Salespeople are a funny lot. Regardless of whether you are an outside salesperson, work at the retail counter, or sell installed services, the goal is the same: Close the sale. No doubt you're decent at selling because, in these rough times, you'd be shown the door if you weren't. But in spite of your relative success, answer this: Do you know why you made the last sale? If you don't know the answer, you're losing out on a lot of growth and additional sales.

Mike Butts Photo: Tom Gennara / What was it in your overall presentation that persuaded the customer to finally make the decision to buy whatever it was you were selling? I'm not talking here about the "lay-down" customer who simply walks up and spills his cash onto the counter. I'm referring to that customer you had to prospect for the lead, go through the courtship of establishing credibility and winning trust, qualify the person to determine true needs, and finally prepare a proposal that met those needs, including budget constraints, delivery terms and, if applicable, installation. In other words, the hard ones.

Now ask yourself that simple question again: What was it that caused this customer to finally say "yes" and agree to buy? In a previous life I certainly learned the value of finding out.

Years back, in a totally different industry, I was responsible for training a large and diverse number of salespeople across the country. We sold a high-end product against fierce competition. Buyer's remorse, or canceled sales, were an everyday occurrence that we tried to avoid at all costs. So I started looking at what caused our customers to take our product.

I trained our salespeople to finalize all the paperwork in a very professional manner, ensure that everything was completed, and move everything to the side of the desk. Then, in a conversational tone, that salesperson would look the customer straight in the eyes and ask: "What was it that persuaded you to finally agree to invest in this new XYZ product?" And then the salesperson was to shut up and let the customer answer. Believe me, sitting still for those few moments is very difficult, but extremely educational.

In the next few moments, I learned, the customer will begin to tell you what you did, what the company represents, what the product is expected to do?in other words, how it meets their desires for improvement, enhancement or a gain in some way. They will tell you why they bought, and what you and your company did right.

Listen carefully, grasshopper, for in these few moments you will learn and grow. Be smart, don't try to interject, don't try to expound; simply smile and listen and learn. Note what they say. Then congratulate them and make notes for future coaching.

The future coaching thing is very important, too. I would bet that if you examined your customer group, what I call a "book of business," you will discover that most of your core customers fall into similar categories of age, race, style of home, product mix, etc. We tend to attract people who are similar and sell to that group over and over again. So what works well with one person stands a good chance of working well with a new client from the same demographic mix.

Want to grow sales? Become your own sales coach. Take notes on what you do right, what you miss, where you need practice. Then work on your weaknesses. Most important, know what it is that makes your customers buy from you and not the guys down the street. Don't ever assume it's because of your winning personality. It may be, but it may also be something totally different. The true professionals know and keep score; the amateurs keep swinging and missing.

Next month, I'm going to look at the other side of the sales spectrum: why do you miss sales and what are you doing about it?

Mike Butts is president of LBM Solutions Inc., a DeWitt, Mich.?based LBM supply consulting and training firm. 517.267.8757. E-mail: [email protected]