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Sales and Marketing

Successful Selling

November 1, 2013 by Dr. Jon Warner in Sales and Marketing

Successful Selling

At some time in our lives we will be selling something. It may be a product to a customer, an idea to our boss, a concept to a colleague, a solution to a problem to our team or it may be selling ourselves at an interview. Whatever we are selling, the chances are that we will have only a short window of opportunity to exert some positive influence on a decision or, even better, make the sale the first time. To attempt to do this, most of us will adopt one of two approaches. We use force of argument, giving the other person little chance to get a word in, or we concentrate on the features of the product or service and push them seductively at our target audience. Think of the two in terms of TV ads. The loud, buy-it-now, get-free-steak-knives approach and the seductive V6, turbo charged, leather heated seats, overhead cam with alloy wheels approach. Obviously both approaches can work, but only for a very narrow audience. As an alternative to this, the Five Step Selling approach ensures that everyone who needs what you are selling is in your sights ready to buy. The secret is simple … focus on needs.

Any time we want to be successful in our selling (and it has been said we are nearly always selling something when we are communicating) the Five Steps to Successful Selling enables us to sell more, more quickly and with greater integrity because it focuses on the client’s needs.

In simple terms the five steps of this process are as follows:

  1. Create rapport with the client.
  2. Establish the benefits for the client in whatever you are selling.
  3. Tie down the benefits. Check that you have correctly established what they are.
  4. Establish a commitment to buy or take the next step in the buying process.
  5. Complete the sale (execute on what you promise).

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

Step 1: Creating Rapport

At the earliest possible stage when we are in front or a customer or client, we need to try to establish some kind of basic rapport (even where time may be limited) while at the same time giving some data about the product or service. That is, we need to be able to offer a brief product/service overview (what it is, what it does etc.) in as genuinely friendly and engaging a way as possible. If we do this well, we can then ask questions that establish the client’s interest level (but always ensuring we also watch, listen and get a feel for the level of interest we are receiving. An effective salesperson therefore stays at this step until that interest is well-established (and if there is no interest at all, we thank the client for his or her time, and save both parties from what may well have been wasted time and effort.) Remember we all like to buy from people we like or at least respect, so stay in rapport.

Step 2: Establishing the Benefits

Once we have initial interest in what we are selling, and established enough rapport to keep the discussion going,  we can start to concentrate on the specific benefits that may meet the client’s needs. We deliver these verbally in an “initial benefit statement” (which are the broad benefits that we guess may be compelling) and gently then start asking questions which are likely to draw out new needs or rule out our wrong guesses. We must keep asking questions, listening and watching the response carefully, until we establish all of the key needs the client has that relate to our product or service. We stay at this step until we have a full and clear idea of a client’s needs. All of the time we must maintain rapport and “stay present” with the client. That means listening well and focusing attentively on what is being said.

Step 3: Tying Down The Benefits

So far, we should have established reasonable rapport and constructed a list of the benefits of our product or service that we think will most fully meet the client needs. At this step we now simply say to the client “So, if I understand you correctly, these product features …would benefit you by meeting your needs for …”.  Again, watch, listen and concentrate on the feedback as you may still have got some details wrong or missed some other benefits that need to be discussed. Once again, you should also stay at this or previous steps until you have tied down all the benefits and the client has willingly confirmed their needs are met.

Step 4: Establish Commitment

As long as the previous three steps have been covered well and positively, this may be as simple as asking for the order but it may also involve setting a date for the next meeting to involve another person or follow up with more details you may have promised (and is therefore simply the next step in a longer sales process). Whatever the next step, we should always attempt get the client to commit to an action on some kind. If we simply assume they will follow up, we often lose the opportunity completely. The best commitments are written ones. So, where appropriate, have a written order ready for them to sign or send an email confirmation of what you have agreed to do next verbally in the meeting.

Step 5: Completing the Sale

A client will typically feel good about a sale if you have met their needs. We can increase this good feeling by reinforcing his or her decision and leaving them happy and satisfied. We can therefore use appropriate confirmation statements such as “We get such good reports from our clients about this product/service. I know you will love it”. It is important that we let a client know we care about them even after the sale and that we come from a position of concern for service. Last but not least, we should always thank the client for his or her time and/or the order or commitment and follow through or execute on what we have promised along the way. And remember, it is easier to sell the next time to a happy, satisfied previous client than to someone brand new, so keeping in touch after the product or service is delivered is always a good idea.


If the Using the Five Steps to Successful Selling tool does not seem to flow as well as it should, review this check list to ensure that you are following the process well:

  1. Check to see that you built an appropriate level of rapport first and did not push features or benefits too early.
  2. Ask whether you listened well enough to what a client stated about their needs and expectations.
  3. Review whether you gently asked enough questions to ensure that you revealed all of the client’s key needs.
  4. Check whether there is a real need for your product or service. If not then stop talking and graciously thank the client for their time (and wait for the next opportunity)
  5. If the need has been well established and your product or service fits well (or offers plenty of real and tangible benefits) review whether you asked for the order or got sufficient committed action to close the sale.

Using the Five Steps to Successful Selling Checklist

Step 1 -Creating rapport

Create rapport by:

  • Providing brief outline stable data about the product or service – what it is, what it does etc.
  • Building a dialogue with the client (not a monologue)
  • Carefully establishing the interest level of the client
  • Checking the client’s feeling, tone and words for congruity and empathy 

Step 2 -Establishing the benefits

Establish the specific benefits your product or service seems to offer by:

  • Providing an initial benefit statement
  • Asking insightful questions
  • Listening and watching the response carefully
  • Establishing the client’s actual and most pressing needs very precisely
  • Staying “present” with the client at all times 

Step 3 -Tying down the benefits

Confirm that you understand the benefits that seem to apply by:

  • Restating your understanding of the benefits to the client in your own words
  • Ensuring you have a common understanding
  • Being clear and concise
  • Remember not to blanket sell the product features, but first find the most valuable benefit the customer is looking for and identify only those features which provide this benefit
  • Obtaining agreement on the client’s particular needs 

Step 4 -Establishing commitment

Establish commitment by:

  • Asking for the order, enrolment, application or confirmation letter etc. or
  • Setting a date for the next meeting or
  • Agreeing on the next step in the process 

Step 5 -Completing the sale

Complete by:

  • Allowing the client to feel good about their decision
  • Reinforcing the decision
  • Being clear on the next step or follow up steps
  • Leaving them happy and satisfied
  • Always coming from a position of service
  • Following up when delivery has occurred
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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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