Simply Said
Simply Said
Simply Said is the essential handbook for business communication.

Selling to Retail Accounts: Communicating to Close


Gone are the days when salespeople calling on retail account prospects had lots of time to build a case and establish relationships. With increased corporate mergers in all retail sectors-be it food, drug or clothing-there are now fewer decision makers controlling larger budgets with less time to consider purchase options.

"Now salespeople have less time to really connect with a prospect, build rapport and establish a unique point of difference," points out Merna Skinner of Exec-Comm LLC, a New York communication training and consulting firm that trains salespeople to be more effective communicators, and hence, closers. She adds, "You probably only get one chance to make a good impression, so you better be prepared."

Being prepared for a sales call-whether it be in a senior boardroom or in the retail aisle side by side with a busy store manager/buyer-is about strategy and planning. The strategic part of the equation concerns knowing what their competition is doing, anticipating their needs and providing solution options that are easily implemented by the retailers. The planning phase is about using your resources-the sales team and research data-efficiently and wisely.

Strategic planning means knowing how to best use the various talents of your sales team members. If, for example, you are making a formal presentation to senior management and bringing a team, know what role each participant will play. The central account salesperson may be the main "seller" but other attendees-be they technical or financial functional specialists-need to be prepared to speak and field questions that may arise.

Here are some tips for making the most of your time in front of the prospect:

  • Know your data but don't get seduced by it: Salespeople, particularly analysts, need to be comfortable with sales data, but ultimately take a step back from it and ask themselves "what are the essential numbers that will make my best case and help me prove it". Remember that decision makers need to see data simply and in a clear and understandable graphic format.
  • Make your main point in the first five minutes: Start with your bottom-line conclusion and then work backwards to support it with examples, client case histories or testimonials. This approach means respecting your potential client's time and controlling which direction the meeting goes in. This may mean focusing your prospect and prioritizing some of their issues so as to make the best use of your initial allotted time with them.
  • Listen more than you talk: Utilize open-ended questions to get at the heart of what your prospect's needs are. This may involve "digging deeper" to uncover what their real challenges/issues are. If you are talking more than 20% of the time, it is time to begin active listening.
  • Provide a unified sales message: Make sure you and your other sales team members communicate your company's unique point of difference in the same language and word order. This sound byte should be a maximum of 10 words and repeated at least three times in order for it to be fully understood and remembered.
  • Respond honestly to questions: Impressing potential prospects with inflated promises or "massaged" figures will only backfire. On occasion, repeat the question to make sure you know what is really being asked and give as complete an answer as you can. Don't be afraid to offer to get back to them if you don't have enough knowledge to give an informed and intelligent answer. Remember, they are evaluating you and your company for credibility and professionalism, not verbal agility or corporate "sleight of hand".
  • Pre-plan team roles: Talk through beforehand segues between speakers and topics. Also, decide who will field questions for the team and who will be responsible for different types of questions that this point person delegates. Make sure that there is a reason why every team member is at the meeting and a clear role for them to play.

Contact: Bradford Agry
(212) 501-8045

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