1. You will fail to establish credibility during the initial phone call or meeting.
The primary questions looming in the minds of prospects when they first talk with salespeople are, “What do you know about my company?” and “What do you know about my industry?”
If, in the first few minutes of conversation, you don’t convey through your questions or comments that you understand something about the company’s goals or the challenges it faces, the interaction will be short-lived. You’ll be perceived as “just another salesperson.”
Doing research to keep up with what’s going on in your industry is mandatory. If you didn’t, how would you know the best way to position your product or service to take advantage of current trends, market demands, economic conditions, etc.? Going one step further to learn about the prospects you plan to contact (or a prospect who may have initially contacted you) is not only a logical extension of that research, but it is necessary so you can keep the focus of the eventual conversation on the prospect rather than on your product or service. There will be plenty of time to talk about the product or service you have to offer once you’ve established that it fulfills a recognized need… but not before.
Researching a prospective client company is not difficult. A visit to its website, a Google search, a visit to LinkedIn, and a search through industry association websites and reports can provide valuable information. Imagine starting a conversation with the President or CEO of a company by referring to a recent trade journal article about him or his company. By doing that, you immediately elevate your status from just another salesperson to a credible salesperson.
2. You won’t control the conversation.
A common complaint many prospects have about salespeople is that they are too self-centered. That is, they spend too much time talking about themselves, their companies, and their products and too little time focusing on the prospect’s wants and needs.
A common complaint many salespeople have about prospects is that, conversationally speaking, they spend too much time wandering around in left field. That is, they talk about everything except the topic the salesperson wants to discuss.
Can they both be correct?
It doesn’t really matter.
What does matter, however, is that the conversation remains focused on topics that keep the selling process moving forward. And that, first and foremost, is your responsibility.
When you initiate a call to a prospect, have a specific reason for calling (other than to introduce yourself and your company). If you don’t have a specific reason that addresses a prospect’s current or potential future need, then don’t call (and refer to # 1 above).
When you schedule appointments with prospects (and clients), establish a specific mutually-agreed-to agenda for the meeting. The agenda should include the reason for the meeting, the topics for discussion, and the conclusion you will be working toward.
By reviewing the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, you establish a yardstick by which you can measure the progress and effectiveness of the meeting as well as a point of reference for keeping discussions on topic.
3. You won’t add value to the experience.
Prospects are often accused of playing their cards close to the vest for fear of revealing some information that the salesperson might exploit.
Salespeople do the same thing.
They avoid providing too many details about how they do what they do for fear that the prospect will use the information to negotiate a better deal with another provider or create the desired outcome on their own.
If your prospects don’t learn something new during the time they invest with you, what value did you contribute to the encounter?
How are you any different than every other salesperson?
So, how do you provide value without giving away too much?
You can focus on the outcomes your product or service delivers for the prospect. You can describe them and the means of accomplishing them from a conceptual perspective without giving away the “how to” specifics. Sandler® training, for instance “helps sales organizations close more profitable sales more quickly by restructuring their selling process and establishing qualification benchmarks that ensure the salespeople are investing their time with the prospects they have the greatest chance of closing.” (Yes, that was a shameless plug. But, it illustrated the point.)
Also, you can ask thought-provoking questions, especially during initial meetings, that get prospects to view their situations from new perspectives—ideally ones favorable to your product or service.
Finally, you can ask questions that help prospects discover unrecognized underlying reasons for their problems or unanticipated roadblocks to accomplishing their goals. Doing so gives you credibility, separates you from the rest of the pack, and more importantly, gives the prospect a reason to do business with you.
4. You will avoid asking important questions.
When you engage with prospects, they are sizing up you, your company, and its products or services. And while they are doing that, they are deciding if you are credible, if your company is reputable, and if you can provide a best-fit solution for the outcomes they desire.
You, too, should be doing some “sizing up.” You need to determine if you can indeed deliver best-fit solutions for your prospects’ needs, if there is sufficient urgency and priority for them to make buying decisions in a timely manner, and if they have the resources in place to make the purchases.
The only way you can make those determinations is by asking questions—sometimes pointed questions and potentially uncomfortable questions (perhaps for you and the prospects). But you must ask them nonetheless.
Some of the information you will need to uncover in order to fully qualify (or disqualify) an opportunity includes:
- Whether the prospect is working with (or talking to) other providers
- When multiple providers are involved, how the prospect will ultimately decide which one gets the business
- Who is involved in the decision process and what their concerns are regarding the issues surrounding the ultimate decision
- Whether or not funding is in place for the acquisition…and if not, when it will be in place
- By when the buying decision will be made
Prospects may “volunteer” this information during the course of your discussions. But if they don’t, YOU WILL HAVE TO ASK! You may be uncomfortable asking some of these questions, but a few minutes of discomfort is preferable to wasting hours working on presentations or proposals for opportunities you have little or no chance of closing.
5. You will leave things open-ended.
It’s not uncommon for salespeople to end phone conversations or face-to-face meetings with prospects without establishing specific next steps. Both parties have a general idea, their own idea, or no idea about what happens next, by when it will happen, or who will initiate whatever it is. David Sandler appropriately referred to that phenomenon as mutual mystification.
As every scheduled contact with a prospect or client should begin with a review of a previously established, mutually-agreed-to agenda (see # 2 above), it should also conclude with a mutually-agreed-to next step… even if the next step is NO step – i.e., you are closing the file. And, if there is a “next step” to keep the selling process moving forward, it’s up to you to identify it, clarify it, and obtain your prospect’s agreement to it.
If your closing rate is suffering or it’s taking longer than it should to close sales, you may be sabotaging your own efforts. Take a close look at how you interact with your prospects and make sure that each interaction adds value to the relationship, is focused on defining the opportunity, and keeps the selling process moving forward.