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Smart Salespeople Keep Their Mouths Shut

You don't close sales by being a blabbermouth. Try letting your prospects talk.

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Q: Our midsized business does research for various pharmaceutical companies. Recently, we made a presentation to one of these companies, and I felt awkward and somewhat poorly organized. Needless to say, the meeting could have gone more smoothly. I'm looking for advice that will help me in a situation where I may be faced with closing the sale. Do you have any suggestions or specific recommendations?

A: Did you know that in the most successful meetings, the prospects do most of the talking? Your primary job is to simply ask the right questions, listen carefully to the answers and propose reasonable solutions.

There are two types of questions: closed and open-ended. Closed questions are good conversation starters and can be answered with "yes," "no" or a short answer. Open-ended questions, such as "What do you like best about your present research firm?" help you uncover emotions and feelings. You establish a dialog using closed questions and draw out your prospects using open-ended questions. In this way, you can uncover their needs and fulfill them.

If you encounter objections, you can use what I call "just suppose" questions to help prospects respond affirmatively. For example, a prospect tells you she doesn't like using multiple research firms, one for field research and another for online surveys. You might say: "Just suppose you could obtain quality field services and all the online and telephone research you need under one roof. You'd like that, wouldn't you?" She's bound to say yes.

When you first speak with a prospect on the phone, be prepared with a list of questions designed to uncover his or her needs. This will give you the basic information necessary to prepare a short presentation for your meeting. Be sure to structure it to foster interaction throughout. Also, schedule sufficient time after your presentation to ask more questions, gauge how your ideas were received and use what you learn to propose additional solutions.

Closing requires moving prospects to the next level of commitment. Once you've helped them see the benefits of hiring your firm, they'll be anxious to get started, and you'll have to do very little work to close. Even if they're not ready to make a decision, it's always vital to get a firm commitment to move forward. State what action you plan to take, such as, "I'll call you Tuesday to set up a meeting for the week of the 5th to finalize our program." And be sure to follow through.

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