People Who Need People

Find out how to break the ice with your prospects and make that all-important customer connection a reality.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the May 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

There's an old saying every salesperson knows by heart: People buy from people they like, trust and respect. They especially buy from people with whom they are comfortable--people who make them feel at ease right from the start.

But for the salesperson, it's often the "start" that's the problem. When you're meeting someone for the very first time, and there's a large sale at stake, it's perfectly natural to be concerned about the outcome. What will you say? How should you act? How can you convince the decision-maker to be your side? The more important the sale, the worse your worrying will get.

That's exactly why breaking the ice--establishing an instantaneous connection with your customer--is so essential to true sales success. If you need some help in this area, you're not alone. Here are six ways you can make that connection:

1. Be yourself. Don't try to act like someone you're not or behave the way you think a salesperson should. That phony salesperson mode is a facade the prospect will notice right away. Let your personality, sense of humor and integrity shine through from the first meeting to the last.

2. Remember the basics. This means a firm handshake, eye contact and a smile. If this seems simplistic, it is. But these small details are a big part of a first impression; they're what people first notice about you.

3. Use common courtesy. Let prospects know you understand how busy they are and that you won't waste their time. Start off by saying, "I know your time is valuable, and I appreciate you spending 20 minutes with me. I'll make sure we stick to that time frame."

4. Learn something about the prospect beforehand. If possible, go on a fact-finding mission before you even meet the prospect. Visit the company's Web site. Search for articles about the person or the company. If someone else referred you, ask that person for insights into the prospect's interests, hobbies, family life and personality type. Call the prospect's assistant or secretary, and see what information you can find there. Then you can start your sales call by referring to whatever information you've gleaned that's relevant to the situation.

5. Break the ice with the people who are around the decision-maker. You never know who has the real power or influence in a company. If you're rude to an assistant on the way to the boss, you can be sure the boss will eventually hear about it. Establish rapport with everyone you meet- not just the immediate prospect.

6. Don't just jump into your pitch. Many salespeople think they have to break the ice by talking, talking and talking some more. They tell a joke and launch right into selling the product.

A better way to break the ice is to start with a handshake and eye contact, bring up a common-ground subject and then ask questions. Be sure to listen carefully to understand the prospect's goals and concerns.


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