Engage and Qualify Your Prospect
"I only wish I could find an institute that teaches people how to listen. Business people need to listen at least as much as they need to talk. Too many people fail to realize that real communication goes in both directions."
Engage Your Prospect
As we have discussed before, “sales” is all about trust. You must strive to become your customers’ trusted ally. Your customers should feel comfortable asking you for advice within your discipline. They must believe that you will always steer them in the direction that is best for them and not just the best for you, and they must be right.
Trust is the most important ingredient in turning a prospect into a lifelong customer. Never do anything to damage the trust your prospects and customers feel for you or your business. Once it is gone, so is the relationship.
In sales, first impressions are extremely important. You’ve got less than 10 seconds to make a first impression, so it is important to make every second count. Consider what your salespeople say, how they look, and how they act. Everything has an emotional impact on your prospects, however subtle, so time spent preparing for those 10 seconds will pay off dramatically. They are the most important 10 seconds of the entire sales process because if a prospects mind is closed before you begin your presentation, opening it again is next to impossible.
Nearly 75 percent of the customers who don't come back to a business complain of rude or uninformed salespeople.
Following are some ideas for helping you and your salespeople initiate a trusting relationship with your prospects. As you review the list, think about how you might improve this important first step in your Sales System.
- Call your prospects by their names — People like to hear their names. It makes them feel good, plus it shows that you are tuned into them as individuals… that they are more than just another prospect. If possible, learn your prospects’ names in advance (including how to correctly pronounce them).
Determine if and when it is appropriate for your salespeople to use your customers’ first names or surnames, and then make it a policy.
Shake your prospect’s hand, if appropriate — Studies have shown that appropriate physical contact can help to raise people’s opinion of you. This is important, given the emotional nature of Sales. There is an exception to every rule of course, so be aware that occasionally, someone will not feel comfortable shaking hands. It is also important to be aware of social, cultural and religious differences.
Maintain good personal hygiene — It may be an obvious point, but brush your teeth or have a mint after you eat that Caesar salad for lunch. If you don’t look and smell clean, your prospects won’t hear a word you are saying. Their minds will be focused on your appearance or your smell, rather than on your message.
Listen more than you talk — You’ve got two ears and one mouth. Use them in the same proportion. When you listen, you learn, and the more you learn about your prospects, the more you can help them.
Sell in the right place — Make sure your prospect is someplace she feels comfortable. If possible, get her out of her regular working environment to minimize distractions. If your prospect is constantly distracted during your sales presentation, her mind will not be focused on your conversation.
Be on time — Never keep a prospect waiting. If you cannot be on time, do everything in your power to let your prospect know as far in advance as possible. Even if there is a possibility that you will be late for an appointment, it is wise to let your prospect know. Remember that trust begins with integrity and integrity is demonstrated by following through with your promises. Missing your first promise by being late is not a good way to begin a relationship with your prospect.
Avoid clichés — Instead of saying “Can I help you?” when a prospect comes into your store, for example, try “Hello, my name is Mark and I work here. If you have any questions, just let me know.” Anything friendly and non-threatening will be an improvement over the tired old clichés. By getting away from the expected, you immediately differentiate yourself from the myriad of other stores your prospect has walked into over the last week.
Stay positive — No matter how negative your prospect may be they will appreciate you better if you maintain a positive outlook on life. Listen with sympathy to your prospects’ complaints, but look for the bright side to every negative comment. Try not to argue with your prospect, however. Find something positive to say without directly contradicting them. You’re trying to create an ally, not an enemy. For example, if a prospect comes in complaining about the rain, you might respond by saying, “at least the flowers will be happy.” Or, “it’s going to be a good night for sitting by the fire with a good book.” Of course there are exceptions to every rule, personal tragedies for example, so use your best judgement.
Avoid “bad-mouthing” your competition — Even if your competition does it to you, never speak negatively about them to your prospects. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t demonstrate why your products or services will serve your prospect’s needs better than your competition’s will. But putting your competition down in a malicious fashion only makes you look bad. Should your prospect bring up your competition, try saying something like, “they make a good product, but I think you’ll find that the additional features available with our product make it more suited to your needs.”
Give compliments — Look for something to compliment your prospect on. If you know something about them (perhaps they are an outstanding tennis player), so much the better, but even if you have just met them you will likely be able to find something to compliment, even if it is just their taste in clothing. When you give your prospect something to feel proud about, they will automatically warm up to you. It feels good to receive a compliment, and we all instinctively like people who make us feel good.
One more thing, make sure your compliments are honest ones. People can usually tell when you are not being truthful, and they will resent rather than appreciate you for it, so take the time to find something you truly appreciate about your prospect. Everyone does something well, but on the rare occasion that you cannot think of anything, saying nothing is still better than making something up you don’t really mean.
Focus on your prospect, not on yourself — People like to talk about themselves, so indulge them. Allow them to be the centre of attention by asking open-ended questions about their hobbies, their work, or anything else they might enjoy. It is better to be interested than it is to be interesting. Not only will this start your relationship off on the right foot, but you will learn a good deal more than you would if you did all of the talking. If you notice a photo on their office wall of them on a fishing trip, for example, why not ask them a little about their fishing interest, or about the trip that generated the photo?
Avoid controversial subjects — You can never be completely certain of someone’s political or religious beliefs, so it is best to stay away from these topics altogether. The last thing you want to do is get into an argument with your prospect, but the negative impact can even be farther-reaching than that. When your salespeople express their opinions on controversial subject matter, they paint your entire business with the same brush. Since your salespeople represent your entire business to your prospects, their personal opinions represent the opinions of your entire business to your prospects. For this reason, it is usually best for your salespeople to avoid controversial topics altogether.
