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By Frances McGuckin

“I love my sewing and vacuum business,” said Jen with obvious passion, “but I absolutely hate selling! I lose my confidence, stutter, stumble and get tongue-tied. I know my products, I carry good quality inventory – I just find selling so stressful.”

Jen is not alone. The word “sell” strikes fear in many people’s hearts. It’s often associated with old-school, high pressure sales techniques. Yet the more you understand the concept of selling, the less frightening it becomes. If you understand the consumer, the difference between their wants and needs, and how to define those needs, you not only connect with the consumer, they look upon you as a caring person who has taken the time to listen, probe and find the solution to their problem. So, you are not actually selling are you? You are an expert problem-solver.

Use the “Five Ws” of selling
You need to understand and use the five “Ws” of selling. Ask yourself these five questions before you attempt to close a sale. You will be pleasantly surprised at how much easier it is to complete the sale.

  1. Who is buying?
  2. What do they need and want?
  3. Why do they need it?
  4. Where do they need it?
  5. When do they need it?
1. Know who is buying
Don’t assume that the person standing in front of you is the one making the buying decision. Many salespeople try to convince a prospect that an item is exactly what they need, when that person isn’t the actual purchaser. Ask who is the decision-maker and who is the user.

For example, a husband often accompanies his wife when she shops for plants. He is approached by a salesperson who informs him that the tree he is looking at is low maintenance and beautiful when it blooms. The husband doesn’t need this information.

If the salesperson had asked the husband what he was looking for, he would have been told that his wife was the purchaser. The wife would appreciate the service, the husband would appreciate being left alone, and the salesperson would appreciate the sale. Know who is buying before you start your sales presentation.

2. Know their needs and wants
The difference between needs and wants can only be ascertained by asking the prospect. There is a distinct difference between the two that cannot be evaluated any other way. You may decide that you need a vehicle to get to and from work. A poor salesperson will decide that a certain vehicle is the one that you need and start the sales process for that vehicle. A good salesperson will question you to find out your exact needs and build the sales process around them.

You need a vehicle that gets excellent mileage as you drive 60,000 kilometres a year. You may want a vehicle with cruise control and that looks sporty. You don’t necessarily need these, but if the price was right, you may consider them in you purchase decision.

3. Know why they need it
Now you must be more specific and ask for what purpose the goods are to be used. Using an alarm sales company as an example, if a customer only wants to scare off possible intruders, an alarm sign may suffice. If valuable merchandise is being stored, then a complete system would better suit their needs. By finding out why the customer needs (or wants) a certain product, you can more clearly define how to assist them.

4. Know where they need it
Knowing where a product or service will be used is important sales information. This knowledge can also help you to determine the appropriate product or service quality. A customer will pay a higher price for a premium product if the situation warrants it. For example, a department store alarm may suffice for the average home owner but may not be suitable for a business, which will pay a higher cost for a more dependable alarm.

5. Know when they need it
Most people research before they purchase and enjoy the browsing process. Ask the customer when they need the product or service. This information can assist you to specifically fill the customer’s needs. If a customer was going to buy a certain sewing machine next month, you could inform him or her that it will be on sale then, or that a new model will be available. The customer appreciates your honesty and concern, will not feel pressured and will most likely return to purchase from you.

Always ask
By being better informed before attempting to close a sale, you won’t make the mistake of under- or overselling them. Customers will appreciate your attention to detail and the fact that you listened to their needs and didn’t try to sell them something they didn’t want or need. If you are still unsure of any facts, ask – customers are usually happy to tell you.

Adapted from Taking Your Business to the Next Level (US, Sourcebooks,Inc) and Big Ideas for Growing Your Small Business (Eastleigh Publications, Canadian).

This column is available for syndication. For information, contact Frances McGuckin at

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