Stop trying to sell. Start selling software online.

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.

Any small business has work to do. If it’s going well, then there should be a lot of work to do. And if your business involves selling software online, the to-do list tends to grow at an alarming rate.

You need to concentrate on developing your software, managing your sales, maintaining your website, responding to queries, bug-fixing, planning the new release, distributing the software, writing the help file, maintaining a presence on the internet, filing your taxes, paying your bills and much more.

Prioritising and time-management are critical aspects for the successful business, yet above and beyond everything else, there is one consistently reliable yardstick. Your sales. For all our qualifications, experience and training, this is one area that many consistently neglect. Paradoxically, it is perhaps one of the most important of all.

In this series of articles, I hope to clarify the differences between trying to make people buy your product, selling it, and selling it well. I’ll also be trying to keep out as much business theory as possible, and try to concentrate only on practical, actionable items.

We can begin by looking at exactly how we choose to sell our products. In general we tend to fall into one of three categories, depending on our nature and circumstances:

The heavy-handed salesperson is annoyingly familiar to everyone. If taken too far, their pushy and aggressive sales techniques may leave potential customers somewhere between highly intimidated and highly irritated. Not a good place for them to be.

The excessively-polite and over-cautious salesperson is, in contrast, a reasonably welcome sight. They tend to spend a lot of time talking, and even longer listening. Yet despite (or perhaps because of) being so thoroughly pleasant, they often have little to show for their efforts. While our natural instinct towards a salesperson is often defensive, this type of person lowers our guard, as they often don’t appear to be selling at all. There is even a risk that we might walk away without so much as considering purchasing.

The passive salesperson is somewhere in the very grey area between these two extremes. They tend to be somewhat responsive to the customer needs, yet will never generate any glowing testimonials, nor will they annoy anyone. In general they sit and wait for the sales to come to them, and do little to proactively seek them out.

While each have their own strengths and weaknesses, much depends on the customer, who (thankfully for this article) is no less susceptible to stereotyping than we are!

The “expert” knows more about your specific field than you. He or she (but invariably he) has more experience than you, and will invariably find fault in anything and everything you suggest. They probably resent what you’re trying to push, and your impulse will be to either run away or be as heavy handed as they are.

The staller, on the other hand, is a completely different kettle of fish. They often appear quite susceptible to what you’re offering, but when it comes to parting with their cash, they’ll have an apparently endless number of concerns and worries. Your impulse may soon be to give-up on this type of customer too, yet the fact that they are even interested means that in the right hands, you can turn them into a sale yet.

The dream prospect is already familiar to most of us, even if we wish there were more like them around. They will tend to ask a few questions, perhaps follow-up some of your replies, and then decide within a very short period of time. If you play your cards right, the dream prospect should turn into a dream customer quite quickly.

Now that we’ve identified some of the more common sellers and buyers, we need to bring the two together, and look briefly at the functions that the salesperson may have to fulfil.

The first is that of the representative of your company. Most of your potential customers will not have any pre-defined image of you or your organisation, so these will all be based on how they perceive you. If you come across in a negative light, this will certainly tip the scales adversely. Bear in mind that most people are reluctant to part with their hard-earned cash, so if they don’t like how you come across, the impulse to walk away will be that much easier to follow. After all, when’s the last time you came across an unfriendly car salesman?

The next role of the salesperson is that of the responsible expert. Assuming that you’ve played your cards right, many potential customers may choose to explain their needs and circumstances to you, and then expect some good advice in return. If you get the balance just right, they’ll be receptive to what you say. Assuming that your product really does what it’s supposed to, and does it well, then offering the right balance of solid advice and pushing your product shouldn’t be overly difficult at all.

The third role is when everything all starts falling neatly into place, and after creating the right impression and providing good advice, you can then start working on the actual sale.

This is the point where you can concentrate on their precise needs, explain how your product addresses them, and make sure that they realise how much they want or need it.

The above ideas may initially appear to be geared more towards the traditional face to face sales model, and not so much for online sales model. The fact is, however, that there are more similarities between the two than differences.

When a person walks into a store, they are usually there for one of four reasons. They may be going to idly browse the goods, they may have specific questions to ask, they may be seeking advice, or they may be going specifically to buy.

The same applies to your online store. Almost certainly, the majority of the online visitors will fall into the category of idle browsers – no pun intended. They are not there with one hand on their wallet, but the fact is that even when you shop to browse, you still go into stores that are of interest to you. No matter how idly they may be looking through your site, there’s always a chance that they might buy.

The second and third categories are a little more difficult to cater for. Like the high street shopper, their questions need answering, otherwise chances are that they’ll be gone before you realise it. And in your case, the competition is only a few clicks away. Having an FAQ or Help section on your website can be a very successful means of dealing with this, and always make sure that if their questions aren’t answered, you’ve made it very easy for them to contact you. Whether this is by an online form, an email address or a live chat doesn’t matter. Just make sure that it’s there, prominent and simple to use.

The final group, those arriving to quickly and easily buy exactly what they’re looking for, must also not be overlooked. If I go to a website to purchase a specific product, I don’t want to have to wade through pages of features, benefits and propaganda. I want to go straight to the Buy page, and be finished as quickly as possible. But I might also be interested in any special offers you might have for me when it comes to paying. At this point in time, my wallet and mind are both open to you. Don’t miss the opportunity.

Sales isn’t about misleading your potential customer, nor is it about harassing them or being overly pushy. It’s about communicating who you are, what your product does, and why they need it. The next article will look at identifying your potential customers’ needs, catering to them, and presenting their solution. Be seen, be sold.

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.