What can the modern small-business owner learn from Dale Carnegie, a man who was born in 1888 and died in 1955? A lot, if you believe the many entrepreneurs, from MBA students to Fortune 500 CEOs, who still read his most famous book, How to Win Friends and Influence People.
You see, Carnegie knew how to sell. Fresh out of college, he quickly became the top-performing sales rep in the nation for his employer, Armour & Co. He went on to become a highly sought-after innovator and public speaker. His strategy was simple: Take a genuine interest in the lives of others.
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you,” he wrote.
Here are nine sales tips based on the principles Carnegie outlines in the book.
Tip 1: Smile. Carnegie called it “a simple way to make a good first impression.” Every business encounter — across the desk, at the customer’s front door, and even on the telephone — should begin with a smile. “Actions,” Carnegie noted, “speak louder than words. And a smile says, ‘I like you.’”
Tip 2: Listen. Customers and clients want to hear what you have to say, but they want you to hear what they have to say first. Beyond that, consider this: How can you, as a sales rep, know what customers need if you don’t give them chance to tell you?
Tip 3: Arouse an “eager want.” It almost sounds poetic. Carnegie cited Harry A. Overstreet as the originator of this idea. Overstreet said, “Action springs from what we fundamentally desire.” If you own a bait store, understand that customers do not desire night crawlers; they desire catching fish. Pitch accordingly.
Tip 4: Use names. Learn the names of your employees, your customers, and your prospects as they enter your sphere of business. After you learn those names, use them. Carnegie’s principle here is simple: A person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
Tip 5: Avoid arguments. This would seem to be almost a “given,” but far too many salespeople, perhaps in their zeal, engage in arguments with a customer who shows resistance or says he or she likes another brand. Carnegie said, “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.” Be respectful of the customer’s opinion. Do not argue, criticize, or condemn. You will have an opportunity to brag about your offering soon enough.
Tip 6: If appropriate, apologize. If, at any point in a sales transaction or pitch, you discover you have made an error, don’t make excuses. Say you are sorry and do so emphatically, Carnegie said. Then move on. You may be surprised at how quickly the whole incident is forgotten. If you insist on building a case for why you erred, you’ll only drag things out.
Tip 7: Let customers sell to themselves. In general, people do not like to be told what to do or what to buy. Provide information and be helpful, but let customers make the decision. You do this by asking questions and steering the conversation until customers realize that your product or service is the solution they’ve been looking for.
Tip 8: Ask what’s in it for customers. When discussing your product, put it in terms that speak to your customers’ interests. You may have the biggest, fastest, and most reliable product on the market, but unless customers see how it benefits them, you won’t make sales.
Tip 9: Dramatize your ideas. This has less to do with human interaction and more to do with a flair for the dramatic. Do not be afraid to engage in a little showmanship, as long as it is honest and doesn’t mislead people. For example, Carnegie tells the story of a cash-register salesman who told a grocer that the registers his store was using were so old that he was literally throwing money away. With that, the salesman threw a handful of coins on the floor. He got the sale.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, a sales transaction is a conversation between two people — whether in person, on the phone, or online. One person wants to buy; the other wants to sell. The conversation is the bridge that makes it all happen. Dale Carnegie said the secret to success was being interested in other people. Now you know it, too.