How To Start & Grow Your Business

The Art of the Sale: 3 Steps to More Successful Selling

Stuart Leung
Jan 9th, 2015
  • Estimated reading time: 5 min read
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    Highlights

    1Learn how to captivatingly talk about your product. 2Use technology for engaging presentations. 3"Evoke deeply emotional responses."
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Sales Techniques

Leadership-businessman trapped in small carton box Photo Credit: Sergey Nivens Shutterstock

There is something almost legendary about the American salesperson. It might be America’s particular brand of capitalism that helps elevate the ideal of sales. Certainly the portrayal of the American salesperson in books, plays, and movies has done a lot to create romance around salespeople.

Even Willie Loman’s character in Death of Salesman, tragic though he is, contributes to the aura. But what really captures the spirit of the American salesperson is the idea that anyone, no matter where they come from, can start out in sales and ascend quickly up the ladder of success—provided they’re good at it.

Not everyone is good at sales. There is certainly a science to selling, and there are those who believe selling is merely a numbers game. Make enough calls, knock on enough doors, and eventually your product will sell itself. But inspired salespeople add layers of art to the science, moving from the low arts to the higher arts throughout their career trajectory.

1. Get Your Shtick

Begin your journey into the art of the sale in the low arts: comedy. When you start in sales, your first order of business is to develop your shtick. Learn about the product you’re selling, and find a way to talk about it that suits you while captivating others.

Snake oil salesmen of the 19th century were some of the first salespeople to raise selling a product to a level of theatrics. Hucksters would tour the countryside on their own or as a troupe, selling the benefits of bottles full of dubious liquid. They’d be in and out of town in a hurry, turning around a quick sale before the audience had a chance to test their wares for effectiveness all the while giving the salespeople fast feedback on how their pitch worked.

In her book, “Snake Oil, Hustlers and Hambones: The American Medicine Show”, Ann Anderson takes a sharp look at these amazing characters, revealing the sales tactics and hucksterism that inspired the likes of Harry Houdini and P.T. Barnum, who both spent time early in their careers on the rickety stage of the medicine show.

If you’re just starting out in sales—or if you want a bit of inspiration—pick up the book to read about some of the great sales techniques used by these classic American characters and work on your shtick until you’ve got it down.

2. Add Some Theater

Who back in those days understood the value of adding a bit of the theatrical to your pitch better than P.T. Barnum?

Before he ever launched his circus, Barnum purchased a museum in New York City and named it “Barnum’s American Museum”, his first truly big promotion.

Tapping into the country’s need to be entertained, he “set powerful floodlights and giant flowing banners atop his building,” notes the Connecticut Historical Society, adding, “He advertised free roof-top concerts and then supplied the worst musicians he could find in hopes of driving crowds away from the noise and into the relative peace of the museum.”

The showmanship and pomp that Barnum added to his shtick was to set the tone for American sales for years to come.

These days, salespeople have the opportunity to add all kinds of theatrics to their shtick. Simply personalize a PowerPoint presentation with logos and graphics of the company you’re pitching, or conjure up senior executives via hologram technology at the company’s annual meeting, as Cisco’s John Chambers did recently.

Ok, so hologram technology might be a bit pricey for your sales manager to sign off on at this point, but keep it in mind for the future. Meanwhile, consider all the ways that technology can help you elevate your performance as a salesperson and take the time to make your presentations more engaging.

3. Finish It Off with the High Arts

The difference between a novice salesperson’s shtick and a veteran salesperson’s performance could be expressed in the difference between five figures and six. Great salespeople—like great brands—understand how to go beyond reading a script and instead deliver a performance that pulls at the audience’s heartstrings.

Take Coca-Cola, for example. Recently, they’ve been using over-the-top emotional triggers…to sell soda. Coke has long understood the value of embedding its brand into earliest childhood memories as a way to develop brand myths that last a lifetime, as this paper from Cornell explains.

If you’ve seen commercials like the Coca-Cola Small World Machines piece (get out your tissues), you understand how brands are able to reach bravely into your heart to evoke deeply emotional responses.

How can you use this technique in your everyday approach? Rely on the method that actors, playwrights, and brands like Coke know well: Research and listen. Find out more about your client. Find out what motivates him or her, learn about their lives and figure out how to talk to talk to them on their level.

Appeal to their hopes and fears and deliver a bit of a performance for each customer. Don’t be deceitful, but play to your audience. New salespeople are sometimes so focused on delivering the pitch they forget to listen to their client. Veteran salespeople listen first, then tailor the pitch they deliver to what they hear the client asking for.

P.T. Barnum, by the way, never said, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” notes the Connecticut Historical Society, but he did believe that America needed the “gift of enjoyment.” It’s still true, so give your clients a bit of enjoyment with your next sales presentation.

This article was written by Stuart Leung and published in the Salesforce blog. 

Stuart Leung has worked in digital marketing for nearly a decade focusing on content marketing and SEO. In addition to Forbes, he’s contributed to Asian Week, Bleacher Report, Model Minority, Asian American Film, and Interbasket.

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