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Right on Target

Hit the mark with prospective customers by learning how to find their hot buttons.

Wouldn't it be great if every prospective customer you had came right out and said "Here's what's most important to my company--and here's what I need your product to do for me"? That would definitely increase your closing ratio. Usually, however, discovering a customer's hot buttons isn't quite that simple.

A hot button is anything that's of major importance to a prospective buyer. To one customer, it might be timely delivery; to another, it might be making a stronger marketing impact. If you approached both of those prospects with the same pitch or presentation, you'd surely miss the mark on one or the other (and maybe even both). That's why you need to seek out every customer's key needs and tailor your presentations accordingly. Here are a few ways to make that happen:

1. Get a conversation going. Ask prospects to give you a general overview of their industries. When they get to a point that might relate to your product or service, say, "What do you mean by that?" or "Can you give me an example?" It's the old iceberg technique: You're constantly trying to find out what's underneath the surface that's really causing problems for them. You do that by getting your prospects to open up so you can uncover their biggest challenges. You might not be able to solve all their problems, but there will probably be some key issues your product or service can address.

2. Be direct. It's OK to ask your prospects what concerns keep them up at night or what's most important to their businesses right now. You might not have immediate solutions, but you can tell prospects: "Now that I know what's most important to you, let me do some homework, make some changes and get back to you on Wednesday." Most customers appreciate questions that get to the heart of the matter and give them the opportunity to discuss important issues.

3. Connect on a personal level. Your goal is to build rapport that will allow the customer to relate to you on a deeper level. Be yourself, and your customers will likely feel comfortable enough to open up and reveal valuable hot buttons they haven't shared with anyone else.

4. Follow up in writing. Send prospects letters or e-mails that highlight their major concerns, such as the three things they said were most important to them when making decisions about your product or service. This gives the prospect a chance to get back to you and say, "What I really meant was . . . " or, "There's one more thing I should add to that list . . . ." This kind of follow-up can make a huge difference, especially if you're dealing with a long sales cycle or a high-ticket item where it's crucial to understand all the details.

It all comes down to communication. You've got to ask open-ended questions that get a conversation going, hone your listening skills to pick up the clues your customers are giving you, and use those hot buttons to close your sales.

Barry Farber is the author of 11 books on sales, management and peak performance. His latest release, "Diamond in the Rough" CD program, is based on his book, radio and television show. Visit him at www.BarryFarber.com, or email him at barry@barryfarber.com.

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This article was originally published in the February 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Right on Target.

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