From the July 2002 issue of Startups

For many businesses, the summer months mean a sales slowdown. New prospects become hard to find, and current opportunities tell you "I'll have to think it over" or "I'll get back to you in a week or two." It's those kinds of responses that often lead business owners to ask me "How do I handle that?" But in fact, that's part of the problem.

Many people mistakenly identify these customer responses as objections, things that are traditionally "handled." These responses are in fact a "stall" in the sales process and not an objection at all. Things will only get worse with your prospect if you try to "handle" this customer feedback using a traditional objection-handling approach.

So what's the difference between a stall and an objection, and how do you move the sale forward? An objection is really the customer requesting more information or a clarification on information that you may have already provided to them. A stall in the sales process happens when the customer isn't really interested in what you have to say. It's the polite way for a customer to say "I don't think you can help me" or "I don't need what you're selling." A stall means that you haven't found a problem the customer wants to fix. And a problem can only exist when the current situation isn't working. Your role as a salesperson or a marketer is to create an environment where the customer isn't satisfied with the existing situation. When a customer recognizes that what they have today isn't good enough, you'll have their interest.

In May, I talked about making "big fat claims" to remove any chance of a prospect telling you they want to "think it over." Now it's time to create a series of "interest statements" that focus the prospect's attention on a problem you can solve. Here are the six pieces of an interest statement:

  1. State one of your big fat claims. This gets the customer to focus on a problem they might be having. How do you know which claim to make? Do your homework before any sales call. Industries and companies all suffer from the same problems; it's how each fixes them that is usually different. Make sure you have a list of claims ready for this specific customer.
  2. Link the big fat claim to a statement of fact. You just made a claim; now you have to give a reason why. Use the word "because" to associate something about your product or service to the problem the prospect is experiencing. What fact or feature of your product or service allows you to make the claim?
  3. State a logical benefit. This answers the question "So what?" Let the customer know what the fact or feature does. You don't have to be fancy or persuasive at this point; just tell them an advantage they will experience if they use your product or service.
  4. Tie their problem to your solution. What does this really mean to them? Let them know they can expect some real benefits by finding out more. This is the part of the interest step that makes your product or service personal. It answers the question "What's in it for me?"
  5. Make it real-give an example. Do you believe everything that you hear? Of course not! To build credibility into your claims, give a relevant example. Is there a past customer who has benefited from your offering? What results did they experience? A recognized third-party reference is a great way to build trust into any sales call.
  6. Do your homework. Make up five to 10 interest statements, and commit each of the five steps to memory. Before your next sales call, research the customer, their industry and their market. Make a quick list of the potential problem areas, and design some interest statements that give them a reason to continue the sales call.

Here's what a completed interest statement looks like: "We can reduce the time it takes to complete your payroll each week by 20 percent because our online payroll calculator allows you to calculate a pay statement quickly and accurately using the most up-to-date federal and state tax regulations. The tax tables are always current and accurate no matter what part of the country you are located in. What this means to you is increased productivity and reduced costs for your payroll department. Some of our other clients, like XYZ Co., have already seen savings just like this."

The most common mistake I see with most sales calls is jumping into the presentation without first having the prospect deeply interested in hearing what it is you have to say. Without an interest statement, anything you say goes in one ear and out the other.


James Maduk is one of North America's leading sales speakers. He is the creator and publisher of more than 80 online sales training courses, and he broadcasts daily on VirtualSelling Radio. You can reach James at (613) 825-0651 or visit his Web site at www.jamesmaduk.com.