The ultimate guide to sales

The ultimate guide to sales
The ultimate guide to sales - How to sell anything at all

People typically hate being sold to, and quite often hate doing the selling. But selling is not all that bad! It makes the world go around, so we may as well embrace it (and at least do it well).

Almost all of our jobs include selling something whether we like it or not. We all have to sell products, or ideas, or sell candidates, or sell a dream, or a solution. We might as well try to make it enjoyable for both parties.

Keep in mind our clients are being measured by the increase in sales they generate from their marketing activity. All of the branding, advertising, logos, stunts, event sponsorships, speeches, experiential campaigns, fashion shows, parties, product launches, TV interviews, press releases, packaging design… they are all working towards one ultimate goal, which is to drive more sales (and therefore increase revenue and profit) for an organisation. Sound cynical? Well, sorry: there it is.

As a business owner I get this concept easily – because when it is YOUR money being spent on an idea, you darn well want to know that it is turning into sales for you: otherwise you are just giving your money away. So now, when I meet with a client one of my first questions are always, “What does success look like for you? What are you trying to achieve? What is your sales target?”

Once you have got your head around the idea that your life (working for an agency of any sort, advertising/marketing/branding/experiential/promotional or even in politics or retail) is about creating sales, then you can start getting on with life. Things become much easier. Creativity should and must still apply (in regards to the WAY in which we attract customers and engage with them or win them over about an idea), but clients wanting creativity for the sake of it (without a meaningful or measurable sales driver) are few and far between, in this market anyway.

Some of the campaigns my staff are working on right now, include wine demonstration in supermarkets and liquor stores and fragrance or cosmetics demonstrations in department stores and pharmacies.

These two retail environments are classic examples of where standard promotional techniques are ‘not enough’, and you need to be a little more creative in the way in which you stop people in their tracks, and make a sale. By ‘standard promotional techniques’ I mean the idea of giving out a sample, smiling sweetly, and leaving the customer with a brand message of some sort.

The way my clients and I are training promotional people at the moment is all about closing a sale, up-selling, cross-selling, and creating repeat business and long-term customer loyalty. 

There are a number of ways that these outcomes can be achieved, but it’s about listening to what your customer is saying, finding their need, then giving them what they want. Easy! This is not even selling, it is just solving someone’s problem.

First: When should you sell to me?

When I walk into a supermarket, I have money in my pocket: I am there because I want to buy something: I am already in the head space of spending money, so, the time is right to conduct an in-store demonstration or sales exercise. What I am open to buying, however, is dependent on a number of conditions. At the most basic level, it depends on the day of the week and time of day: On a Sunday night when I am doing my weekly grocery shop I am probably less likely to buy wine as I am not really thinking about drinking at this time. Saturday afternoon however I am wide open for a bottle (or four) because I am hosting a party that night, or going to a birthday or BYO dinner.

Assume, as a promoter, that you have been put into a store for a reason: that we (as your agency) or our client have decided that it is the perfect time to meet target market customers when they are ‘open’ to buying.

So, I have cash to spend (tick the box). You are in the right place at the right time (tick).

Next: what do I want, what do I need?

The ONLY way you can find out what a potential customer wants or needs is to ask questions. This is by far, the single easiest yet most under-utilised method of closing a sale. It amazes me in this enlightened age how many promoters or sellers or product demonstrators just jump straight into a pitch without asking what someone wants or needs first! How do you know what to offer them, if you have not asked any questions?

Staying with the wine example, the type of question you might ask someone walking past your stand is:

“Hello, sir, where are you drinking / partying / eating / going tonight?”

This question immediately starts a conversation, which is crucial in sales. You will note that he cannot answer with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ (otherwise known as a ‘closed question’), and his answer lets you know if he is having a dinner alone on the couch, entertaining VIPs, or going to a BYO restaurant. Each situation may require a different product, or amount of products.

Let’s assume for this case study he says, “I’m actually having some friends over for a shared dinner”.

So, our useless promoter (again) would jump straight in with the pitch and offer whatever they have close to hand: “Well sir, we have the XYZ wine, it is on special tonight…”

Then: Keep the conversation going

This conversation you are having is a perfect opportunity to find out more about the customer, what they need, and to further tailor the pitch (before giving it). We call it the interview.

The interview:

I have always like the saying that you have two ears and only one mouth: they should be used proportionately.

So, during the interview our promoter should ask questions such as:

“How many of you will there be?”

“What do you normally drink?”

“What food are you cooking?”

“What is your budget?”

Note: this conversation has happened BEFORE a single free sample has been given away. We call this process ‘qualification of the lead’. You are finding out if this person is even vaguely interested in what you are selling, or just wasting your time.

