Your office phone rings. You answer and discover it's a stranger. In your mind, you ask yourself two questions, in this order: Who is calling? Why are they calling? And you make The 9-Second Decision: Do I stay on the call because I'm interested, or do I cut the stranger off?
Now, reverse the roles. You're the one who's calling a prospective customer. He's asking himself the same two questions - Who are you? Why are you calling? And keep this in mind: the time you have to connect with that prospect may actually be much shorter than 9 seconds.
Plan how you're going to engage the prospect:
Create a self-introduction that answers the first question. Tell the prospect who you are and what company you work for.
Follow your self-introduction with a "grabber," a statement or question that grabs the prospect's interest. It might be a startling statistic, an intriguing fact, a brief personal story, or an open-ended question that gets the prospect thinking out loud and doesn't have an implied answer.
Practice your self-introduction over and over - out loud - until you don't have to read it and it flows smoothly and conversationally. Then pick up the phone and call the prospect.
There's no one self-introduction and grabber that works for every prospect, but when you find one that does work, your 9-second window may turn into a long-term customer relationship.
We're often asked, "What should I do with my hands?" Our answer is simple: "Use them appropriately to energize your message." Simple enough, right? Not so simple to do.
Here's the rest of the story:
Start with your hands at your sides.
Gesture above the waist and away from your body.
Match your gesture to your idea.
If you're talking about a major shift in emphasis, use both hands and
show your audience that big shift.
If you're talking about tweaking a process, use one hand to show
how easy this minor change will be.
You'll come across as confident, interesting, open, and clear.
The most direct way - some would say the only way - to make a sale is to satisfy a customer's need. That's why one of the most vital of your selling skills is getting the customer to talk and listening for her needs. The most obvious needs are obstacles that stand between a customer and the realization of her goals: in a word, problems. If you have a customer with problems, probing is straightforward. Often, all you have to do is ask, "What stands between you and...?"
But there are other kinds of needs that are more demanding of your selling skills. They are also more rewarding to deal with and potentially much more profitable. These are the opportunity needs and the weakness needs.
An opportunity need is a chance for achieving a goal. Customers are sometimes not even aware of their opportunity needs. These needs relate to competitive position or ability to exploit underdeveloped markets. The critical selling skills here are effective research into the customer’s industry and framing relevant questions on the fly.
Weakness needs are a different category entirely. A weakness is a deficiency that undermines your customer’s effectiveness in realizing a goal. The customer is much more likely to be aware of a weakness than an opportunity, but he’s much less likely to talk about it. The critical selling skills here are listening and trust-building. Be prepared for disappointment in the early stages. A customer will probably not reveal anything concerning a weakness unless you have a long-standing relationship.
Use your selling skills, then, to find clues to problems, opportunities, and weaknesses that you can turn into solutions and, of course, sales. Once you get the customer to start talking, there are two basic directions in which to probe: expansion and specificity. With expanding probes, you ask the customer to broaden the information she is giving you. Use prompts such as:
- “Tell me more.”
- “How does that relate to…?”
- “Please elaborate on...”
With specifying probes, you ask the customer to narrow down information:
- “Give me an example.”
- “How does that work?”
- “Why do you say that?”
Use your selling skills to fashion probes that are both brief and relevant. As in most other phases of the sales process, you should listen much, much more than you talk. While the customer talks about the needs of the business, listen for clues to problems, opportunities, and weaknesses. Probe with open-ended questions. Ask…
- What’s at risk for the company?
- What else is at risk?
- How does this affect market opportunities?
- What impact will this have
- on sales?
- on staff turnover?
- on productivity?
- on costs?
Take your cue from what the customer says (and what your research has turned up) about the company’s goals. Then identify the problems, opportunities, and weaknesses that block the achievement of those goals. Those are the customer’s most pressing needs, whether he’s aware of them or not.
Sales stars know how to uncover and satisfy customer needs. This is the premise of our Socratic Selling Skills® program, which uses universally proven dialogue techniques to teach sales professionals to find the need and make the sale.
