This is “How to Start Off on the Right Foot”, section 9.2 from the book Powerful Selling (v. 1.0). For details on it (including licensing), click here.

For more information on the source of this book, or why it is available for free, please see the project's home page. You can browse or download additional books there. You may also download a PDF copy of this book (13 MB) or just this chapter (1021 KB), suitable for printing or most e-readers, or a .zip file containing this book's HTML files (for use in a web browser offline).

Has this book helped you? Consider passing it on:
Creative Commons supports free culture from music to education. Their licenses helped make this book available to you.
DonorsChoose.org helps people like you help teachers fund their classroom projects, from art supplies to books to calculators.

9.2 How to Start Off on the Right Foot

Learning Objective

  1. Understand how to make contact with your prospect.

What is the worst pick-up line you’ve ever heard? How did the person on the receiving end react? Chances are he or she was not very impressed. During a sales approach there are also certain opening lines to avoid—and others that will be more successful. The following section offers some pointers (and reminders) that will give you the power to start the selling relationship off on the right foot.

During Every Sales Approach

While sales approaches can vary widely depending on the selling situation, there are a few standards that always apply.

Always Get the Customer’s Name Right

There’s nothing more off-putting in a sales approach than a salesperson misspelling or mispronouncing your name. If the salesperson can’t be bothered to learn something as basic as your name, it sends the message that he doesn’t care about you as a person, and it certainly gets the relationship off to a bad start. In e-mails, double check that the customer’s name isn’t misspelled or mistyped. For telephone or in-person approaches make sure you’ve figured out how to pronounce the prospect’s name during your preapproach research. Ask contacts who might know (a receptionist, for instance, or your referral source) if you are unsure. And if the prospect has a difficult name, and you can’t get a confirmation on pronunciation, avoid using his name in your opening lines.

Always Listen

As sales consultants Andrew Sokol and Ike Krieger say, during a sales call, “Don’t be interesting; be interested.”Andrew Sokol and Ike Krieger, “What to Say When You Meet a Prospect,” video, ArticlesBase, http://www.businesssuccessbuilder.com (accessed August 1, 2009). In other words, don’t try to impress your customer by spending a lot of time talking about your qualifications or how wonderful your company or product is; instead, show your prospect that you are genuinely interested in getting to know him and in understanding his needs. The only way you can do this is to listen. Ask questions and then let your customer do the talking. During in-person sales calls you should engage in active listening, which was discussed in Chapter 5 "The Power of Effective Communication". Show the customer that you are really listening by adopting a listening posture: look the customer in the eye and lean forward or incline your head while she’s talking. In any sales approach you should restate the essential points your customer brings up, both to check for accuracy of understanding and to show that you are paying attention.Edward Delgaizo and Seleste Lunsford, Secrets of Top Performing Salespeople (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003), 54.

Video Clip

Listening Power

(click to see video)

Listening is called “white magic,” and it can help you be a successful salesperson. The best way to listen is to ask good questions and then listen to the answers. The person who is asking the questions has the control. Find out why by watching this video.

Listening is one of those skills that is easier said than done. While people naturally want to talk, they feel most appreciated when someone else is listening. That’s when people open up and share their goals, wants, and needs. Salespeople are often known for their ability to talk, but it is listening that makes the best salespeople.

Video Clip

The 70/30 Rule of Listening

Hear how author and sales trainer Shane Gibson learned about listening…the hard way.

http://www.salesvideopodcast.com/mp4/listening.mp4

You might think about listening as something you do in person or on the telephone, but listening is also a strategy online. Author and sales trainer Shane Gibson has coined the term “Listening 2.0Taking the time to “listen” to the online conversation before you begin broadcasting your message.” to describe the need to “listen” to the online conversation before you begin broadcasting your message.

Link

Listening 2.0 Podcast

If you think social media are all about getting your message out, it’s not that simple. This podcast provides effective ways to listen before you speak online.

http://www.closingbigger.net/2009/10/social-media-listening-strategy

Be Ready with Your Elevator Pitch

Figure 9.3

Your elevator pitch should take as long as the average elevator ride.

