QUESTION: How can I persuade reluctant potential clients? How much time and effort should I put into pursuing someone who needs my service, but who still says no?
ANSWER: To persuade the reluctant, you must first determine the source of their reluctance. If they're somewhat interested, it's your job to find out what will motivate them to buy, and address whatever issues are holding them back. Do they need what you're offering? Is your price right? What's their decision-making process? Develop relationships with them so they feel comfortable expressing their concerns.
Asking questions and listening carefully for insights about their hesitation can provide you with key information. You might ask if they've purchased similar services or products before, if they were happy with the transactions, what they're looking for now and what additional information they need to make a decision. If price is an issue, consider making an introductory offer, so they can start on a smaller scale.
As for how long to persist, national surveys of professional salespeople indicate that, on average, it takes four to six sales pitches to make a sale. Of course, individual buyer behavior varies. Some people decide instantly and communicate their decision clearly. Other people send signals that they're ready to buy, without coming right out and saying it. Test a customer's readiness by asking questions like "Shall I draw up an agreement?" "Is now a good time to start?" and "Would you like me to ship it?"
Yet others need more time to make decisions and may require all of those calls. Many consumers need more than a verbal description. They may want to review written materials, see a sample or demonstration, get someone else's opinion or comparison-shop before they buy.
Recently, we needed new furniture for our home. We found two pieces we really liked, but the salesperson told us they had to be ordered from the factory and couldn't be delivered for six weeks. We said we'd go home and think it over. The salesperson quickly asked, "Would you like me to see if I could arrange for you to take these floor samples with you today?" That did it. We immediately bought both pieces. Find out what each potential customer needs to hear before he or she makes the decision to buy.
Small-business experts Paul and Sarah Edwards recently released their second edition of Getting Business To Come To You (Putnam Publishing Group). If you have a question regarding a start-up business issue, contact them at http://www.paulandsarah.com or send it in care of Entrepreneur.