I guess that most of us have a pretty clear idea of what selling is. After all, once we reach our adult years, most of us have been ‘sold to’ dozens of times already and as we go through life, it’s going to happen again and again, probably with ever increasing frequency.
But familiarity breeds contempt as they say, so let me ask you a question.
Have you ever really sat down and thought exactly what selling is, or have you searched the net for ideas and definitions of exactly what selling is all about?
I ask because as an experiment for this book, I did search the net for ideas and concepts about selling and was quite frankly amazed at the diversification and range of opinions and ideas of what selling really is.
From straightforward dictionary definitions – ‘the exchange of goods for an agreed sum of money’ (from Princeton WordNet) – to some far more detailed and esoteric descriptions, it’s clear that selling means many different things to different people.
And whilst research of this nature might all seem a bit like time being wasted (we all know what selling is, so why bother investigating it?), I disagree for a couple for reasons that are extremely relevant to you if you are trying to sell online.
Firstly, selling online is not the same as selling offline. Whilst the online and offline business worlds have lots in common – far more in fact than many online marketers would have you believe – selling on the internet and in the local high street or shopping mall is not the same.
Secondly, many people don’t think they can sell, or are not at all comfortable with the idea of having to do so if they were to set up their own online business.
Apart from the fact that each and every one of us is already a salesperson – if you have ever been employed or have a girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse, you did a pretty good job of selling yourself to someone – I am going to dispel all of the negative myths about selling in this book and show you exactly why selling on the net is absolutely the best place to do so.
Even if you believe that could not sell iced drinks in the Sahara (a belief which is completely wrong anyway) you’re going to discover that you can and exactly how you do eat. Indeed, you’re going to discover why if you’re running an online business, it is your duty to sell as much as you can to your customers if you genuinely want to provide the best possible level of service you can to them.
Why selling online is often easier…
The dictionary definition in the introduction of what selling is all about is simple and straightforward and covers most of what you need to know about the physical act of selling. This does however ignore the psychology of selling which is something to which we will return on many occasions in this report.
However, if we accept this basic definition for the time being, we can begin to look at the differences between selling on the internet and selling products or services in the real world of high street, bricks and mortar businesses.
The major difference between selling online and doing so in the real world is that the whole process of selling on the internet is far less personal than it would be if you were selling products or services to local businesses in your neighborhood.
For example, imagine that you are a sales person for a local offline business. In this case, you would be constantly calling existing customers and prospects on the telephone, making appointments to go and see them, sorting out problems for your customers and so on.
In short, everything about your job would be hands-on and whilst a degree of what you do would not be face-to-face, a significant proportion of your everyday work activities would involve meeting customers and prospects in person.
As someone who has over 25 years experience running sales teams who sold a huge range of products and services in the real world (from long-term investment plans to toner cartridges for laser printers), I can tell you that for most people who do not think that they can sell, meeting customers or prospects face to face is the most fraught and stressful aspect of the selling idea. This is perfectly natural because in a face-to-face meeting of this nature, you are at your most exposed and ‘naked’. You are in a position where you feel uncomfortable and perhaps even embarrassed which is unfortunately a position where mistakes are most often made.
For instance, I have seen many young salespeople being far too eager to please prospects and customers who have fallen into the trap of making very basic errors in their understandable eagerness to keep their customer (and their boss) happy.
One classic situation is where, upon being faced with a question to which they do not know the answer, they make what is (at best) a fairly uneducated guess at what they think might be the correct response.
This is instead of doing the correct thing by telling the customer truthfully that they don’t know the answer but that they would go straight back to the office to find the information before reporting back to the customer.
The latter ‘investigate and report back’ strategy becomes more natural and comfortable as experience teaches you that you can never know everything about your business and that your customers don’t really expect you to either. In the early days however, it’s a different story, because it is often hard for new salespeople to admit that they don’t know everything.
Now, contrast this scenario with the online selling situation.
When you promote a product or service online, you almost never end up talking to a customer on the telephone, far less meeting them. This does not of course mean that you cannot do so and there might be advantages to doing so as we shall see.
Nevertheless, partially because of the truly global nature of online business and partially because it is not really expected, the vast majority of online marketers will only ever have a limited amount of personal contact with their prospects and customers. Furthermore, any personal contact that exists is unlikely to require an immediate, ‘on the spot’ response to queries or questions either, so there is a good deal less pressure involved too.
As most communication between online business owners and customers or prospects is likely to be by e-mail or by short messages being pinged backwards and forwards via a messaging service such as Skype, Yahoo or MSN, it is far less likely that you will make the mistakes prompted by trying to provide immediate information in the way that there is in the offline business world. There is considerably less pressure in other words.
Now, this is not to say that the world of online business is perfect as this lack of personal contact or inter-reaction can bring its own problems. For example, if you are dealing with a prospect or customer face-to-face, you can read their body language and make decisions based upon their reactions to what you are saying, which is something every good offline sales person learns to do sooner or later.
If however you are dealing with someone via e-mail, you obviously have no ability to ‘read’ what your prospect or customer really needs or wants from their body language in the same way.
There is therefore a slightly increased potential for misunderstanding and even disputes. This is for example one of the reasons why using humor in this kind of situation is often a bad idea, because humor does not necessarily translate particularly well across international boundaries and what you think is funny could appear to be sarcastic or demeaning to someone on the other side of the world.
There are therefore some undeniable advantages to being able to meet prospects or customers face-to-face. This one of the reasons why an increasing number of businesses which sell products or services on the net (particularly digital information products) are beginning to feature information about the physical location of their business on their websites.
For instance, I have seen a few sites recently which displayed a picture of their office location, together with detailed instructions on how to find them with telephone and fax numbers attached, office opening hours detailed and so on.
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