From the September 2002 issue of Startups

George Bernard Shaw once said, "The only person that behaves sensibly is my tailor. He takes new measurements every time he sees me."

So how can you gain the tailor mentality...and use it to your advantage? It all hinges on the next step in the sales conversation.

In previous articles, we've looked at tactics and strategies for moving a sales conversation forward.

You made sure you were "turned on" and ready to sell.

You acknowledged the invisible wall your prospects put up to protect themselves from pesky salespeople, and then earned their trust with your rapport skills.

With the lines of communication open, you grabbed the prospects' attention and made them hungry to hear your presentation.

The next step: the presentation. What you say here makes or breaks the sale.

For most salespeople, this is the fun part of the sales process. The presentation is their opportunity to show and tell. They're the center of attention and in control of the situation. They can showcase their expertise, as well as their grasp of the customers' problems.

However, getting the sale means you have to take the time to measure. Your goal is to create an exact fit for your customer, and an exact fit requires your review of that unique individual's requirements at every given opportunity. Each of your potential customers comes with his or her own requirements.

Although a sales conversation should never be about what you think customers should like, don't be afraid to give your opinion when it's appropriate. If customers ask for your thoughts, tell them. Include the reasoning behind your comments. This is where customers expect to benefit from your experiences and expertise.

Those new to sales enter into every sales conversation with the belief that any fit is better than no fit. This just is not the case if you're taking a long-term view of your business. A seasoned salesperson is always comfortable disqualifying a customer. When you know you cannot provide what the customer wants and needs, tell him. Be honest and upfront with the customer. If appropriate, tell him why you can't help him, and word of mouth advertising will start working for you, not against you.

A good tailor may remember your name. A great tailor remembers your name and your measurements. Before you start any sales call, make sure to find out exactly what solution your prospect might have been using. This is especially true if you're dealing with an existing customer. Use customer relationship management software to track and manage the details, so you have them at your fingertips when you need them.

How else can you ensure a great presentation? Be an aggressive listener.

The Rules of Aggressive Listening

Aggressive listening gives you the chance to expand any conversation, clarify the real meaning of the words the prospect uses and control the direction of the sales conversation.

Aggressive listening means you're empathetic to the emotional state of the customer and that you read body language as well as spoken language. Being in tune with your prospect's nonverbal communication allows you to recognize when you may be losing his or her attention, and makes it easier to reconnect.

Here are some simple "aggressive listening" skills that will give you an exact fit:

  • Clarify assumptions. What are you assuming about the prospect? Their needs and wants? The amount they may have budgeted for a solution? How about the timing? Are they ready to buy today? What preconceived ideas do your customers have about you and your company?

Question every assumption, even the minor ones. An incorrect assumption is the number-one reason for a stall at the end of the sale.

  • Stay on guard for your prospect's hidden agenda. Be on the lookout for an emotional plea from your prospect. Comments like, "Trust me on this one," "Would I lie to you?" "If you really want to know what's going on, talk to me" should set off alarms. Direct the conversation back to the solution you're working on. The customer's reluctance to return to the sales conversation lets you know you might be dealing with the wrong person and may need to reevaluate the entire sale.
  • Ask questions if you don't understand what your customer is saying. Most people fail to ask questions because they're afraid of looking ignorant. People love to talk about themselves and will jump at the chance to explain all the points you need clarified, often in great detail.
  • Pay attention to how comments are made. Actions speak louder than words. Be aware of the voice qualities when you're talking to your prospect. Listen for changes in volume, pitch, tempo, timbre and speed. If you notice these qualities change when the prospect is talking about a particular subject, ask for clarification.
  • Question words that aren't specific. Ask for details. Words like "they," "them," "it" and "there" are vague. Whom specifically are they referring to? What particular item did they mean? What was the exact location?
  • Question absolutes. Common expressions like "everybody," "always," "must," "have to," "always" and "never" need clarification. Ask your prospect what he means when he says "everyone" or why he thinks something is a "must."

Like a great tailor, be sensible. Will all these points guarantee a perfect fit? No. However, if you take the time to measure every customer, you'll be remembered and referred. In sales, it's your job to fit the clothes, not make them.


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.