One obvious exception to this rule is if you have important Corporate Values or a Market Position that contradict this advice. For example, your company may take a formal stand on the use of harmful pesticides in your products. In this case, if your prospect disagrees with your position, they are probably not representative of your Target Market.
Speak their language — Avoid technical jargon that your prospects may not understand. Instead, try to get on the same wavelength as your prospects. People will be more honest and forthcoming if they feel you are “one of them.” Of course, if you are selling to a group of your peers it may be perfectly appropriate to use technical jargon. The important thing is that you are aware of your behaviour. After all, trying to identify and satisfy your prospects needs is something you can’t do without their willing cooperation.
Treat them with respect — While your role should be that of a trusted advisor, you must avoid at all costs any tendency to speak down to your prospects. If your products or services are technical in nature, it is likely that you have a superior understanding of their applications. Given this, your prospects may feel apprehensive or inferior when discussing the technical merits of your products with you. If this is a possibility, make sure your prospects know that while you are an expert in your field, you respect them for their achievements as well.
"There is an automobile repair shop that caters primarily to women. By treating their customers with uncommon respect, they have successfully made their female clients feel comfortable with an industry that often alienates them. “
- Under promise and over deliver — Happy is the customer who receives more than he expected. It dramatically improves his perception of the value he has received for his money.
On the other hand, you never want to over promise and under deliver either. So train your sales staff to stay clear of the temptation to “promise the world” to get the sale. They may get the sale, but if your company doesn’t deliver on that promise they will lose the customer.
- Dress Appropriately — The rule you often hear is “dress the same as your prospects,” but this is a little over simplified and not always appropriate. If you sell life insurance to construction workers, for example, it probably won’t help if you wear ripped jeans and a dirty old t-shirt. What is important, however, is that your prospects are comfortable with the way you look.
A better rule of thumb may be to dress the way your prospects would expect someone they trust and respect to dress. In some instances this may be a neat and clean uniform, in others it may be a business suit. When in doubt, it is usually safer to dress a little more formally than your prospects than it is to dress more casually than them.
As subjective as this decision is, it is still a good idea to implement some type of dress code for your salespeople (and everyone else in your company for that matter). It can be as vague or as specific as necessary, but the way your employees dress reflects back on your company, so ignoring it will usually lead to problems.
- Systemize your approach — This is nothing new, but it bears repeating here. Relationships are built on trust, and trust is a by-product of integrity. By systemizing your customer relations, you can ensure that your company is able to keep the promises your sales people make to your customers, thereby preserving your integrity and promoting trustworthy relationships.
Dave is the owner of a small family run appliance business. Dave is extremely knowledgeable about the products in his store and on the market. He helps his customers to pinpoint exactly what they need, but often, customers want to be sure of their purchases and so they tell him that they want to go to one last store before making their final decision. Dave has one of the best sales systems you will ever witness. His response to potential customers who are on the fence about purchasing appliances from his store goes something like this:
“I understand that you are looking for the best deal in town and I can appreciate that, because I do the exact same thing. But after you’ve done that, I want you to think of one thing. When you buy an appliance someplace else, you get just that, an appliance. Perhaps even a great quality of an appliance….but when you buy it here, you get one thing you can not get anywhere else, and that’s me! I come with everything I sell and stand behind everything I sell. I need you to be happy with what you buy. We’ve been here for over 40 years, my father taught me the business, and I am teaching my son the business. So you know one thing for sure: when you buy your appliances here, you get me, which means I do everything I can to be sure you never regret doing business with me. That’s my personal guarantee.” And with that, he ran to the back to get something for us. He handed us a tub of all natural vanilla ice cream and thanked us for giving him the opportunity to show us his appliances.
How much time do you think Dave's prospects have to shop around without the ice cream safely in a freezer? Needless to say, Dave converts a lot of tire kickers into customers and even better, many referrals.
Use the space below to write the Prospect Engagement portion of your Sales System. This should include any policies and/or scripts that might help your sales staff get off to a good start with their prospects. For example, how will your sales people dress? What will they say? How will they behave? In general, what type of first impression will they make?
Qualify Your Prospect
As outstanding as your products or services are, there will always be some people who are not your potential customers. These are the people outside of your Target Market. If you sell prescription eyeglasses, for example, no matter how great your deal is, people without vision problems will not buy them.
A good prospecting system will filter out most of these “cold” leads before they get to you, but some will always find their way through. That means you need a screening system to identify those who enter your sales funnel who are not truly potential customers. Do this by asking qualifying questions early on in the process; questions that will confirm the buying potential of your prospect.
It is equally important to find out if you are speaking with the decision maker. Especially when selling to a business. It is easy to waste a lot of time trying to sell to someone who doesn’t have the authority to make a buying decision. He may be an excellent referral source for someone who can make a buying decision, but try not to let him make the entire pitch for you. It is unlikely that he will be able to present your products or services as well as you or your salespeople can.
When it becomes obvious that a prospect is not a potential customer, you will want to move on, or ask for a referral to the decision maker. Do so quickly, but remain cordial. You never know who this person knows or who they may become, so politely move on, keeping the doors open for the future.
Write the prospect qualifying section of your Sales System in the space below. What are some questions that you or your sales staff could ask your prospects in order to qualify them as potential customers? As an example, an advertising agent might ask, “What is your budget for this project?” An automobile salesperson might ask, “What type of vehicle do you currently drive?”