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How many people reading this are trying to make sales where buyers postpone purchases or decide to do without? Business owners and salespeople can become creatures of habit, continuing to prospect in increasingly dead markets instead of trying something different. Gloom spreads and the talk is only of how bad things are. Yet, according to the Statistics SA’s quarterly report in the third quarter of 2015, the total turnover of all the companies in the private sector alone was above 2 trillion Rand. That is two thousand billion Rand in three months, or about R4 billion an hour. Hardly a case of ‘nobody is buying’, is it?

Sales trainers and coaches have punched home that you must find customer needs and then apply your products to them. But what happens when there are no apparent customer needs, so there are no buyers? For instance, you may be selling to a mining sector that has cut costs to remain profitable. They will put purchases on hold where possible. As the seller you can keep trying, or you could switch focus to construction, or tourism that is doing far better. The message is: Understand your markets and your customer’s customer. Then follow growth and success.

We spend so much time speaking about bad times that we forget about local success stories. Many South African businesses have achieved huge growth, built vast empires, or launched revolutionary technologies and services. Some are household names, but most are hidden surprises. It is a lot easier to sell to fast growing and highly profitable companies than to struggling ones. The many success stories are profiled in publications, talked about on business news shows, examined in blogs and featured on social media. Spend time following these, and develop a database of successful companies, together with the information on what made them so successful. Then get the products and services which will fit their needs for an easier path to increased sales.

If you really know your market you may be able to cater for a need that nobody realises they have. I was told this wonderful example of intelligent selling to needs. Many years ago, a new estate agent was given the worst possible territory – Kensington, Johannesburg. People were born and died in the same house. Very few houses were sold. Realising he would be very poor if he did nothing, the estate agent set about learning all about his potential customers – how many people of what ages lived in each house? How many generations? Then he gathered information on births, marriages, deaths and children completing school. As families became smaller due to children leaving or deaths, they needed less space. At the same time growing families needed more space. Now he simply arranged to move people around Kensington to properties which better suited their needs, and became highly successful. Do you know your potential customer needs as well as that long-ago salesperson did?

Ask yourself: "Why would they buy from me, when they have so many possible suppliers?" "Why now?" With prospects you need to understand what would satisfy their needs and wants best, so you can answer those two critical questions. Do not fool yourself by thinking your great quality, technology, or service will get you the deal. These factors are expected of all suppliers now. It is a lot easier to answer these questions for existing customers, because you have better lines of communication, so they should be your first target. It is a rare company that can claim that all their customers buy everything they could buy from them, so there is an opportunity to capture a greater share of the customer’s spending by making attractive offers to customers to fill the gaps. Reading about wonderful local success stories, and really understanding customers, beat talking about how bad things are hands down!

To support business owners with the important task of business planning, Sanlam gives you free access to the book Your Annual Business Game Plan for Success, which provides an easy and straightforward framework needed to draft a well-crafted game plan that will create the positive change and growth necessary for business success.

Go to to download your free copy.

This article was written by mentor and coach, Ed Hatton. See for more information. Ed’s business advice blog is at



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