Afraid of Making Sales?

by Nancy Humphreys on December 15, 2012

Do you believe sales require using forceful techniques such as “handshake intimidation”? Do you think using powerful body language works best to get what you want? And do you say to yourself, “That’s just not my style!”

Here’s what I have to share about about making sales.

My dad was a salesman. He sold teeth, equipment, and dental supplies to dentists. Unfortunately I wasn’t remotely interested in dentistry or sales as a youngster. I went off to college and ultimately wound up becoming a librarian, the kind of librarian who answers people’s questions.

Never in a million years did I think that my work at the library reference desk was making sales, but that is exactly what I did. It wasn’t as complicated as you might think either. Here’s the process in a nutshell.

Three steps in selling

To make a sale:

    1. Find out what a person needs or wants
    2. Ask yourself if you believe you can help them
    3. Connect what you’ve learned about the person with what you can offer them

For example, if a patron in the library wanted information about raising bees, I knew where such a book or article could be found. That’s what library school trained me to do.

I also learned in library school that people often don’t ask for what they really need. That meant the librarian ought to be like a detective and ask them questions about what they were looking for in order to uncover the secret of what they really needed.

But in real life, while working in college, university, public, non-profit and business libraries, I found that was rarely the case. People usually ask for exactly what they need. This makes the first step in selling obvious.

(1) Listen carefully to what your potential customer is saying.

Anyone can practice active listening. You already do it with friends and/or at work. And the next step is equally simple. 

(2) Know your product and/or service well enough to tell if you (or it) can do anything for the person you are talking to. 

If your book doesn’t include what a person needs to know, or your service to author doesn’t cover what a prospective buyer wants, you have to tell them that.

Faking it when selling is never a good tactic. Sooner or later, people will see through any pretense. Here’s a video about that by a punk band, The Saints.

Making referrals

If you can’t give someone what they need, decide if you can refer them elsewhere. If you can refer the person, that’s still a service to them. They may come back for what you offer later.

As a librarian I learned to be careful when making a referral. Don’t refer potential customers to another source unless you’ve checked it out first. No one appreciates wasting time and energy barking up a wrong tree. I usually called a library or an expert before referring anyone to them.

If you want to make referrals, make sure you learn how to network well. To learn about networking to get results, I refer you to a former client whose book I indexed. Patti DeNucci’s free newsletter and book, The Intentional Networker are the best things I’ve ever read about networking with potential customers and/or peers. You can find out more at

If you decide you can’t or don’t wish to refer a potential customer elsewhere, that’s fine too. Just tell them, “Sorry, but I can’t help you”.

Now, if you can help someone, what’s left to do?

(3) Answer questions as briefly as possible. Use examples or anecdotes to show how your product or service could address a problem your prospective customer is seeking to solve. 

Drop details into the conversation when pertinent, e.g., “I have two chapters in my book about just that subject”. Otherwise, respond to their questions as honestly as you can.

Here’s a good “To-Don’t List for Selling More“.

Once you are done, ask your prospect if the information you’ve given them has been helpful. Offer to send more information or call them back if they wish. Or if they express interest, ask if they’d like to buy your product or your service.

Whether or not a potential customer buys anything from you, you’ll know you did your best to communicate who you are and what you could do for them.

Next to the excitement of being given money for your book or services, talking about what you do for other people will bring you a lot of satisfaction. Many people will appreciate you for just attempting to help them. Plus, getting to know what your potential customers need will help you in making future sales.

Marketing Your Book to Libraries Marketing Your Books to Libraries: An Insider's Guide for Authors by former librarian Nancy K. Humphreys includes: 
  • How to tell what kind of library to target
  • Types of librarians and books they order
  • Strategies to get past the "gatekeepers" who influence librarians
  • Right ways to approach librarians most likely to order your book

Learn more »

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