Monday, July 30, 2007

Making Sales

The last post looked at marketing. On the same day I attended Keith MacGregor’s workshop, I also attended one by Helen Jones on how to sell our products/services to customers.

Ms. Jones started her workshop by saying that many people have negative perceptions of selling. They imagine that it means persuading people to buy things they don’t need or want. On the contrary, she said, selling is not coercion. It is communicating, explaining to people who you are and what you can offer them.

She described Cialdini’s six principles of influence, which relate to the process of selling products/services. The six principles are: reciprocation, commitment and consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity. Yes, some of these techniques might sound a little sneaky, but I am just passing on what I learned, not necessarily recommending everything described here.

Reciprocation means that if someone does something for you, you then owe them a favor. For sales, there are two major techniques: give something to your potential client first, or else create rejection first (by beginning to say something, for example, then cutting yourself off, and saying “No, never mind. You probably won’t be interested.”). In either case, the client might then feel duty-bound to listen to your sales pitch.

Having commitment and consistency means that you follow through on what you say and also that you have a consistent (typically professional, reliable, and trustworthy) image. This relates to liking, since the image you portray and your personality help clients like you.

Social proof refers to other people recommending you and believing in you and your products. There is a difference between when a salesperson describes a product and when a friend does so; you are more likely to believe your friend, colleague, or relative, who presumably has nothing to gain by making a recommendation, than you are to believe a salesperson, who clearly has to push a certain product in order to make a living. This is why some brochures or websites list quotes from satisfied customers.

Showing your authority is a beneficial way of getting customers to realize that you have the experience and knowledge necessary. Therefore, do not be shy about mentioning your degrees, what training you have, your memberships, and so on. All this is proof of your qualification to do the job well.

The last principle, scarcity, doesn’t relate to our field so much, but it means that if people believe a product is scarce, rare, or in a limited edition, they tend to be more willing to buy it quickly and to pay higher prices.

Ms. Jones then discussed the six steps to a sale: preparation and planning, identifying potential customers, deciding on the marketing strategy, selling the product/service and closing the sale, delivering the product/service, and collecting payment.

The first three steps are related to what was described in the mentioned in the previous post. You need to know what it is you are selling and why it is different from that offered by your competitors, then you need to find your customers, and offer them this information. Here, you can use the specific features of your product/service that you came up with for your marketing plan, but Ms. Jones said that it isn’t enough to just name the features; rather, you need to also say what the benefit is to the customers. For example, if you have lived in five countries and can speak seven languages, that means you have more cross-cultural knowledge and can therefore help your clients create documents that truly work in the target culture.

After you have marketed your product/service, you need to sell it. Whether you are out on a sales call or having discussions with a client in your office/over the phone/by e-mail, the steps are the same. You need to be prepared to introduce yourself and your product/service in detail and you should find out what the client’s exact needs are. Explain how you can fill that need and describe your features and benefits.

Your client may have objections; Ms. Jones felt that price is often mentioned, but it is usually a red herring. If a client says the price is too high, you can ask, “If I give you a 5% discount, would you then be happy to buy?” However, she warned that you shouldn’t be too quick to give discounts, or if you do, you should make it clear that the customer will lose something by taking the discount, such as “I can give you a 10% discount, but then there will be no free delivery and you will not get access to the helpline.”, and/or you can say that the discount is only a first-time offer. Ms. Jones said that if you are willing to quickly discount, clients will get suspicious and think that your prices must be quite inflated. She also said that asking questions about the objections is useful. For example, if you have said “If I give you a 5% discount, would you then be happy to buy?” and the client then admits that she or he thinks the quality might not be high enough, you can say, “What concerns you about the quality?” Then you can give explanations, such as about the materials you use or the warranties you include.

After you have dealt with any objections or concerns the client may have had, it is time to close the sale. Confirm all the terms – what you will deliver and when, how much it will cost, when the client will pay – so that you both know what is being agreed upon, and also to remind yourself, so you don’t later have to call up the client and ask embarrassing questions, the answers to which you should have known. Next, thank the client and leave and/or end the meeting. Ms. Jones said many people, especially new businesspeople, get scared at this point and they keep talking, giving the client a chance to back out of the deal or to get buyer’s remorse. So she recommended that as soon you have completed the agreement, politely finish the discussion.

But you aren’t finished yet. Now you have to deliver the product/service. If you are unable to fulfill the contract for any reason, do not wait until the last minute to tell the client. Tell him or her as soon as you know that your supplier has not come through or that you have a problem with your computer, and offer to find someone else or to help in some other way. If you handle this professionally, the customer may return to you another time; if not, she or he might even discuss you negatively with colleagues, making you lose even more potential future business.

Finally, you need to collect the payment. As Ms. Jones said, “A sale is not complete until you collect payment. Not when they say ‘yes.’” You are not, as she put it, “a glorified charity” and “if they haven’t paid, your business is going nowhere.” So make sure you have agreed on the payment terms in advance and that you invoice the client immediately. If they try to take advantage – they have, after all, presumably already received the work from you, so they may try to force you into agreeing to a discount or to re-negotiate in some other way – be firm. This won’t work for most translation jobs, but Ms. Jones mentioned times when a client tried to nastily re-negotiate with her and she actually destroyed the work rather than be “pushed over a barrel.” An important note is that you should not keep delivering work or agreeing to work with this client if you do not get payment in a timely fashion. But, as Ms. Jones said, “It is easier to safeguard yourself than to mop up afterwards,” so try to make sure you know that you are working with someone you keeps his or her end of bargains and/or try to get at least part of the payment up-front.

Hopefully, this advice on marketing and selling will help your translation business!

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