Have you ever heard the term “elevator pitchA concise description of a product, service, person, or project that should take no longer than an average elevator ride and is designed to get conversation started.”? It’s a concise description of a product or service that should take no longer than an average elevator ride.Aileen Pincus, “The Perfect (Elevator) Pitch,” BusinessWeek, June 18, 2007, http://www.businessweek.com/careers/content/jun2007/ca20070618_134959.htm (accessed July 26, 2009). Every salesperson has an elevator pitch for the product or service he is selling. That way, he can tell people about his product in under sixty seconds, and it’s a perfect way to start a conversation or phone call and helps to make a good first impression. In fact, everyone from a CEO to an entrepreneur has an elevator pitch about her company to tell potential investors, shareholders, and other stakeholders. Most listeners don’t have the time to hear all the details about a product or service in the first minutes of a conversation so the elevator pitch provides just enough information so the audience knows what he is talking about and wants to know more. In other words, “An elevator pitch is an overview of an idea, product, service, project, person, or other solution and is designed to just get a conversation started.”Chris O’Leary, “Elevator Pitch 101,” January 27, 2009, Elevator Pitch Essentials, http://www.elevatorpitchessentials.com/essays/ElevatorPitch.html (accessed July 26, 2009).

Video Clip

Elevator Pitch

Watch a business owner give her elevator pitch for her idea about green weddings on a business television show.

http://www.blinkx.com/video/elevator-pitch-green-weddings/XEE1QusdKnmWQRvx73KUnQ

Your elevator pitch comes in handy when you are making an approach on the phone or in person. It’s the perfect opportunity to tell someone about your company and product or service in less than sixty seconds so that you can engage her in conversation. Remember, an elevator pitch isn’t a sales presentation; it’s simply a way to begin an interactive conversation and get to your ultimate goal—a meeting with the decision maker.

Approaching by Telephone

Figure 9.4

Approaching a prospect by phone requires preparation and skill.

Establishing rapport can be a challenging task when you make your approach by phone because you can’t read your customer’s body language or other visual cues, and she can’t read yours. There is also the possibility that you will catch your prospect during a busy or inconvenient time. For telephone approaches, it’s best to be brief and direct and to save small talk for your in-person meeting or for a later, scheduled phone call.

Do Give Your Name and the Purpose of Your Call in the First Twenty Seconds“Tips for Successful Cold Calling,” AllBusiness, http://www.AllBusiness.com/sales/selling-techniques-telesales/1355-1.html (accessed May 16, 2010).

Your prospect will probably decide whether or not he is interested in what you have to say within the first twenty seconds of the call, so it’s best to be direct and get this essential information across early on. You might say something like “This is Shamika Lorenz from Selling Solutions, a firm that specializes in helping businesses reduce their selling costs, and I’m calling to let you know about an upcoming seminar for small business owners in your area.” Such directness also conveys honesty and lets your prospect know that you won’t waste his time.Sharon Drew Morgan, “This is a Sales Call: How to Begin Prospecting Calls with Integrity,” EzineArticles, http://ezinearticles.com/?This-is-a-Sales-Call:-How-to-Begin-Prospecting-Calls-with-Integrity&id=34073 (accessed August 2, 2009).

Do Prepare a Script for Your Opening Statement

Because you want to get your prospect’s attention in the first twenty seconds, it’s important not to stumble over your words or sound like you are rambling. After you have given your name and the purpose of your call, offer a reference point based on your preapproach research. For example, “I read that your start-up has recently opened a new downtown location.” This will personalize your approach and help establish your credibility. Next, lead into a general benefit statementSharon Drew Morgan, “This is a Sales Call: How to Begin Prospecting Calls with Integrity,” EzineArticles, http://ezinearticles.com/?This-is-a-Sales-Call:-How-to-Begin-Prospecting-Calls-with-Integrity&id=34073 (accessed August 2, 2009). that will address your prospect’s “what’s in it for me?” question.

Do Ask “Is This a Good Time?”

Keep in mind that asking for permission helps build trust and allows the customer to feel like she is in control of the call.Sharon Drew Morgan, “This is a Sales Call: How to Begin Prospecting Calls with Integrity,” EzineArticles, http://ezinearticles.com/?This-is-a-Sales-Call:-How-to-Begin-Prospecting-Calls-with-Integrity&id=34073 (accessed August 2, 2009). However, it’s important to think about the way you phrase your question. It is always easier for people to say yes to a question than to say no, so when you open with something like “Did I catch you at a bad time?” all your customer has to do is agree with you (“Yes, this is a bad time.”), and the call is effectively over. On the other hand, if you ask whether this is a good time, a yes response will work in your favor.Pieter Petoors, “How to Contact Your Prospect by Phone,” Pieter’s Blog, March 10, 2009, http://pietpetoors.com/blog/how-to-contact-your-prospect-by-phone (accessed August 2, 2009). Your customer is only likely to say no if this really is a bad time, and if that happens, you are well positioned to say “I understand. Would Monday at 10:30 be a better time to talk?”Michael McGaulley, “Phone Sales Skills: Your First Contact with the Prospect,” Sales Training Source, 2009, http://ezinearticles.com/?Phone-Sales-Skills---Your-First-Contact-With-the-Prospect&id=4068383 (accessed August 2, 2009).

