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On the surface, sales seems like a simple concept: One person buys something from another. But in reality, it’s much more than a transaction. That’s because the journey from initial interest in a product to close can be windy and complex, often requiring a personal touch to make it complete.
If you’re interested in starting a career in sales, you’re in the right place to learn the fundamentals. We’ll dig into the types of sales, common methodologies, and the qualities that make great salespeople.
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Sales is the exchange of one thing of value for currency. Salespeople, often called sales representatives or sales reps, do everything involved in closing a sale: finding and attracting a prospective buyer, educating and nurturing that buyer so they’re interested in a purchase, and closing a deal.
Sales is a broad concept, so it’s helpful to break it down into the types of sales, highlighting the intricacies and strategies of each. Knowing how each type differs can help you choose the career path in sales that’s right for you.
Inside sales involves selling to customers remotely, often through live chat, video conferencing, email, or by phone. These reps usually work at an office or from their homes (hence “inside”) and rarely need to travel for business. Those that work in an office could be in a call center or another shared environment.
For this type of selling, reps typically train on a specific product and can take a prospect through all of the product’s features and benefits.
Prospects for inside sales come from a variety of sources. Some inside sales reps use purchased contact lists from third-party companies or lists generated by their own marketing teams based on people who have taken action on the website or engaged via email or social media. Others may support existing customers, reaching out to them to upsell or cross-sell.
An inside salesperson will:
Outside sales is the process of going out into the field to sell directly to prospects and customers. These salespeople don’t tend to work in a traditional office, because they travel to meet with clients. To support their sales efforts, they lead presentations and product demos and build customer relationships in person at the prospect’s place of business, at a trade show or convention, or in a location that’s near a prospect where they can engage face-to-face.
This sales approach is still common, even in the digital age. According to our State of Sales report, 34% of all sales closed completely in person and 34% took a hybrid approach over the past 12 months. That’s why it’s critical for companies to consider outside sales, even if remotely selling seems to be growing in popularity.
An outside sales rep will:
Many outside salespeople have an area or sales territory that they focus on, along with existing accounts to nurture. Since their office is remote, they use tools such as laptops or tablets and carry digital samples/demos, brochures, and price lists.
Business-to-business (B2B) sales involves a business selling a product or service to another business. A wood supplier may sell its products to a furniture manufacturer, or a software as a service (SaaS) company may sell its solutions to a tech company, for example.
The B2B sales cycle is typically longer than traditional B2C (business-to-consumer) selling since it can involve much higher costs, more complexity, and more stakeholders. Enterprise sales, which involves selling to large organizations, may have longer lead times since selling to an enterprise can be highly complex. A small or midsize business (SMB), on the other hand, may only have a handful of people who need to sign off on a deal, so it can often close sooner.
To be an effective B2B salesperson, you need to have extensive knowledge of your product or service, as well as your customer’s business needs and challenges. You need to know how your solution can benefit your prospect’s company by alleviating pain points and meeting business goals. Above all, you need to be able to communicate that to them in a way that instills authority and trust. According to the State of Sales, 82% of business buyers expect sales representatives to act as trusted advisors.
Business-to-consumer (B2C) sales is when a business sells directly to its customers. When you make a personal purchase at a store or online, that’s a business-to-consumer (B2C) sale. Because these deals are usually simpler and less costly than B2B sales, the sales cycle is shorter.
The B2C sales process is simple and effective. In this model, a business uses advertising or word-of-mouth to get customers interested in buying their products. This model is commonly associated with retailers, since they sell directly to their shoppers.
In channel sales, companies sell through partners or intermediaries. This model is also called partner selling or indirect selling, because the company does not have a direct connection to the customer. For example, you might sell through independent brokers or agents who arrange transactions in exchange for a commission.
To get started, you’ll need to find and recruit channel sales partners that align with your business strategy. You might identify and contact potential partners proactively by going to trade shows to highlight your solutions. Or, you could let them come to you directly by setting up a form on your website so prospective partners can show interest in selling your products.
E-commerce sales can be B2B or B2C. Both involve the same process of selling products or services online. For B2C sales, this might mean chatting with someone online to provide customized product suggestions and quickly closing a deal. B2B e-commerce salespeople typically work through more complex engagements, offerings things like product demonstrations to spur interest.
If you’ve ever bought something at a friend’s home-based sales party, you’ve seen direct sales in action. Manufacturing companies can also conduct direct sales by avoiding a middleman; they make the products they sell. In essence, direct sales involves selling products directly to consumers, without the support or inventory of a retail store.