Ever been with a salesperson who yapped on and on about things that didn't interest you? Remember how you felt as the customer? Trapped. Bored. Disinterested. Eager to get away.
We saw an airport billboard that read: "I want to talk to an expert, not a know-it-all."
What's the difference? Experts target specific information based on their understanding of what the customer is looking for, and treat each customer as unique and special. It's easy for the customer to find value in everything the expert offers because it all relates to what's important to the customer. A know-it- all backs up the truck and does a data dump. Maybe customers will find one pearl of value buried in the pile of irrelevant and unwanted information - if they're still listening.
When you're talking with your customers, be an expert, not a know-it-all.
Our clients often ask us how to keep their Q&A on track. They start out taking questions about their presentation content. Suddenly, they discover they've allowed the questions to wander far from their subject. How did they get there? How do they get questions back on track?
Look for ways to tie back your answer to your presentation. Tie back to a key benefit, or restate your recommendation. Use language like:
"That's why it's so important that we..."
"And that will give us (the benefit)..."
"So you can see why we need to..."
"That's one more reason why..."
When you tie back, you keep your Q&A on track and make the best use of everyone's time.
Whether your presentation is intended to persuade or to inform, you will be unable to succeed in your goal without the trust of the audience. Gaining trust, then, is one of the most important but least talked-about steps in giving a presentation. Nobody talks about it because it really isn't one of your presentation skills; you can't achieve it by simply demonstrating certain behaviors. You have to live it.
Social scientists define trust as a willingness to become vulnerable to another based on your positive expectation of that person’s actions or intent. This definition reminds us that trust is a transaction. To trust someone means to sacrifice some bit of your safety, at least psychologically. But you won’t give up that safety unless you expect some good to come of it. That means that, as a presenter, in order to gain people’s trust, you need to make them feel safe enough to lower their defenses and you need to convince them it will be worth it.
Those who have studied the phenomenon of trust say there are three characteristics that tend to inspire it.
The first of these characteristics is ability. We tend to put more trust in people who are knowledgeable, skilled, or competent. Presentation skills can help here, because you demonstrate ability by being in command of the evidence you are using to persuade or the information you are trying to convey. So prepare yourself carefully for your presentation. You also need to be in command of the equipment. That is why presenters who fumble with their slides or mishandle microphones are generally ineffective.
The second characteristic is integrity. We tend to put more trust in people who abide by principles we find acceptable. And we form judgments about the integrity of others based on the consistency of their behavior, their honesty, their sense of fairness, and whether they act in accordance with what they say. The best way to demonstrate integrity is to be honest, consistent, and fair. This is especially true in a business organization, where your audience is likely to know you, at least by reputation. Your presentation skills won’t help much here, since you mostly build your reputation off the platform.
The third characteristic is benevolence. We tend to put more trust in people who are concerned about our welfare. Benevolence is the most interesting trust-building characteristic because it generally takes the longest to establish. Human beings are often willing to assess ability and integrity by intuition, but benevolence requires harder information. So trust-building begins with ability and integrity and moves on to benevolence. We have all worked with people we've felt are concerned about us, and those are the people in the organization we tend to trust most. Again, this is a reputation you build off the platform.
All three characteristics contribute to trust. You aren’t going to have time in the space of a single presentation to establish your integrity and benevolence. That’s why your behavior off the platform is so important to your presentation skills. If you want to be a successful presenter, behave with integrity and benevolence in every business transaction. Then you can go to your presentation with a reputation that will help you gain trust. And make sure you are prepared to handle both your material and your equipment with confidence. Otherwise, your integrity and benevolence won’t help you much.
During a meeting with his prospective customer, Bill was asked, "What's your company's experience with this type of application?"
Bill replied, using our structure for shaping success stories. He talked about:
Another customer's similar need
How his solution tied to that need
What his solution did for the customer
Here's what he said: "We have another customer who's in a similar business to yours. They were looking for an application that would give them speed, flexibility, and security."