Don’t Start Off by Asking, “How Are You Today?”

This common greeting is one you probably use without thinking twice about it. But opening a sales call this way over the phone (when you are contacting a busy stranger who doesn’t know why you have called) can be off-putting and will probably come across as insincere.Joan Guiducci, “The First 7 Seconds of a Cold Call,” AllBusiness, August 1, 1998, http://www.AllBusiness.com/sales/selling-techniques/690353-1.html (accessed May 16, 2010).

How to Get through Voice Mail to Get to the Right Person

If you are trying to get to the right person in a company and you are getting the voice mail runaround, use these simple steps:

  1. Press “0” during the voice message to try to get to the operator.
  2. Visit Gethuman.com to find out the “secret” to getting a human to answer the phone at over 1,200 companies.
  3. Be cordial and professional to whoever answers the phone. He has the power to give you valuable information to get you to the person you want to talk to so engage him in conversation and thank him for his help.

Don’t Launch into Prolonged Explanations

As sales coach Sharon Drew Morgan says, “Your prospect is obviously not sitting by the phone waiting for a call from you.”Sharon Drew Morgan, “This is a Sales Call: How to Begin Prospecting Calls with Integrity,” EzineArticles, http://ezinearticles.com/?This-is-a-Sales-Call:-How-to-Begin-Prospecting-Calls-with-Integrity&id=34073 (accessed August 2, 2009). You want to be personable when you call, but you also want to keep in mind that for busy decision makers, phone calls are interruptions, so the more business oriented the interruption, the better.Michael McGaulley, “Phone Sales Skills: Your First Contact with the Prospect,” Sales Training Source, 2009, http://www.how-to-sell-your-better-mousetrap.com/phone_sales_skills.html (accessed August 2, 2009).

Video Clip

The Perfect Telephone Approach

(click to see video)

Watch this example of how to make an effective sales approach on the phone.

Leaving a Voice Mail Message

Sometimes it is difficult to reach the person by phone. Although it’s a good idea to call back at different times of the day to see if you can catch the person, it is also a good idea to leave a short voice mail to introduce yourself, your company, a brief reason for your call, and when you will call back.

Video Clip

Effective Voice Mail Messages

(click to see video)

Learn some tips for doing an effective approach via voice mail.

Approaching by E-mail

While an e-mail approach is less personal than an in-person or telephone approach, it might be your best method, depending on the type of sale in which you are engaging. For instance, Internet marketing coach Sean Mize says of his business, “I generate 2,000 subscribers via the Internet every single month, so to try to contact all those individuals by phone, unless I have a huge telemarketing room, would be absolutely impossible.”Sean Mize, “What’s the Most Effective First Contact with a Prospect—Email or Phone?” EzineArticles, http://ezinearticles.com/?Whats-The-Most-Effective- First-Contact-With-A-Prospect---Email-Or-Phone?&id=1206246 (accessed July 30, 2009). Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Do Write a Number of E-mails in Different Styles and Tones

Online marketing expert Daegan Smith suggests crafting about fifteen different e-mail templates so you can choose between them when you want to get in touch with a prospect.Daegan Smith, “How to Contact Business Prospects, ArticlesBase, April 28, 2008, http://www.articlesbase.com/communication-articles/how-to-contact-business-prospects-398144.html (accessed August 2, 2009). You can think of it a little like building up your wardrobe so that you have different things you can wear on different occasions: you wouldn’t wear the same clothes to a baseball game that you would wear to a business meeting. You also wouldn’t send the exact same communication to all your prospects. The bottom line is that you want the e-mail to be as personal as possible.

