VUSSC/Content/Entrepreneurship/Selling and the Customer/Introduction

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In the foregoing units, you examined a number of key issues relative to managing your own business. These included planning the business, marketing, pricing, keeping business records and staffing. Once these are in place, you are ready to sell the product to the market segment you have chosen. The main point of setting up a business is to make some profit, and that is realised through selling products. If noone buys from you, then there can be no business to talk about. Every business depends on customers. So, in the present unit we discuss issues pertaining to selling as well as those to do with customers. For the effective management of your business, a sound knowledge about the two concepts is an important requirement. The subsequent sections take you through some of the areas you need to be familiar with.

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After working through this unit you should be able to :

  • explain the concept of selling in practical terms
  • outline the qualities of a good salesperson
  • differentiate motives for buying
  • distinguish different types of customer
  • assess individual customers and serve them accordingly
  • suggest ways of persuading the customer
  • persuade the customer to buy your product
  • sell the product at a profit

What is meant by 'Selling'?

'Selling' is probably not a new word to you, so let us pause and get you to share personal experiences.

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i.If you own a business, have you ever sold something to a customer? Yes/No?
ii. If you have sold something, was the customer happy? Yes/no?
iii. If the customer was happy, what do you think were the reasons?
iv.If the customer was not happy, what do you think were the reasons?
v.What two things would you do if you receive a complaint (about your product, from a customer?

Your response shows that you already have some knowledge about the concept of 'selling'. Three simple definitions are offered presently.

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i.Selling means to exchange ownership or deliver for money or its equivalent. transfer (goods) to or render (services) for another in exchange for money; dispose of to a purchaser for a price. persuade or induce (someone) to buy something.

Now, write a definition that is in agreement with the environment of your business.

Please note that selling is in exchange of money or its equivalent.That means somebody can sell fish for so many dollars per kilogramme, sell fish in exchange for bananas, or a goat for two bags of sorghum.In the latter two cases, selling takes place without money being involved, but there is exchange of ownership for the equivalent value. This is referred to as 'barter'. Basically, therefore, the customer must have enough money required by the buyer, or its equivalent and the customer must be willing to have the product.When the exchange is succesful, it is said that a'sale' or'a transaction' has taken place.

Why do we need knowledge about selling and the customer? Selling could not have been a problem if we were living in one community where customers need the same products, had the same level of wealth, and businesses sold the same products. In that situation manufacturers would just produce uniform products, sell them to retailers who, in turn, would sell them to customers for a uniform price.Unfortunately, in the modern world, people's choices for products and buying power are different, so the same product cannot be liked by all people. The business world has become very dynamic, and that calls for the entrepreneur to have a sound knowledge about selling, as well as skills to help him/her gain favour with customers.

In business practice, we normally find that some sales persons are more competent than others. What explanation do we have for that? Let us explore the issue in the next section.

What Do You Expect to See in a Good Salesperson?

When you enter a shop or visit a market stall as customer, you expect the person behind the counter, the salesperson, to receive you and behave in a way that makes you feel welcome. Being able to welcome customers cordially is not something that just happens. In modern business management, companies allocate budgets to train their fronline officers, the salespersons. This simply means someone can be taught to be an effective salesperson provided, of course, the person has the will to learn. Below are some of the characteristics we expect in a good salesperson.

a.Good communication skills

Selling is about talking, explaining, persuading, answering questions from customers, responding to enquiries over the phone, and so forth. There is no way meaningful transactions can occur when the salesperson cannot communicate properly.

Customers are different, as we discuss later , and some will ask questions you think are outright unnecessary, while others will walk into the business with an attitude of "I know it all". Talking to some customers over the phone can be trying because they could tell you off or say bad things, then the next moment you see them coming in and require your service. Other customers will argue with you over issues you may not be in a position to change such as quality of product and the right price. This must be a familiar story on the negative side. Good communication skills are required on your part, and these should be based on patience, first and foremost. If you are impatient, customers will leave you and buy from your competitors, and you lose business. In all situations, keep calm and say the best to the irate or difficult customer so that at the end of it all, a transaction takes place.

In normal circumstances, you should remember to use language that makes customers feel welcome. Non-verbal communication such as a smile can create the right seller-customer relationship. On the other hand, there are some non-verbal features that put off customers. Our experience in different countries is that a salesperson who continues chatting with a friend while a customer is waiting, continues to read a novel as customers wait,or simply stares at a customer without saying anything discourages the customer.

