The Expert Interview: Alison Edgar, The Entrepreneur’s Godmother
Alison Edgar launched Sales Coaching Solutions in 2011 and quickly grew a thriving business. In the last few years she’s been chosen as the Small Business Saturday, Small Biz 100; voted one of the UK’s top 10 business advisers in the Enterprise Nation competition; and appointed small business advisor to the cabinet office, among other things. Now, as The Entrepreneur’s Godmother, Alison helps small business owners achieve success through her Easy Peasy Sales online courses, as well as mentoring, volunteering and speaking across the UK and the world.
What’s the biggest mistake people make in a sales pitch?
I don’t even have to think about that one: they sell too soon. What they'll do is meet someone and say, “Hi, I’m Bob and I do (whatever it is), would you like to buy this thing?” And then they're really shocked when the answer is no. But they haven’t asked right questions.
What’s a better way to sell?
You get two ears and one mouth, so you need to use them that way. It’s always about asking open questions to determine what the customer needs. You can plan those questions to help you take the conversation in right direction, so that you find out which people need your help. Because sales and customer service are really the same thing.
How do you put that into practice in your own business?
I’ve recently had a new intern starting with me, Jordan, and he’s been on the phones calling people who have done a free course, with the potential of getting them to take new packages. His job is to find out who needs more help with their sales, so he’ll ask questions to find out how they’re getting on, what are their challenges, what are the effects of those challenges on their business, what are they going to do about it. And then he can deliver the benefits of the right course and package for their needs. Rather than saying, “I’ve got this great online course, do you want to buy it?” it’s a conversation. It’s finding the people who need what it is you sell.
What is your top tip for making your website sell?
This is actually a bugbear of mine. Especially in the small business arena, people don’t know the difference between sales and marketing, and websites are about marketing. I always talk about it as a game of golf - marketing puts the tee in the ground and the ball on tee, sales hits it down the fairway and into the hole. It’s only when the ball goes in the hole hat you make money - that’s the sale. People who are new to business think that marketing is the holy grail, that by putting content on a website people will buy. But it also needs people to actually make the sale - you have to pick up the phone, meet people.
How important is the language you use in the sales process?
I’d say first, features tell, benefits sell. If you think about a cup of coffee for example, it’s a cup of hot drink. But the benefits of a cup of coffee are more energy, maybe if the baby’s been keeping you up, it can help you enjoy playing with them again. Another good expression is to sell the sizzle, not the sausage. So it’s similar to marketing but with face-to-face sale it’s also about using emphasis, expression, tone, pace in the way you deliver it.
How can sales and marketing work together?
Words are very powerful, even in the written word. This is where sales and marketing work hand in hand. A lot of people’s websites are a list of “we do this, we do that”. But the benefits should match what the customer needs. It’s easier in sales because we know what customer needs. It’s harder in marketing unless you’ve got a tailored message. It’s not one size fits all and I think that’s where some people’s marketing falls down, they don’t segment.
What’s the one thing you need to be successful in sales?
Confidence; if you don’t have confidence in yourself then other people won’t have confidence in you. You need to use confident language, positive language. For example, my husband is divine but he’s not a particularly positive person. So when it came to selling our old house, people would walk in and say, “Wow, I really like it” and he would point out all of the negatives! It’s not about trying to hoodwink people, but it is talking about those positives.