Many people perceive selling as simply a task of persuading someone to buy something. But if it were that simple, everyone would be a success, right?

The truth is that the “sales” business has an overall failure rate of 95%. That means that almost everyone who goes into sales fails and gets out. I don’t say that to discourage you, but instead to prepare you to be in that other 5%.

A good salesperson builds a relationship that benefits both parties in the long term. Selling involves:

  • Helping a customer identify needs, fears, problems, voids, discomfort, loss and desire. (Commit these to memory — they haven’t changed in thousands of years.)

  • Presenting information that solves these problems.

  • Providing follow-up to maintain satisfaction, encourage future “solutions” and referrals. (Thus, the cycle begins anew.)

In the case of plumbing sales, your customer doesn’t come to you and browse through the shelves of your warehouse. You have to bring your “store” to them.

You must present your business’ solutions through carefully designed techniques. In most cases, as you know, the customer does not know what he or she needs. This is critically important. You are there to provide the answers and the value. And it can all be done through the three essential steps of a strong presentation:

  • Fully discuss the features, advantages and benefits of your product.

  • Demonstrate its usage — how it works and how to take care of it.

  • Explain your value or selling proposition. What’s in it for your customer? What risk are you willing to take from them? How is the value raised beyond the price?

The sales presentation is the time when the salesperson uncovers and satisfies the needs of a single buyer to the mutual, long-term benefit of both the consumer and the contractor. But, like I said, there’s a lot of opportunity for failure in any sales business. So please, for your sake, be aware of some trouble spots to avoid:

Don’t assume you know what your prospects want to buy before they tell you. Your prospects don’t want to be cornered into a sale, and if you come off as the All Knowing Dictator of Contracting, you’re not going to get nearly as many sales as you could.

Don’t talk more than you listen. At least for the first 20 minutes. Ask. Seek. Find. (Seems a very Good Book recommends this approach also.) Asking indicates a real interest in the prospect. Seeking the right answers for them, since they can’t, is where you find a solution. Offer it. If you have to talk someone into a sale, that’s forcing. Simply solve problems.

Don’t answer questions they never asked. This is a great way to talk yourself right out of a sale. It’s also a way to illuminate fears that never existed until you announced it. A guy told me he lost two huge financing deals in a week. He said, “I go ahead and tell them all about how great the offer is and that they need to make sure they make their first payment on time so it won’t ruin their credit and…” Yeah. Some service. You sell comfort. Finance companies sell finance conditions.

Don’t forget to qualify prospects. Yes, I know you “can’t ever tell” who is or isn’t a buyer, but I assure you, if you spend your time sending mail to renters for water heaters, you’re wasting time and postage. If you’re not asking early on about their interest in financing, you’re wasting productive time. If you’re not asking when they plan to move but have worked them up a super system with a 20-year warranty, you’ll be refiguring (or losing) the deal. Qualify wisely.

Don’t assume the prospect trusts you without earning it. Just as much as your new prospects are shopping for a service or a system, they’re shopping for someone they trust. You’ve got to prove yourself, and handling objections is a great way to do it. Answer frankly, accurately and confidently in plain English. Talk them out of an extra if they don’t need it. This will earn you more trust and sales than all the strong-arm upselling in the world.

Which reminds me: Don’t underestimate the power of an online review or testimonial. Many customers nowadays get their information online and spend the majority of their time searching for reviews, testimonials and even Facebook pages on contractors.

Consider integrating your print promotions with your online presence — that way, they can find you easily and contact you sooner. Also, have your techs “ask” for a testimonial. Give them a card that shows them where they can find you and leave their review — good or bad. This can seem intimidating, especially if the customer had a bad experience, but learning from their reviews can help your techs when presenting future services.

Remember, your team must fight for its business through good selling techniques. Selling is the process of effectively presenting the value of your products and services to a potential customer in a way they understand. It is about influencing and persuading. It offers a relationship online and off. And it’s an opportunity to build trust.