Entrepreneurs have confirmed that even when you do not know the language of the customer who walks into your business,the use of welcoming non-verbal signals such as a smile, a handshake, or waving to the customer to look at the products available, can have positive results. Botswana and Mauritius are examples of countries attracting people from different countries, who speak different languages. While it is not possible to learn all the languages in the world, it will work to your advantage to learn a few common words from those languages spoken by the majority of customers who patronise your business.

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Tell us a story

As an observer of communication in business, you should have come across interesting experiences. Share a story with colleagues to show the importance of communication between seller and buyer.Include both verbal and non-verbal instances, and show the significance of that story in practical business terms

b.Personal appearance

One of the things to bear in mind is that appearnces count in any situation in life. This is more so for the salesperson whose job involves dealing with customers from all walks of life. A sales person who dresses untidily creates a bad impression. For that reason, the salesperson should dress in a way that meets the expectations of customers. He/she must first of all impress customers by being neat and properly groomed. Think of a person selling foodstuff while wearingdirty overalls and gum boots!

c. Product knowledge It will be very difficult for someone to try and sell an aeroplane when that person has never stood a few centimetres near one. The buyer might want to find out from the seller how some components of a plane work. Our aspiring salesperson will be stuck. Therefore, it is very important that he/she should have a sound knowledge of the product. This helps to convince the customer that the product being sold is worth spending money on. Put simply, a person who wants to sell tomatoes should know what good tomatoes are.

d. Feeling for the customer Selling should not be done for the sake of getting money from the customer only. A salesperson must deal with customers sociably so that the customers will feel encouraged to continue patronising the business. When a customer has a complaint, the salesperson should put himself/herself in the shoes of the customer in order to understand the way they feel.

Customer instincts and habits

To read the character of individual customers correctly, you must be capable of taking each person as a representative of one or more types you have previously studied. You will thus look at things through the eyes of others, appreciate their point of view and frame your appeal accordingly. Instincts and habits are the chief motivator for buying something. What, in your opinion, are instincts and babits?

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An instinct is an inherent tendency to act in certain ways in certain situations, or under certain conditions. So far as salespersons are concerned, the two principal instincts are curiosity and acquisitiveness. There are, of course, many others.

On the other hand, habits are acquired tendencies to act in certain ways in certain situations. Each individual acquires certain tendencies, or habits, as a result of personal experience.

How does the salesperson appeal to instincts and habits?

Habits and instincts become somebody's second nature, and we should remember that everyone develops his or her own habits of thinking and doing things. This is according to his environment, associations, ambition, training, and education. For example, where one lives may determine habits and interests. People in urban situations have different shopping habits from those who live in rural areas.

You should, therefore, remember that people you meet in business have certain acquired interests. It can be assumed that each customer is interested in personal improvement. Successful salespersons habitually ask the buyer or prospective buyer questions that will start them talking about their personal preferences. It is, therefore, always helpful to find a ground of common interest with a customer. This will enable you to relate to the customer in a business-like manner. Most people's interests can be classified under the following headings:

  • Hobbies and games, such as gardening and golf
  • Business or professional interests
  • Cultural pursuits, such as literature, painting, etc.
  • Travel
  • Financial independence e.g. investment
  • Personal belongings such as home, clothes, furniture, etc.
  • Ideals, opinions, and personal objectives
  • Family, friends, and associates
  • Education
  • Civic, charitable, social, and religious interests

Since a customer will be interested in anything he/she associates with personal habits and interests, you should secure as much advance information about him/her as you can. Once the entrepreneur knows the habits/interests, it is easy to make suggestions that will influence the customer to buy.

In selling, suggestion may be defined as any means of inducing a desired thought or action without direct request or persuasion.

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Talk to your friends and express your views on the following:

Why is suggestion more effective than forceful arguments or open persuasion?

I am certain that you came up with interesting suggestions. One view worth noting is that many customers, although fairly clear in their minds as to their general needs , do like to feel that they themselves have reasoned things out, and reached a final decision. Suggestion, especially as mentioned above, is an invaluable aid to a salesperson who is alert to such opportunities. Now, let's move on to different customer types.