Seven steps to sales success

The Life: To some the ability to sell comes naturally, but Ramez Helou is proof it is a skill that can be learned. He shares tips on how to sell and negotiate.

Ramez Helou, the chief executive of The Academy for Sales Excellence, says when selling 'you have to be sensitive to people's personalities'. Antonie Robertson / The National
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Ramez Helou first got into sales because, he says frankly, he had no other options at the time.

And once in the job he was not exactly what one would call a natural.

But he persisted, learning tips and tricks he now passes on to others.

"I got a job when I was 19 in America as a door-to-door salesman. I used to sell kitchen knives," says Mr Helou, who was born and grew up in Lebanon.

"After initial success with my direct family, friends, [I had] to learn [how to sell]," he says.

There are seven steps to selling, says Mr Helou, who is now the chief executive and founder of The Academy for Sales Excellence.

It all starts with building a rapport with a customer, because people buy from those whom they like and trust. Once that has been achieved, the next step is to understand a client's general problems and needs, before identifying a specific, pressing requirement.

The salesman or woman then presents their solution, reveals and compares prices, offers reasons for the client to buy their product then and there and, lastly, asks for an order.

Six of the seven steps are fairly simple but the first, establishing a rapport, can prove more problematic.

"People always like what is familiar to them," says Mr Helou.

"If you find a way to become familiar to that person, or if both of you have commonalities [it is easier to persuade someone to buy]," he adds.

That could be something as simple as petting the family dog, remarking on a picture or asking about a trophy in a cabinet.

"Not everybody is going to be open to you digging around and you also have to be sensitive to people's personalities," he says.

"But this is the simplest thing I learnt at age 19. You then are becoming a bit closer to that client. "

However, even if you do not appear to share anything in common there are ways to build a rapport at a deeper psychological level.

"You look at body language and physiology," says Mr Helou.

If someone is speaking fast, you should speak fast. Or if they lean back, you should also lean back.

"A lot of times in selling, when the customer gives you an objection, the customer leans back and what does the sales rep do? He leans forward because he starts fighting. But all of a sudden from a body language perspective you have broken that physical rapport with the person," he says.

But Mr Helou points out buyers can also learn how to strengthen their position. There are two things customers must keep in mind during any negotiation: time; and options, he says. Buyers who appear to be out of time or options are in a substantially weaker position.

Mr Helou illustrates this with the story of a company that called in a bottled-water supplier for a further meeting three months after turning down its original bid. Asking what had changed, the customer admitted he was unhappy with his current supplier, who was regularly out of stock and had failed to answer calls on numerous occasions.

After confirming he was able to meet the order, the new supplier gave the customer a higher price than the one the buyer was currently paying.

"[The company said to the supplier], 'The other guys were giving them to me for much cheaper. Can't you give me a discount?'"

The supplier confirmed he could - on two conditions: when the client calls to order more bottled water he will not always be answered; and when is answered, the client will be told the supplier is out of stock.

"Negotiating isn't just lowering price. There's a value. If my product is available in your outlet, you are making more sales," says Mr Helou. "If you understand what the product you are selling does for the client you are serving, then you are in a stronger position, aren't you?"

And the bottled-water supplier? He capped the day by sealing the deal.

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