The information you are looking for

So our unsuspecting customer is feeling relaxed: you have found out that he is having half a dozen friends over, including his mum (wine critic who does not like mainstream wines). He is cooking a roast lamb, and normally enjoys a spicy, big wine. It is a cold, wet day (reds are more popular in winter). He is wearing nice clothing, and you spy a BMW key ring sticking out of his pocket (we listen with our eyes and ears).

Using this information: the pitch

So you have gathered all this information, you have built a mental profile of your customer and their needs, NOW you are allowed to start talking!

As a sales person or promoter, you are now at the easy part: assuming that your product is good and that you have been given a selection of products to offer (again, an assumption, but smart clients will always give you a variety of flavours or variants to sample so that if one option is not suitable, the customer will have more options to choose from) you can start offering options.

Based on the feedback you have gathered from the customer in the minute or so you have interviewed him, and based on the things you have observed such as the weather and what the customer is wearing, you can now offer him the perfect solution to his needs, which by my calculations is: a quality / premium wine (for Mum, the critic); probably a big red (Shiraz, Merlot, or even Pinot Noir), since they are having lamb; in the mid to high price range (price doesn’t matter, quality is more important); a few bottles at least (as he is entertaining friends).

Then it’s sample time

You offer him some samples of your options, asking for feedback along the way:

“Sir, what do you think of that one?”

“What flavours do you get out of that option?”

“Do you prefer the Pinot Noir or the Pinot Gris?”

While seeking feedback, you talk about the products, emphasising (and impressing the customer) on your knowledge of the brand, region, and product, and complimenting the client on successfully picking the notes or flavours in each sample. Remember, it does not matter if the customer ‘gets it right’, wine sampling is a very individual experience: what matters is that he likes it.


Ask for the sale

This whole interaction has only taken a couple of minutes (but metaphorically speaking, the sales process can take as long as is required. Selling a luxury car may take weeks. Buying a boat could take a year).

By now this customer should be ready to walk away with at least a few bottles of your wine in their trolley, if you have followed the steps above. 

But this is where many promoters get it wrong (I have seen it so many times). They let the customer just walk away!

In this day and age, people ‘get it’. They know that nothing is for free. This customer has had a free wine, a free chat with a charming and well-presented and knowledgeable person, they have met someone who cares enough about their life and well being that they have tailor-made a presentation for them. They know they have to buy now! Nothing is for free in this life. It is a pretty mean shopper who will put a demonstrator through this whole process and then not purchase!

My favourite line at this point is something like, so sir would you like a case of the Merlot or Pinot Noir?

In sales, you can ALWAYS go down (in price or volume) but it is extremely hard to go up, if your initial pitch is too low. This customer will not want to lose face in front of you. He will assume that everyone buys by the case. He will want to feel as though he has made a great decision, will be the envy of his friends, and will impress his Mum.

He can of course always say “It’s ok I will just take a couple” or “ok I will take one of each”, but even this is a success compared to him just walking away with one bottle, or worse- none. 

Remember, if you do not ask someone to buy from you, chances are that they won’t!

Dealing with objections:

There are a million different signs to watch out for with customers at this point of closing a sale (like maybe you have talked too much, he is concerned about the price, he doesn’t like the brand, he has some past bad experiences to overcome, he has not enough money, or no time to stay and pay). These are all called objections, and I could write a novel on techniques to deal with them, so that you still get the sale. Oxfam is really good at it! Everyone will have an excuse for not buying (how many times have you done it?) but normally you can easily overcome these. This information will be a blog for another day.

One thing to remember with objections: it if someone says ‘no’ it basically means they are wanting more information. They feel uncertain about one element of this deal (for whatever reason), so you may need to go back over the benefits or features of the product, or dispel the issue they have with the product by focusing on the positives.

Never let the customer walk away empty handed. If they simply WILL NOT BUY then at least give them a flyer or voucher or website link, and tell them to come and buy next time. It is likely that they will, once they have had time to think it over or when the have more time or money available. 

Remember that we are all trying to sell something. Once you get over that concept and stop feeling icky about it, the world will be a better place. Embrace your chance to influence someone’s buyer behaviour, enjoy making someone’s day better (or the day of their loved one) by selling them a product they want or need, and pat yourself on the back when you close a sale… it is thrilling!

But conversely, please don’t be someone who sells products you do not believe in, or screw someone out of money for something they really do not need: make sure you pick and choose what you promote or sell, if possible, and never prey on the vulnerable or people without full information at their disposal. We have all had the ‘hard sell’ by someone, that left us feeling violated and we experienced ‘buyer remorse’ afterwards… People that sell in this manner can only ever do it once: and the customers will never come back. Not a good long-term strategy.

True sales people ensure the customer is so satisfied, they come back again and again (and tell all their friends).

Love your work, enjoy your selling!

Robert Bruce is a seasoned entrepreneur, networker, salesman and managing director of premium experiential marketing/brand activation agency SublimeNZ. Contact

Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).