Do Send a Well-Written E-mail

Keep in mind that an e-mailed sales approach is still a first impression, even though the communication doesn’t involve any immediate contact. While the e-mail should be personal, it should be more formal than the personal e-mails you send to friends. You want to sound knowledgeable and credible, which means paying close attention to your word choice and style. Give the e-mail the same attention you would give to a business letter. This also means reading the e-mail several times before sending it to check for spelling and grammar mistakes, just as you would with any other business correspondence.Daegan Smith, “How to Contact Business Prospects,” ArticlesBase, April 28, 2008, http://www.articlesbase.com/communication-articles/how-to-contact-business-prospects-398144.html (accessed August 2, 2009).

Example of an Effective E-mail Approach

Here is a sample e-mail used to approach prospects to hire the Acme Company to create a logo. This e-mail was reproduced with permission from The Writers For Hire Web site.The Writers For Hire, Inc., “Sample Sales Emails: Personal Sales Email,” http://www.thewritersforhire.com/personal-sales-email.htm (accessed July 27, 2009).

Figure 9.5

Do Follow Up Persistently

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get a response to the first or second e-mail you send. In B2B sales, it often takes about twelve e-mails before contacts reply, so be persistent.Daegan Smith, “How to Contact Business Prospects,” ArticlesBase, April 28, 2008, http://www.articlesbase.com/communication-articles/how-to-contact-business-prospects-398144.html (accessed August 2, 2009). If your prospect doesn’t respond right away, it doesn’t mean that he isn’t interested in what you have to offer—just assume that he is a busy person with plenty of other distractions that come across his desk every day. If you continue to send your e-mails regularly, eventually the message will register on your prospect’s “radar screen.” Of course, you don’t want your e-mails to be an annoyance either, so consider including an “unsubscribe” option somewhere in the body of the message for the prospects who truly aren’t interested so that they can request to be removed from your e-mail list.Sean Mize, “What’s the Most Effective First Contact with a Prospect—Email or Phone?” EzineArticles, http://ezinearticles.com/?Whats-The-Most-Effective-First-Contact-With-A-Prospect---Email-Or-Phone?&id=1206246 (accessed July 30, 2009).

Don’t Send E-mails That Look Like Templates

Again, the goal is to make your e-mails as personal as you can. If you have a number of e-mails drafted, select the one that seems most appropriate to the specific prospect(s) you want to target, and include your prospect’s name in the heading and body of the e-mail.Daegan Smith, “How to Contact Business Prospects,” ArticlesBase, April 28, 2008, http://www.articlesbase.com/communication-articles/how-to-contact-business-prospects-398144.html (accessed August 2, 2009). This will set your message apart from the average, impersonal “junk” e-mail that people get regularly.

Approaching through Online Social Networks

In some cases you will be able to leverage your online social network to approach a prospect. For instance, if you are a Web site designer and you attend a Webinar on increasing Internet traffic to business’s homepages, the other Webinar participants are potential prospects, and you might decide to contact them and ask to be added to their LinkedIn networks. If you are not familiar with using LinkedIn, you might find it helpful to review the videos in Chapter 3 "The Power of Building Relationships: Putting Adaptive Selling to Work".

Video Clip

How to Make Your Approach on a Social Network

(click to see video)

Learn how social networking can help you make an effective sales approach.

Companies are also increasingly using social networks as a budget-friendly way to allow prospects to approach them.Leslie Hamp, “5 Steps to Effective Business Social Networking,” Social Networking News, July 9, 2009, http://socialnetworkingnewstoday.com/ (accessed August 2, 2009).

Power Selling: Lessons in Selling from Successful Brands

Social Networking Transformation

For PJA Advertising & Marketing, entry into the social networking world has transformed the way the company interacts with customers on every level. Phil Johnson, one of PJA’s senior managers, says, “Now our social media activities involve almost everyone who works here and touch almost every aspect of agency life.” Early on, the company’s vice president of business development used LinkedIn to connect with PJA’s prospects and current customers, and today PJA uses LinkedIn in combination with Twitter, Facebook, and links through YouTube and Flickr to approach new customers and direct potential prospects to the company’s Web site. The upshot? According to Johnson, it’s working. The benefit of using social networks to reach prospects is that you can have greater transparency, he says. PJA might contact a prospect via LinkedIn and direct him to a YouTube video, which might then include a link to the company’s Web page or Twitter account, so in the end the prospect gets a view of the agency from a number of sources. “Today, when we walk into a capability meeting, the people we’re talking to already have had a lot of exposure to our thinking and our personality,” says Johnson.Phil Johnson, “Tweeting Your Way to New Prospects,” Advertising Age, July 6, 2009, http://adage.com/smallagency/post?article_id=137730 (accessed May 16, 2010).

