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Breaking Through Your Customers' Defense Barriers Before you get down to the business of selling, you must establish rapport with your prospects. This sales expert can show you how.

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When you initially meet a potential client, the first thing you must do is establish rapport. The faster you can make this happen, the more sales you'll make. It's as simple as that.

Now, if you're new to sales, or just new to my teachings, some of what I'm about to say may seem a little awkward at first. That's OK-it's because it's not natural to you...yet. The goal of all my training is to help you internalize critical sales skills to the point where they just flow out of you when you need them to. You'll get so you don't even have to think about how to act and what to say, because it's become a natural part of you.

The only way to accomplish this is through practice. I teach a learning strategy I call P.D.R.-practice, drill and rehearse. The more you do those three things, the faster these proven strategies will become ingrained in you. So let's get started.

Let's say a new customer has just called you or entered your place of business. The steps to rapport-building are pretty much the same in both instances. The first thing you do is smile. This may sound trite, but look around you. How many people do you know who naturally smile when they meet someone new? If the answer is a lot, you're working with a great team!

It's important to smile even on the phone-people can sense it in your voice. If you're not naturally a very smiley person, practice in front of a mirror. Don't laugh! This is critical to your ability to sell products. You must be able to see your smile in your eyes. That means it's genuine. If you're not genuine, your prospects will spot it a mile away and write you off as a stereotypical salesperson. Their defenses will go up, and you'll have to work hard to break them down.

If you're meeting in person, make eye contact. Don't stare them down, but make comfortable eye contact.

Then introduce yourself, ask for their name, and ask for permission to use their name. What I mean by that is, if a woman introduces herself to you as Jane Thompson, say, "It's nice to meet you, Ms. Thompson. May I call you Jane?" This simple courtesy demonstrates professionalism on your part.

Now you need to use her name. Repeat it to yourself four times-silently, so you don't forget it. With everything else you'll have on your mind-qualifying your prospect, presenting your product properly and closing the sale-it's easy to forget the name of the person you're dealing with. Repeating it to yourself will help plant it firmly in your mind.

Try to match the speed and volume of your speech to theirs for the first 90 seconds. Then, if you naturally speak either faster or slower, you can gently move into your typical style. Here's a warning, though: If the potential client speaks very slowly, don't allow yourself to speak too quickly. They may not follow what you're saying, and while they're trying to catch up mentally, they're missing the next point you make.

Next, search for common ground. Why are the two of you talking with each other right now? What similarities are you discovering? Does this person live close by? Are they about your age? Do they work for a company you're familiar with? Find something you share in common and say something relevant-this helps the client see you as someone "just like them." This is crucial to the selling process because people are more likely to buy from someone like them than from someone they don't relate to.

Next, give the person a sincere compliment. It might be a compliment on their foresight in calling your company. It might be something about an item of clothing or jewelry they're wearing. "Your purse really caught my eye. It's a great color." Maybe you notice the logo on the man's shirt, something from a golf course or a sports team. Comment on it. But beware of saying anything for or against any sport or sports team until you know where your prospect stands because for some people, their feelings about sports teams are as strong as their feelings about religion and politics-two subjects you'll want to avoid unless they're part of your business.

This next step might be difficult, especially if you're new to the business, but you have to act relaxed. If you're nervous and your customers sense it, they'll get nervous, too, even though they might not know why. They'll pick up on your vibe and become wary of everything you say and do.

Once you've reached this point, it's time to get down to business: Too much rapport-building can be a waste of time-both yours and theirs. Move on to business with a simple statement such as, "Jane, let me thank you for the time we're about to share. I hope we can consider this meeting somewhat exploratory, meaning my job is to analyze your needs and show you how we at (name of your business) can help you." Now you can begin asking questions relevant to your product or service to determine if it's right for them.

Tom Hopkins is world-renowned as "the builder of sales champions." For the past 30 years, he's provided superior sales training through his company, Tom Hopkins International.

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