…while stages of the sales cycle are important, I invest a large portion of my time and energy into prospecting. We’re nothing without new leads! That’s not to suggest you ignore your existing clients at all- but it’s crucial that you set aside time to find new business every single day! I do cold calls and emailing just like anyone else but most of my prospecting is done through social media. I post things online through different outlets, I engage with my audience and answer any questions they may have. This can be time consuming but well worth it! Often people will go online before making an important purchase and if your brand is associated with the product they’re shopping for they’re likely to reach out!
As a part of my series about how to be great at closing sales without seeming pushy, obnoxious, or salesy, I had the pleasure of interviewing Meaghan Ford.
Meaghan grew up visiting Nashville regularly and for the past decade has proudly called Music City home. She decided to get out from behind her accounting desk and channel her passion for Nashville and helping others into a fulfilling career as a Realtor and hasn’t looked back! When she isn’t assisting clients, she can be found in spin class, camping, or at home watching fitness documentaries.
Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this career path?
While I have a long resume in sales, I once upon a time believed I wanted to be an accountant! I previously worked for a CPA firm here in Nashville, working in tax planning and preparation. In this position, I was introduced to an entire brokerage of Realtors because the firm shared an office building! I built relationships with several agents and ultimately decided I’d like to take my blend of work experience in sales and admin into the world of real estate! I’d be unstoppable! I eventually got my real estate license and the rest is history!
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occured to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
Oh yes! There’s never a dull moment in real estate! Most of my amusing life stories come from house showings, believe it or not. You just never know what you’re walking into until you literally walk inside a stranger’s home! Once while showing an occupied home (very early on in my career and with a new client that I’d only met once before) we were immediately met by two large cats at the door. They were so cute and friendly! We pet them and moved on with our showing throughout the house. Once we reach the sunroom in the back of the home, I’m going on and on about how beautiful the natural light is and how large the space is when I hear someone say “Hey girl!” and I nearly jumped out of my skin and let out a bit of a scream! I was looking at my client, so I knew it wasn’t her. I turn around immediately, somewhat terrified learning that we aren’t alone in the house when I hear it again but more drawn out this time, “Heyyyyy girl!” I turn back around to my client laughing hysterically. This homeowner not only had cats but TALKING BIRDS as well! I immediately start laughing with my client because not only was it hilarious but my front of “put-togetherness” and focus was out the window! My lesson is that people want to work with REAL people and want to see all sides of you. It’s less important to be buttoned up and together than it is to be relatable. People want to shop with their friends! Since then, I’ve changed by approach and branding- seems to be working pretty well for me so far!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’ve always got something in the works! Currently my focus is on educating my clients, buyers and sellers both. I’ve learned that in sales, with any product, customer hesitation is born when there is a lack of clarity. People will buy (or sell) with people that take time to educate them — it builds trust! This happens often in real estate not only because homes are such an expensive purchase, but because the home buying and selling process can be a complicated one! It’s my job, and pleasure, as a real estate agent to explain things in a way that makes sense to each individual client. To do this I’ve been focusing on creating content (infographics, videos, etc.) that explain the in’s and out’s of a real estate transaction. Several agents do this, but my approach is to make the content relatable and entertaining so that people actually WANT to read, listen or watch it!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve got to say, I’m very thankful for every person that has ever managed me at any level of my career. I’ve learned from horrible leadership and phenomenal leaders alike but I’ve always been a tough one to lead. I’ve always heard the same feedback, sometimes delivered well and other times not so much. “You’re overly ambitious!” or “You have some really strong opinions”, “You’re getting caught up in the details!”, sometimes even “Just take a backseat, when you’re the boss then you can make the decisions.” I took this feedback negatively, as you could probably guess, and I tried to change these things about myself. I wanted to be easier to work with! I read book after book, I tried everything I could to change. What I realized eventually was that just because I knew that the feedback was true- didn’t mean that it was bad or needed to be changed! It was like a lightbulb went off, “Yeah, I AM overly ambitious! Yep, I’ve got tons of opinions — ones that people should listen to! Details matter! I’m done taking a backseat, I’m ready to make my own decisions and be the boss!” All of the feedback that once kept me up at night ultimately led me to being a successful entrepreneur! I’m thankful for all of my leaders!
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?
I’d say I’m an authority on the topic of sales, not because of my experience but because of my passion. So many people have more experience than me but very few share my passion for helping my clients. My undying need to satisfy my client and to treat them how I would want to be treated, while sometimes exhausting, is the reason people want to work with me! They know that I’m not only listening to their wants but I genuinely care about them as people. I treat my clients like my friends, and because of that we become family.
Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty and loneliness. From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our families and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
The real estate industry is no stranger to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Things have slowed down a bit logistically and it’s a tough time for everyone. What I’ve used some of my extra time to do is reaching out to friends, family, current and past clients to let them know I’m here — connect with them — ask them about their day and see if there’s anything I can do. At a time like this, people more than usual are people and we need connection. Call/facetime/text the people you care about, they’d love to hear from you.
Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know, nearly any business a person will enter, will involve some form of sales. At the same time, most people have never received any formal education about how to be effective at selling. Why do you think our education system teaches nearly every other arcane subject, but sales, one of the most useful and versatile topics, is totally ignored?
I’d love some clarity on this subject myself! I can’t think of a better life skill than sales. I would have to speculate that many people view sales as purely a work related transactional skill. “I will apply for a company, work in their sales department, try to convince consumers that this company’s product is good for certain reasons, they will purchase or they will not and I will be compensated for my efforts.” While this idea is true, it only scratches the surface of what a salesperson does and it omits the fact that we are ALL salespeople! Ever had a conversation with a child? “I’ll give you candy if you behave!” — BAM, that’s negotiation, a skill often used in sales! Does the child always stop crying? Nope! Want to know why? Because as odd as it is, not ALL children like candy! If in this scenario, we applied the art of sales, maybe instead of blindly offering candy to the child you would have asked the child what they wanted in exchange for better behavior and gotten a better result. It’s a silly way of explaining it (and probably not the best parenting advice haha), but it’s so true! If we learn sales techniques at an earlier point in our lives we would naturally become better communicators! We all know communication is key!
This discussion, entitled, “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesey”, is making an assumption that seeming salesy or pushy is something to be avoided. Do you agree with this assumption? Whether yes, or no, can you articulate why you feel the way you do?
There’s a lot to unpack here. Everything that you say and every action that you take in a sales transaction is successful or unsuccessful based on the relationship you have with your client. Have you made it clear that your client’s best interest is your top priority? Yes? Good! Now, check yourself- ask yourself the question, “Is my client’s best interest in this transaction my top priority?” Hopefully you answer yes. People can sense if you’re operating from a place of self interest and then they don’t trust you! If they think you are operating from a place of self motivation they’re not going to take your advice. There’s a difference between strongly suggesting a product/solution based on what your client has told you they need versus insisting they make a purchase based on your own wants (like a commission check!). As long as you’ve taken the time to build rapport and you’re coming from a genuine place your client will trust you as the expert and give your suggestions serious consideration.
The seven stages of a sales cycle are usually broken down to versions of Prospecting, Preparation, Approach, Presentation, Handling objections, Closing, and Follow-up. Which stage do you feel that you are best at? What is your unique approach, your “secret sauce”, to that particular skill? Can you explain or give a story?
I would say that while stages of the sales cycle are important, I invest a large portion of my time and energy into prospecting. We’re nothing without new leads! That’s not to suggest you ignore your existing clients at all- but it’s crucial that you set aside time to find new business every single day! I do cold calls and emailing just like anyone else but most of my prospecting is done through social media. I post things online through different outlets, I engage with my audience and answer any questions they may have. This can be time consuming but well worth it! Often people will go online before making an important purchase and if your brand is associated with the product they’re shopping for they’re likely to reach out!
Lead generation, or prospecting, is one of the basic steps of the sales cycle. Obviously every industry will be different, but can you share some of the fundamental strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
As I mentioned before, I really invest in social media for lead generation! People find people and products online! I spend time and energy creating content that potential clients would be interested in in hopes of starting a conversation! If I create a post about a home I sold in a certain neighborhood last week and how happy my clients are- guess who is paying attention to that post? A potential client that ALSO wants to be happy and live in that same neighborhood! They see that I’m an expert and can help make their dream a reality because I’ve done it for someone else before and they’ve seen it! Learning how to target potential clients online is a science within itself and can cost you NOTHING! I have to insist that you invest time into learning social media marketing strategies- I’ve had great success!
In my experience, I think the final stages of Handling Objections, Closing, and Follow-up, are the most difficult parts for many people. Why do you think ‘Handling Objections’ is so hard for people? What would you recommend for one to do, to be better at ‘Handling Objections’?