"Just like we are," the prospective customer said. "What did you do?"
"We recommended our Flexor 10 line. It has plenty of power to give them the speed they want, maximum security, and it's flexible so it will grow as they grow. Their application's been up and running for six months, and they've already reduced their lag time by 19 percent. Would you like to speak with them?"
The prospective customer did, and bought from Bill the following week. Bill moved his sale forward because he linked his success story to what his prospective customer had told him was most important.
When you're creating a presentation to persuade your audience to take action, use this format for organizing your content:
Help your audience recognize a situation that's a problem, an opportunity, or a weakness that must be addressed.
Make a clear link between your recommendation and the situation it addresses.
Let your audience know what's in it for them if they act on your recommendation.
Choose evidence that's appropriate for your audience and that supports its value.
Close by clearly laying out the next steps you're asking from your audience. Try this format and see how persuasive you can become.
So you don't waste your selling skills, you need to find out if the person you're selling to is capable of even making the purchase. That is the practice of qualifying the customer, and it involves learning about two things: money and power.
Money. In a furniture store, where selling skills are different from those in business sales, the sales professional qualifies the customer by asking, “How much do you want to spend?” It works in a furniture store, but in business sales, where a single purchase may be made by a committee but, in any case, most likely has multiple buyers, that question makes less sense.
You may try asking, “What’s your budget for this project?” At least that question uses the language of business. But few customers will answer such a question. They know that specifying their budget reduces their flexibility in negotiating with you later. They know there is a minimum figure you would accept for the product or service, and they want to find the minimum before committing. They expect that if they describe a budget in excess of that minimum, you will fill the difference between the minimum and their quoted figure with add-ons — or simply pad the price to fit their budget. But where most customers are unwilling to tell you the budget up front, they are usually willing to speculate about a hypothetical budget. So use your selling skills to work with the customer. Ask him to speculate:
“If you were to identify a budget for this project, what would the range look like?”
It’s easy to memorize the question. The hard part is finding the right place in the conversation to ask it. What is the right place? It’s wherever you can relate it to the customer’s most recent answer. That’s another reason to employ your selling skills of probing and active listening. Keep the customer telling her story until she offers an opportunity for your budget question.
Power. Don’t ask a customer directly if he has the authority to make the purchase. For one thing, that’s a closed question. In our Socratic Selling Skills® program, we teach that closed questions can kill the opportunity for further discussion. When the discussion stops, the sales call is usually over. Second, a question like that can embarrass a customer who doesn’t have such authority. At the very least it can make him feel like he is confessing to wasting your time. Instead, ask about the structure of the process:
- “Tell me about the steps involved in a purchase.”
- “Could you describe the purchase decision criteria?”
- “What does the implementation calendar look like?”
These are all open-ended questions and can generate a great deal of information about the way the customer’s company works. And usually, in answering, the customer will explain her role in the process. If you find out the customer doesn’t have the authority to place the order, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should stop selling her. It just means you have more selling to do after her, and you should begin asking questions about the needs of the person who does place the order. In any case, you’re likely to need the recommendation of your customer to get to the next level, so use your selling skills and continue building the relationship.
If you keep probing and listening, you will eventually learn who makes the decision, who places the order, and who signs the check. Understanding the process brings you that much closer to getting the order.
The joy of hunting for hidden treasure is the excitement of discovering something valuable you didn't realize was there. Mark Twain knew. He wrote, "There comes a time in every rightly constructed boy's life that he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure."
With your customer, look for those components of what you do and how you do it that add value and match what the customer wants. They're already there in your solution. You just haven't dug them out yet and highlighted them for your customer.
They're your hidden treasures. You might highlight your:
Dig out the specific hidden treasure that will resonate with your customers and tell them about it. You show you're attuned to what's important to your customers. You show that you want them to have the best solution.
Highlighting a hidden treasure may be the one thing that puts your deal over the top.