Do Make a Comment When You Add a Prospect as a New Friend

According to marketing specialist Leslie Hamp, even something as simple as “I noticed we were on the Webinar together, and I’d like to add you as my friend,” will work.Leslie Hamp, “5 Steps to Effective Business Social Networking,” Social Networking News, July 9, 2009, http://socialnetworkingnewstoday.com/ (accessed August 2, 2009). The point is that you want to give your approach a personal touch. If you just go out and friend all your prospects without making the effort to engage with them, they might not accept your friend request in the first place, and even if they do accept, they may wonder who you are and how you found them. Or worse, they may soon forget about you altogether. You can think of the networking tool as a facilitator, something that gives you the opportunity to connect, but it is still up to you to do the work of socially interacting and leveraging your connections.

Do Aim for Quality over Quantity

There are so many new and interesting social media programs available that it can be tempting to join multiple sites; but if you are a member of more than two or three social networks at one time, you will probably find your efforts spread too thin. You can get the most out of your social networking by focusing on regular contributions to the few networks of which you are a member, rather than by trying to maintain your profile and connections on a number of sites.Leslie Hamp, “5 Steps to Effective Business Social Networking,” Social Networking News, July 9, 2009, http://socialnetworkingnewstoday.com/ (accessed August 2, 2009).

Do Contribute to the Community

In social networking situations, just as in face-to-face interactions, you want to build a good rapport by earning the trust and respect of your customers and colleagues. This means considering ways you can participate in and contribute to the online community, rather than simply using the social networking sites to promote yourself or your product. As virtual office administrator Sue Canfield says, “Social networking needs to be about building relationships—not primarily about self-promotion.”Sue Canfield, “Social Networking Can Work for Your Business,” Chief Virtual Officer, May 12, 2009, http://chiefvirtualofficer.com/blog/2009/05/12/social-networking-can-work-for-your-business/ (accessed May 16, 2010). For instance, if you decide to start participating in a news-related social networking site like Digg.com (where people post links to and comments about news stories), start rating and commenting on other users’ postings before you begin bookmarking your content there.Sudarmaji Lamiran, “How to Quickly and Easily Leverage Social Media to Build a Big List,” Social Networking News, July 13, 2009, http://socialnetworkingnewstoday.com/ (accessed August 2, 2009).

Don’t Let Your Language Get Sloppy

As with e-mail approaches, pay attention to your language. Use a higher level of formality when you contact business prospects than you would use when you send social networking messages to your friends; avoid slang (like “u” for “you” or “btw” for “by the way”).Leslie Hamp, “5 Steps to Effective Business Social Networking,” Social Networking News, July 9, 2009, http://socialnetworkingnewstoday.com/ (accessed August 2, 2009).

Don’t Make a Sales Pitch

Even though a social-network approach looks different from an in-person or over-the-phone approach, the purpose is the same—establishing rapport, building trust, and helping your customer discover needs and opportunities—so avoid making your sales pitch during your initial contact. For instance, returning to the example of the Web site design specialist, assume you added ten of your fellow Webinar participants to your social network. Maybe your company has made a short YouTube video that offers advice on incorporating blogging capabilities into business Web sites, so you send a message and link to your ten new contacts: “I thought you might be interested in this video.” In the video’s description on YouTube, you can post a link to your company Web site or blog where you make a direct sales pitch. This way you are offering your prospects valuable information without coming across as pushy. If a prospect is interested in pursuing your services, he has the resources to follow up on his own.Leslie Hamp, “5 Steps to Effective Business Social Networking,” Social Networking News, July 9, 2009, http://socialnetworkingnewstoday.com/ (accessed August 2, 2009).

Approaching Your Prospect through Social Networking: Dos and Don’ts

Use the Following Tips to Make Social Networking More Effective for Your Sales Approach

  • Do use social networks, especially those that focus on the professional community, as a way to connect with prospects and customers.
  • Do make a comment when you add a prospect or customer as a friend or connection.
  • Do focus on quality of connections rather than quantity.
  • Do contribute to the community.
  • Do use professional social networking features such as Questions and Answers on LinkedIn.

