No two customers are the same. To a small-business owner, that truism means paying close attention to what motivates people to buy. Customers approach buying with their own agenda, says George W. Dudley, chairman of the Behavioral Sciences Research Press, a Dallas, Texas-based research and development firm focused on sales productivity. For example, they could be shopping for specific product features, hoping to build a long-term relationship with the seller, or seeking a strong commitment to reliable service.
That means you should tailor your sales technique based on the primary reason your customer wants to buy. "We have our preferred selling style and it's one we have built up with layers over time," says Jeff Tanner, professor of sales and marketing at the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University. "I don't always see entrepreneurs trying to understand the need from the buyer's perspective."
Here are six ways to close a sale by focusing on what motivates your potential customers to buy.
1. If the buyer is detail-oriented, then showcase the features of your product. Sometimes a customer just wants the facts and might be turned off if you ask lots of questions about his needs rather than give him information, Dudley says. These buyers will be well informed, having researched your offerings and those of your competitors. So pay attention to cues. If the customer's office walls are covered with data charts or he asks for quantifiable results, chances are he's most interested in the details of your product or service rather than the relationship he'll have with you.
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2. If the buyer doesn't know what he needs, then be an advisor first. Some customers don't know exactly what they're looking for. That's what Carrie Chitsey learned not long after she started 3seventy, an Austin Texas-based mobile customer-relationship management company in 2008. Initially, Chitsey concentrated on selling the technology her company offered, but eight months into running the business, she realized her customers often didn't know what they needed. Such potential buyers require more guidance, particularly with technologies and other products they're not well versed in, Dudley says. Now, instead of focusing on a particular product, Chitsey's company advises customers and develops service platforms for them. "We were purely selling technology, and we changed it to more of a needs analysis," Chitsey says.
3. If the buyer is fixated on the relationship, then make a personal connection early. Some customers care about more than the current sale. What matters most is the long-term connection you establish. That's great for future business, but it means you'll need strong interpersonal skills and plenty of time to get to know one another before closing the sale. "They will be looking for ways that you show you care," Dudley says. To demonstrate your willingness to devote time to a customer, you need to meet face-to-face and get to know them beyond simply their business needs. What are their interests? What's their work-life balance like? Be curious and attentive.
4. If the buyer looks for prestige, then tout your A-list clients. Your reputation with other clients can make or break some deals. When Jeff Pedowitz, president and CEO of The Pedowitz Group, an Atlanta Ga.-based marketing agency, began offering his services to larger companies, he realized how important his standing with well-known, reputable clients would be in generating new business. Mentioning previous clients like Google and Intel could help him close deals. "If I'm talking to the CMO of Dell, he is going to want to know we've worked with other global technology companies," Pedowitz says. "If we've only worked with mom-and-pops, my ability to get that account would be greatly diminished." Testimonials and referrals from A-list clients are also valuable.
5. If the buyer focuses on guarantees, then emphasize stellar service. For some clients, it's all about the speed and quality of service. If potential customers ask about service or warranties upfront, chances are they're very interested in what will happen after the sale. That's when policies ensuring fast turnaround times become especially important. When Christian Burris founded Matrix Medical Billing in Mesa, Ariz., in 2007, he focused on the cost savings his service could provide. But six months later, he noticed customers often cared most about fast turnaround time. "As I continued to work with different clients, I found what was important was their ability to get a hold of us," he says. As a result, Burris developed a policy that ensured customers would receive a response within two hours of making a request.
6. If the buyer gets antsy, then go for the close. Watch your customers' signals to see if they want fast action. If you notice impatience when you ask questions, it may be time to cut to the chase. Closing a sale quickly is especially appealing to buyers of certain types of products and services. When dealing with financial services or insurance, for example, some customers may be interested in finishing the transaction quickly, Dudley says. Taking too long to complete the sale, he adds, might send the signal that you're not confident and are wasting their time.
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