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Don't Leave Them Speechless

Why having a conversation--not a presentation--with a prospect is the best way to get the sale

You've found a good prospect, you've grabbed their attention, and you think they are interested in what you're selling. Time to pull out your best sales presentation and then go for the close, right?

I see it on a daily basis, in every industry, at every level. It happens on the telephone, in the showroom, on a customer visit or sales call and even in the boardroom. New and seasoned salespeople alike want to jump to the good part of selling--they want to wow prospects with a powerful presentation that leaves them speechless.

Unfortunately, that is usually what happens: What used to be a solid prospect sits speechless, and you have nowhere to go in this sales relationship but back to your office. What started out as a promising sales call quickly grinds to a halt. Every salesperson has experienced at least one of these stalled sales calls. If you are serious about selling, you have to ask yourself "What happened, and how can I make sure that I don't do it again?"

What happened is, you ended the "sales conversation" and turned it into a "sales presentation." A conversation is something two or more people have; a presentation is something that a person gives--where you give a canned presentation and hope that it met the needs and buying criteria of the person who just happened to be in front of you. A sales conversation ends when you forget to earn the right to qualify the prospect.

Traditional sales training teaches the salesperson how to administer a series of open-ended questions. If the prospect answered the questions truthfully, the salesperson would have a complete list of features they needed to highlight during their presentation.

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The problem is, you can't get real answers by interrogating a prospect; they just aren't willing to put up with hardball tactics. To involve your customer in the buying process, you have to earn the right to make some kind of presentation to them. When you know what it is specifically that they need and want, you are in a position to give a memorable and effective presentation. Earn the right to qualify your prospect by following these steps:

  1. Do your homework before the call. Pre-call planning should be part of all your sales efforts. Stay current in your industry and market. It is easy to find out about your prospect's company with some simple online software tools. The Alexa Tool Bar, for instance, provides you with an idea of how popular a site is and links to sites that are related. You should also have a standard way of auditing a Web site. Look for details on any of the key products, services and contacts. Make sure to read current news and press releases on the site.
  2. Project the right image. How do you come across when you interact with customers? Earning the right to ask qualifying questions means that you project yourself as being sensitive to your customer's unique situation. Is this how you are perceived on the phone, in the showroom or in a sales call? Ask a co-worker to comment on how you come across when you interact with your customers to make sure that the image you project fits with the situation.
  3. Remove the sales tension. It's OK if the customer tells you they're just looking or aren't ready to buy today. With so many sales messages targeted at consumers each day, they're conditioned to say no. When someone suspects they are being sold, it's only natural to try to defend themselves. Allowing them to tell you they're just looking or aren't ready to buy releases the tension they feel and allows a prospect to be receptive to you.
  4. Use effective communication skills. This builds trust and creates rapport throughout your interaction with the customer. People tend to buy from people they know and like, so use effective communications skills like mirroring and matching. If you're not familiar with these terms, mirroring means that you use the same body language, postures, breathing and gestures as your prospect. Matching means that you use the same style of language. Match the prospect's communication by using the same speed, tone, pitch and word patterns.
  5. Take your time. The advertising industry knows that it takes time to build trust. That's why they build a relationship over time. How much time you have to build trust and earn the right to qualify a prospect is dependant on your industry. While expecting a sale on first contact is admirable, it may not be the best strategy for long-term success. Research tells us that more than 70 percent of sales come after the fifth call you make, so take your time and get to really know who it is that you are with.

What I am suggesting is not that you stop making presentations to your customer, but that you slow down. Earn the right to do a presentation by finding out the real needs and wants of every prospect you meet. Confirm that in fact they have a problem you can solve and let them know you care about them before you try to present any solution. Earn the right to finally present a product or service--with open and clear communication, they'll hear what you have to say.


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.

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