Direct salespeople may find leads on their own by prospecting. They could go to networking or industry events, advertise or search social media sites, create their own websites, or ask for referrals. At its core, direct sales relies on professional relationships and personalized customer support.
There are advantages and disadvantages to direct sales. While direct salespeople build relationships face to face and create relationships with companies and individuals, it can be time-consuming to find and service customers. Direct sales also requires a thick skin, since frequent rejection is often part of the game.
Account-based salespeople focus on a specific sector or set of customers and prospects, creating personalized sales strategies for each one. Above all, relationships are important to account-based sales. That’s because they often involve high-value products and services which take time to sell.
One example of account-based sales is pharmaceutical sales. As an illustration, pharmaceutical reps focus on a specific high-value practice. They may, for example, sell blood pressure drugs to a few highly-reviewed cardiologist practices in a specific metro area.
Account-based selling demands sellers be both product and account experts. As a product expert, you can provide crucial information, answer questions, field objections, and ease uncertainty for your accounts’ decision-makers. As an account expert, you become a trusted source to your client, which can lead to a lasting business relationship.
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No matter what kind of selling you choose to pursue, there are some terms you must know. Here are five common terms that you’ll hear every day:
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Ready to start selling? You’ll need to have a solid framework to succeed. Let’s walk through some of the most common methodologies you can apply to the sales types noted above.
Solution selling is a technique that focuses on your customers’ needs and pain points and provides recommendations to solve them. This is often a collaborative process where you work closely with a customer to define a business problem and explore customized options to help.
These proposals might contain information about competitor products or solutions, why your solution is a better option, and how your product or service will solve the customer’s business problems.
Value selling is slightly different in that it focuses on helping prospects solve problems while delivering positive economic and resource impact. That impact can be seen in different ways from cost and time savings to competitive advantage and risk mitigation.
B.A.N.T. is a methodology that asks the salesperson to consider the person they are selling to. Do they have the budget and authority to approve a purchase? In addition, is there a need that’s being unmet and, if so, can you deliver on that need in time for them to succeed?
Using BANT, a salesperson can make sure that they can match their outreach efforts accordingly so they can make the sale.
N.E.A.T. was developed by the Harris Consulting Group and Sales Hacker. It is very similar to B.A.N.T. with some exceptions: The salesperson makes sure there is a need but focuses on what the purchase can do for that customer from a financial perspective. In essence, N.E.A.T. asks the salesperson to consider the negative effects on the customer if they don’t complete the sale.
SNAP was coined by Jill Konrath, who wrote the book on S.N.A.P. selling, literally. Her tome, “SNAP Selling: Speed Up Sales and Win More Business with Today’s Frazzled Customers,” focuses on simplicity. She teaches sales professionals that it’s important to keep it simple and nurture prospects with pitches and collateral that are easily understandable.
In her book, Konrath says salespeople need to get into the head of the buyer so they feel understood. For example, they can use selling points that meet the customer’s needs instead of sticking to a canned script. To do this effectively, salespeople need to listen actively and discover the customer’s most important pain points.
M.E.D.D.I.C. is a B2B sales methodology developed in 1996 by businessman Dick Dunkel. It was designed to help Dunel’s company figure out why its salespeople were winning or losing deals.
In this model, all of the win/loss reasons fall into one of the six buckets. It asks sales reps to start their evaluations by looking at how a prospect’s organization evaluates success.
For instance, sales reps should consider how they are targeting the person who greenlights a purchase as well as the champion who can inform the economic buyers. The main differentiator of M.E.D.D.I.C., according to its authors, is the way it details decision-making.
S.P.I.N. was created in 1988 by sales expert Neil Rackham as a way to get salespeople looking at their prospects more granularly. It focuses on actively listening to prospects and thoughtfully brainstorming solutions to their business problems. By doing so, he said, customers will realize on their own that a company’s product or service is the right one for them.
This technique requires relationship-building, the ability to ask plenty of questions, and the willingness to become an educator rather than just focusing on the hard sell.
While successful salespeople have a variety of skills and qualities, there are some characteristics that seem to cut across all salespeople, B2B and B2C. These include:
While this list of traits and skills might seem daunting, with a little training and a lot of drive, you can hope to reach your goals.
No matter how you define sales, salespeople spend a significant amount of time building relationships and closing deals. People are looking for personal connections, and they want customized information and services. Regardless of the state of the economy, understanding the different types of sales and how you can be most effective in closing deals is an excellent way to find success.
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