Studies In Selling: One On One With Dr. Cindy McGovern

I spoke to Dr. Cindy McGovern, CEO of Orange Leaf Consulting, about her best sales advice

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Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your best sales advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. How did you get here? 

Cindy: Kicking and screaming! I thought I was cut out to be a college professor. That’s where I started my career after getting a Ph.D. in organizational communication. But it turned out that teaching in a classroom wasn’t for me. So I started looking for another kind of job that would let me use my communication skills, and I literally stunned myself when I wound up in sales. 

I never, ever thought sales was the job for me. In fact, I thought salespeople were cheesy, manipulative and downright icky. I never, ever considered it. But after working as a management consultant in the sales industry for a while, my boss nudged me (threw me, really) into sales. And I found a way to sell that felt authentic for me. I don’t use the “Hey, how am I going to get you into this car today?” type of approach. My brand of sales isn’t cheesy or manipulative or icky at all. I only sell people things they need and want. 

Fast forward to 2009, when I decided to open my consulting company, Orange Leaf Consulting. My job is to help both professional salespeople and employees who are not salespeople learn how to sell in a consultative, friendly, fair and authentic way. That is what led me to write my first book: Every Job Is a Sales Job, which McGraw-Hill will release on Sept 17.

Adam: ​What is the single biggest sales mistake you have ever made and what did you learn from it? 

Cindy: I’ve made my fair share of sales mistakes, but I am not sure I have one that is super exciting. 

Adam: In your experience, what are the key pitfalls to succeeding in sales and how can you overcome them? 

Cindy: Biggest Mistake No. 1 is to believe that someone should buy what you have to sell just because you want to make a sale. Sure, you can talk plenty of people into buying timeshares that they can’t afford, or expensive skin products that they don’t need, or gym memberships that they’ll never use. And that’s the last time those particular people will ever buy anything from you or your company. That’s called a “transactional” sale. It’s a one-off.

I don’t sell like that. I make “relationship” sales. That means I’d rather not make the sale than to sell someone something that she doesn’t need or want or can’t afford. The thing is: Nobody likes to be sold. Yet everyone likes to buy stuff. So I figure out what, exactly, the person would like very much to buy. And that’s what I sell, again and again, to repeat customers.

Biggest Mistake No. 2: not listening. I listen to my customers. I listen before I talk and I listen before I sell. I listen until I hear what the other person tells me she needs or wants. I listen to learn what problems the other person has. If I have a product that can fulfill a need or solve a problem, that’s what I offer.

I want every sale to be a win for my customer and a win for me.

This is how I am able to get referrals from clients.

Biggest Mistake No 3: Not asking for the business or sale. This is where even the pros mess it up. You must ask the question in order to get a “yes.” Some salespeople assume that the sale is automatic if they present their products well or build a nice rapport with someone. I never assume anything. I ask for what I want. 

Adam: ​What are your three best tips when it comes to selling? 

Cindy: That’s an easy one: plan, plan, plan. No matter how experienced a sales professional is, going into a potential sale without a plan means anything could go wrong. For the employee who isn’t an official salesperson but stumbles onto an opportunity to sell, attempting to do that without a plan means everything could go wrong. I sell all day every day, and I have a plan for every transaction. I do some research about the person or company I’m hoping to sell to. I know which services my company offers that might suit that buyer. I plan what I will say. I plan how I will react if the buyer wants to negotiate. I plan my response in case I hear a “yes,” a “no” or a “maybe.” I don’t want to be caught off guard. I don’t want to fumble. I don’t want to miss an opportunity. I don’t want to be unable to answer an unexpected question. Spending some time making a plan means I will be confident, prepared and authoritative. And it makes the “yes” much more likely.

I consider every interaction I have with anybody to be an opportunity for a transaction. I’m prepared for that to happen.

Adam: Describe your sales methodology. Have you found that different types of prospects are responsive to different to types of styles, and if so, do you adapt your style to the type of customer you are selling to? 

 Cindy: I have a five-step sales process that I use when I sell. I teach it to other sales professionals—and to employees who occasionally have the opportunity to sell, even though “sales” isn’t their official job title. 

First, of course, is plan. Make a plan for every transaction.

Second, look for opportunities. They’re everywhere, yet even seasoned sales pros sometimes don’t spot them. Here are examples of opportunities you shouldn’t overlook: 1. Ask every person you do business with to refer you or your company to colleagues, friends, neighbors and family. 2. Talk your company or your service up not only when you’re at work, but after work, too. For example, tell the mom you sit next to at your kid’s soccer game what your company has that might interest her. 3. Every time you make a sale, ask for another one. What else does your company have that this buyer might want?

Third, establish trust with the person you’re trying to sell. Instead of rushing into your sales pitch, have a conversation with the person. Ask questions. Get to know a little bit about the potential buyer. Listen to learn what he or she really needs. Listen to understand what you have to sell that might solve a problem for the other person. 

Fourth, ask for the sale. This is the toughest step, and even some experienced sales pros shy away from coming right out and asking for what they want. They think the customer will do the asking. But that’s not the customer’s job. It’s the sales pro’s job to ask.

