Is selling an art or a science?

You can argue either way, but I have found in my observations of outstanding sales people: Some are glib, some are quiet; some are male, some are female; some are smart, some are lucky; some are tall, some are short.

The only trait I found in common is tenacity. They all have a system, and they stay with it until they make the sale – in other words, a science.

My own system has three parts. Identify:

  • the desired customers,

  • their real wants and needs, and

  • the best way to reach them.

Identifying the desired customers involves many questions like, “Are they in a growth market (location) and successful?” and “Are you looking to get a small percentage of a mass market or a high percentage of a narrow market?”

Examine your existing customer base and identify characteristics of the best customers, like age, industry and competitive position. What competitors’ customers would you like to have? Once you have clearly defined your desired customers, you know where to focus.

The next step is to identify the real wants and needs of the desired customer. Prospects know what they want, but they do not always understand their true needs. Doing some research provides an opportunity to provide a memorable service to your customers.

Surveys and market studies are available, but perhaps the most important thing is listening – not talking – to prospects. If you ask probing questions and listen long enough and intently enough, the prospect will tell you what they want to hear in order to be sold.

Now that you understand the type of customer that you want and their needs, you can address the best way to reach them.

If you are focusing on a niche market, face-to-face meetings are important along with target-specific mailings, helpful application updates and trade publication articles. This is called rifle-shot marketing. You do not want to create the image of a pest or bore, so you have to find ways to add value to the customer with each contact.

If you are targeting a mass market, then media advertising and articles can be used to flood the general public, called shotgun marketing. Broadcast emails and web advertisements are becoming more popular. In either case, you need to be in regular contact with prospects and customers.

In any sales activity, it is critical to promote the value and benefits of your product/service. The prospects are basically selfish. They don’t care about your features; they only care about what benefits they will realize using your product/service. Speak their language!

Identifying your desired customers, their real needs, and most effective communications channel will help you develop your own sales system – in other words, your personal sales science.

Lou Schultz is a Certified SCORE Mentor and can be reached by email at with questions regarding this column.