Look at it this way, an objection is really just a question — it’s not a “no”. Questions are an essential part of any conversation, and they’re how a skilled salesperson finds a solution. Use your client’s objections to create clarity for all parties. For example, let’s say you sell ink pens and your potential customer has told you what kind of grip they like on their ink pen, whether they like their pen to have a top or if they prefer a retractable point — you’ve listened to their wants and you hand them the exact pen that they’ve described. Now, they look at you and tell you it’s a nice pen but they don’t like the ink color. That’s not a “no”, right? What the client is really saying is “Do you have this pen in a different color?”. You’re still having a conversation! Listen to your client’s objections and learn more. If they don’t want to buy the product you’re pitching to them right now, listen closely- they’re telling you what product they will buy!
‘Closing’ is of course the proverbial Holy Grail. Can you suggest 5 things one can do to successfully close a sale without being perceived as pushy? If you can, please share a story or example, ideally from your experience, for each.
I would say that you have to be successful throughout the entire sales cycle to close the sale. Of course there are some one-offs and people get lucky but success usually comes when you’ve mastered the process.
- Build rapport (ask questions, get to know one another)
- Ask questions (Gain an understanding of what the client is in search of)
- Be an expert in your field. If you sell real estate or ink pens- knowledge is power! Know your market, know the competition and know it better than anyone else.
- Be patient! Remember, just because you do this every day and you’re an expert- your client is not! Slow down and explain things however your client needs you to. If you don’t, they will work with someone that will!
- If you want to close the sale you have to, and I cannot stress this enough, listen to your client! You would be surprised how many sales people do not listen- and sometimes when you’re a client and you’re spending money- you just want some space to be heard!
Once I was in the market for a new couch. I went from site to site, read review after review until I finally found the one I wanted. I knew I wanted it, didn’t even need to be sold on it! I walked into the furniture store and was met by a sales team member. I thought, this guy is about to have the easiest sale of the day- and it was an expensive couch- it’s his lucky day! We chatted about the weather and I told him I was there to buy a couch. Before I could squeeze another word out, he was going on and on about all of the couches they had. What seemed like 10 minutes later I was finally able to tell him I’ve already decided on the couch I wanted. We walked over to take a look and the couch looked exactly how it did online and when I tested it out by having a seat it was extremely comfortable! The only problem was that the salesperson would not stop talking! I would try to ask about delivery charges and I would get a long winded answer that allowed no type Q&A. This went on for some time and I eventually became less enthused about the purchase, told the employee I would think on it and left the store. The next day I called the store to see if this employee was working and when informed that he wasn’t I went into the store and bought the exact same couch from a different employee that actually listened to what questions I had. It was easy really. People just want to be heard.
Finally, what are your thoughts about ‘Follow up’? Many businesses get leads who might be interested but things never seem to close. What are some good tips for a business leader to successfully follow up and bring things to a conclusion, without appearing overly pushy or overeager?
Follow up can be scary to some, right? “The client told me no already, I don’t want them to get mad or think I’m desperate!” Here’s the thing, you SHOULD be desperate- I AM! I want every single person’s business and I’m going to show them I want their business by calling, emailing, texting or whatever I have to do! I’m not suggesting you call the same person multiple times a day and offer no value but just because a person in the past has told you no, does not mean that they will tell you no again- and if they do, maybe they won’t in 6 months from now! Follow up is so important because you want this person to not be able to think about the product that you sell without thinking of you. If you’re able to achieve this, it’s likely that they will even reach out to you when they do decide to buy.
As you know there are so many modes of communication today. For example, In-person, phone calls, video calls, emails, and text messages. In your opinion, which of these communication methods should be avoided when attempting to close a sale or follow up? Which are the best ones? Can you explain or give a story?
When attempting to close a sale, it always depends on the specific situation, but I would usually suggest to avoid text messages. Texting is convenient for so many people and that’s why it’s a great follow up tool — but when you are now trying to close a sale and need an answer- it’s no longer about convenience- face to face is best but if you can’t make that happen, give the client a call! Texting is great method of follow up and you tend to get more engagement from texts versus phone calls, depending on what field you are in. People can’t always answer their phones when they ring, but if you shoot a text they will eventually have time to respond and are more likely to!
Ok, we are nearly done. Here is our final “meaty” question. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Oh, wow! Wasn’t expecting this one! If I could inspire a movement it would be one that would inspire empathy. You never know someone’s background, or even what happened in their life today. It’s so important to have perspective when interacting with people every day. I would love to inspire people to hold space for those that are different than themselves and be open to the idea that maybe you don’t have it all figured out.
How can our readers follow you online?
Instagram — @Meaghan.Nashville
!! Please feel free to call to clarify some questions since I tend to ramble and get off track when telling a story 🙂 !!
Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!