Abide by the Rules of Engagement
By Sam Allman
We are in a war. Not the war in the Middle East,
but the war we are all experiencing for sales. The battle is almost
like hand-to-hand combat because it will be won by selling one
customer at a time. To survive in these turbulent economic times, we
must win the war for customers; we must be more effective at closing
the fewer customers who are looking for our product or service. The
game has changed, but the rules of engagement haven’t.
In war, the rules of engagement (ROE) determine when, where
and how force shall be used. Such rules are both general and
specific. In selling, there are also rules of engagement. The ROE in
selling deal with four issues: (1) When influence may be used, (2)
Where influence may be used, (3) Against whom influence should be
used in the circumstances described above, and (4) How selling
influence should be used to achieve the desired ends.
The ROE are
extremely important because they provide a consistent,
understandable and repeatable standard on how salespeople act.
Typically they are carefully thought out in detail, well in advance
of an engagement, and may cover a number of scenarios, with
different rules for each. Following these rules of engagement will
increase your closing rate and win the war for customers when your
competitors are using ineffective strategies.
Greet the customer with a smile within 20 seconds of entering your
Whether you are busy or not, smile or wave, and acknowledge the
customer as she enters the store. Act like you are glad and
appreciative that she is there. Remember why customers leave:
Always make the customer feel in control.
Psychologically, this is critical. Feeling manipulated,
controlled or coerced, she will leave. Help her feel in control by
asking permission to do anything: “May I ask you a few question?”
“May I put you on hold?” “Is this a good time to talk?” She
will also feel in control if you give her choices, though not too
many: “Based on what you told me, I think there are 4 or 5
products that will work perfectly for you. May I show them to you?”
She will feel in control if you spend more time asking questions
and listening rather than telling her what she ought to buy.
Sell her what she wants – not what you want.
Be product neutral. Research shows when salespeople have too few
favorite products, they will limit their sales. “The salespeople
should be selling you what you want, not what they think you should
buy.” Following this rule also makes the customer feel in
Never talk longer than 30 seconds without asking a question.
Listening is hard.
The best salespeople keep the customer talking by listening and
asking questions. If you are talking too much, the customer may not
be engaged. A question will keep him focused and talking. The
customer feels more in control when he is talking and you are
Give the customer space if she desires it.
Be aware, watch the customer. If she wants space, give
it to her. Let her look. Watch her, she will tell you when she feels
safe enough to let you in. While she’s looking, every once in a
while, ask her a question, try to engage her. Letting her have space
will help her feel in control. Salespeople need to be helpful or
suggestive, but not pushy or overpowering. They can’t be bothering
the customer too much.
Learn your customer’s goals and dreams.
don’t ask enough questions. Remember, the customers make three
decisions: A fashion decision, a performance decision and a price
decision. Which is the most important to them? It depends on the
customer. Studies show the more questions asked, the greater the
chance of making the sale. It is the most important tool in the
Never make the presentation before the engaging enquiry.
mistake salespeople make is to start presenting the product or
service before they understand what the customer wants. The customer
may say, “I’d like to see a particular item.” Most salespeople
would say, “Sure, come over here and I’ll show you the ones we have
on special.” Instead, the salesperson should say, “To help me
understand, tell me why that particular item is important to you.”
Never answer an unasked question.
can’t resist telling the customer everything they know about their
product. More times than not, this causes cognitive dissonance or
confusion. Confused customers can’t make decisions. It will cause
them to postpone their purchase and leave. Listen carefully and be
aware. Tell the customer only what she needs to know in order to
make her decision.
Ask the customer for her name and address.
What do you call a customer who walks in your store? A
qualified lead. If you let her leave the store without buying and
without getting her name and address, you have struck out. With her
name and address, you have a way to maintain contact and follow-up.
Your business needs a systemized follow-up program for those
customers who aren’t ready to buy on the first visit. How do you get
her name? You ask. “Mrs. Smith, if I think of something that you
might like or something goes on special, may I let you know? Would
it be okay if I got your name and address?”
Make each customer experience remarkable. And make sure it’s
in a way that the customer will want to tell others. The experience
is everything. If you were patient, you asked good questions, you
focused on his needs, you built value, you sold him the right
product, and the experience hassle-free, and he feels you really
care, then he will want to tell his colleagues and friends. You’ve
made the experience remarkable. You don’t manage the sale, you
manage the relationship.
selling and in war, it is winner-take-all. Yes, times are tough;
there are fewer customers. But what does that mean? It simply means
we have to get better; we have to close more. If you close just one
more person out of ten, and you are an average closer, that will
give you a 33 percent increase in sales. If you follow the Ten Rules
of Engagement, one more out of 10 is easy. Will you let them work
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