and then commit to find out. If the answer to the question (or lack thereof) is a deal breaker, make a new appointment before you leave and then get back to the potential client as soon as possible. Even if you feel like you have already gone over the information, be patient and kindly go over it again. If you become impatient, the client will become uneasy and perhaps lose interest.

Ask for the Sale

The ninth reason for success or failure as a salesperson is to ask for the sale. Interestingly or perhaps perplexingly many salespeople get caught up in the sales pitch and forget to ask for the sale. The point isn't to pitch the product; the point is to sell the product. So, once you have the client nodding their head affirmatively, you have to ask for the sale.

When you ask for the sale (or attempt to close the sale), the potential client might offer objections. This is the time to calmly answer the objections with those answers you prepared beforehand. If the objection is new to you, write it down after the appointment and prepare an answer in case someone else offers the same reason for not buying. If the client seems satisfied with your answer ask for the sale once again. Repeat the process as long as necessary if the client permits.

Under Promise and Over Deliver

A ninth reason for success as a salesperson is to under promise and over deliver. Salepeople have a reputation of overselling products in order to get the client to buy the product. This is both unethical and unwise. When the client learns that you sold him a bill of goods and the product cannot do all that you promised it would do, then at best he will never do business with you or your company again. At worst, he will return the product(s) and even sue your company for breach of contract. Moreover, he will spread the bad news to everyone he knows that you and your company cannot be trusted. If you are forthright about the product and then product goes beyond expectations, you might have a client for life.

Follow Up After Delivery

The last tip covered here concerning reasons for success or failure as a salesperson is to follow up after the delivery of the product. Don't dismiss the client or move on. Call them immediately and then do it again three and six months afterwards. Ask them how the delivery went. Ask them what could have been better. Ask them if the product is living up to their expectations. This type of follow up will help your client know you really care and will lead to repeat sales in the future.


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