Fifth, follow up with everyone you try to sell something to. If the sale was successful, send a thank-you note. Keep in touch. You never know when one sale will turn into two or into a referral to another client. If the answer was “no,” consider it a “no for now,” not a “no forever,” and follow up later to see if the person’s situation has changed. Either way, show your gratitude for the person’s time and consideration.  

Adam: What sets your approach apart from others in your industry? Describe your industry and your best tips specific to selling within it. 

 Cindy: The traditional sales professional sells by pitching products and services. That approach often results in a single sale. My approach ditches the pitch for later, and it often results in a customer for life. I find out what the buyer wants and needs, and then I figure out if I have something that will satisfy that. If I don’t have anything that I believe will be of value to that customer, I don’t offer anything. And, a lot of times I actually send the customer to someone with a more relevant service—even if it is a competitor.  Sometimes, I walk away without a sale, and that’s OK with me. I would rather win over the person than win the sale. People appreciate being treated with honesty. People appreciate that I care about what they need just as much as I care about making a sale. So when they need me, they come back to me. 

Adam: What do you believe is the hardest step in the sales process and how can it best be navigated? 

Cindy: Even seasoned sales pros find that the hardest thing to do is come right out and ask for the sale. I have seen so many salespeople lengthen their own sales cycles, simply because they did not ask for the sale. They go back to visit the prospect time and time again, but never come right out and ask for what they want. 

I understand that people are afraid to hear “no.” They are afraid they will be embarrassed, or that they won’t know what to say in response, or they’ll feel offended, or they’ll get fired. But if you don’t ask, you don’t get. It’s that simple. I encourage other salespeople to try to understand why the answer is “no” and to not take it personally. “No” just means you don’t have the right product for your customer at that moment. Why would you want a “yes” when the product isn’t right?

Adam: What is your best advice around making the ask? 

Cindy: Don’t ask too soon. Don’t push or force or cajole or insist.  Ask enough questions to really understand what the customer needs so you can position your product or service as the premier solution. Only then is the “ask” appropriate.

Adam: Language is obviously very important throughout the sales process. What are key phrases or words you have found have helped or hurt your chances of success? 

Cindy: I tend to sell the way I talk: in a casual and conversational manner. I am naturally curious, so I ask a lot of questions. I want people to tell me about themselves. I never demand. I request. I ask people if they are “willing to” or would be “interested in.” I tell people I “would appreciate it” and that I would “be grateful.” And I mean it. But I always use language that I would use in everyday conversations.  No matter what words you use, a potential buyer will know when you are authentic. Buyers appreciate authenticity, honesty and facts.

Adam: On a scale of 1-10, how important are ethics to succeeding in sales? Explain. 

Cindy: Without question, the importance of ethics is a 10 on a scale of 10. I truly believe in the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like them to treat you. I tell my clients the truth, even if the truth means I don’t have a product or service that fills their needs. I believe selling is a way to help people. If you sell something that your client doesn’t need, can’t afford or doesn’t understand, how is that helping? I want people to have a good encounter with me. I want them to trust me. I want them to refer me to their friends, colleagues and family. 

Adam: What is your best advice on how to best manage and stay on top of leads? 

Cindy: This may sound obvious, but you have to write everything down. I use customer management relationship software. If you can’t afford software, keep a spreadsheet. I record every encounter that I have with every client or potential client. I can’t remember everything from every conversation I have, so I make note of every customer I talked to and when, what we talked about and when I will follow up. I also jot down personal information about the client about upcoming anniversaries or their kids’ milestones, for example. That way, I can bring that up next time to let the client know I was interested and listening. 

Adam: What is the single best piece of sales advice you have ever received? 

Cindy: When the manager who promoted me into my first sales job told me his plans, I told him, “I can’t sell.” He told me, “Yes you can; you already do.” And he was right. The thing about sales is this: Every one of us has been selling since we were kids. We sold our parents on getting us the toys we wanted for our birthdays. We sold our siblings on covering for us when we were going to be out too late. We sold our teachers on giving us extensions on our deadlines.

Adam: What sale are you proudest of? Walk through how you made it happen and its significance. 

Cindy: I have to say I’m over the moon that McGraw-Hill has agreed to publish my first book, “Every Job Is a Sales Job.” I feel like it’s the most important sale I’ve ever made. I made it by following my own advice: I made a plan for how to go about approaching the publisher; I got an agent and wrote a thorough book proposal. Then, I looked for the right opportunity; my first proposal for a similar book wasn’t what this publisher was looking for, so I revised it to suit the publisher’s needs, which made it easier to sell. Next, I established trust with the decision-makers by explaining why I was qualified to write the book and by listening and responding to the publisher’s concerns. Fourth, I clearly asked for what I wanted: a book contract. And finally, I have followed up by delivering what I promised and showing my gratitude.

Adam: ​What is one thing everyone can do tomorrow to become better at selling?

Cindy: Ask for the sale. Ask for the referral. Ask the customer to come back again.

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