Avoid the Following When Using Social Networking as a Tool to Make a Sales Approach

  • Don’t let your language get sloppy; always use proper spelling and grammar.
  • Don’t make a sales pitch. Use social networks to get in touch and make connections; you can follow up to set up a meeting or phone call to explore your prospect’s needs.
  • Don’t post personal photos, videos, articles, or comments to a professional social networking site such as LinkedIn.
  • Don’t post any inappropriate language, photos, or videos on your personal social networking pages such as Facebook. It’s a good idea to remove any inappropriate information as employers, prospects, and customers can see your personal brand 24/7.

Approaching Your B2B Contact in Person

Some managers and buyers are extremely busy, and when you try to reach them by phone, you will only interact with a secretary, so your first contact with your actual customer might be at a trade show or industry event. When John Koss, sales vice president and partial owner of Koss Corp., wants to approach buyers from his megaretail clients, he heads to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Koss Corp. sells headphones and audio equipment to stores around the country, including big names like Wal-Mart, Target, and Sears. Before heading to CES, Koss schedules appointments with some buyers and hopes that others—like Wal-Mart’s buyers, who refuse to make appointments—will stop by his booth. He makes a number of sales approaches at the trade show and then spends the next few months traveling to interested buyers’ corporate headquarters, where he gives his sales presentations.Susan Greco, “Marketing: Selling the Superstores,” Inc., July, 1995, http://www.inc.com/magazine/19950701/2331.html (accessed May 16, 2010). Koss’s strategy is an example of one typical B2B sales approach situation.

In other situations, if you are selling to smaller businesses at the local level, you might make your approach in person at the customer’s place of business. Why make an in-person approach rather than placing a phone call? While visiting in person takes more time and effort, it’s more personal: it is often easier to build rapport with your customer during a face-to-face interaction. There are just a few things to keep in mind when making an in-person or telephone approach in B2B sales.

Do Use a Strong, Attention-Grabbing Opener

You want to get your prospect to like you in the first minute of your sales approach, and you want to give him a reason to keep listening to what you have to say. Be up front: introduce yourself and explain the purpose of your call (including the general benefit statement you have prepared) early on. Then, as in any sales call, ask permission to continue.Tom Reilly, Value-Added Selling: How to Sell More Profitably, Confidently, and Professionally by Competing on Value, Not Price, 2nd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002), 138. Your opening might sound something like this:

You: Hello, Aaron. My name is Janeka Jones from iFX, a provider of e-commerce solutions.
Aaron: Hello.
You: We met at the South by Southwest conference in Austin last week. You mentioned that an area of growth for your business is personalized apparel. The personalized jerseys you offer on your Web site are really unique. In fact, I ordered one this weekend, which gave me an idea about how we can help you reduce your order processing time. Is this a good time to talk about your business?
Aaron: I’m running off to a meeting in a few minutes, but I always like talking about my business.
Aaron: I’m always looking for ways to get the product to my customers faster, but I really can’t afford any additional order processing costs.
You: I can understand that. My idea can actually help you reduce your overall operating costs and improve your processing time. Since you are on your way to a meeting, would it work for you if I stop by on Tuesday morning so we can talk more?
Aaron: Let’s see. Tuesday morning at 10:30 looks like it works for me.

Do Take Your Lead from the Prospect or Customer

Of course you want to be personable and establish a good relationship with your customer, but buyers often say that it irritates them when salespeople try to engage in too much small talk, especially when it comes across as forced or artificial. When deciding how to balance small talk with business, it’s important to take your lead from your customer. In the example where Janeka Jones from iFx approaches a prospect, for instance, it wouldn’t be a good idea to make a lot of small talk during your approach because the customer let her know that he was short on time.

Some customers are more people oriented, so getting to know you as a person will be an important part of the sales process for them. Other customers are very task oriented and will prefer to get down to business right away. They may opt for a more formal, businesslike approach and will only be interested in socializing after a transaction or meeting is completed.Tom Reilly, Value-Added Selling: How to Sell More Profitably, Confidently, and Professionally by Competing on Value, Not Price, 2nd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002), 140. Start your call with a direct approach, and then pause and give your customer a chance to respond. You can read his reaction to gauge the most appropriate communication style to use. Does he seem anxious to get down to business, or is he open to conversing for a bit first? The bottom line is that you don’t want him to feel like you are wasting his time.Edward Delgaizo and Seleste Lunsford, Secrets of Top Performing Salespeople (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003), 51. Susan Greco, writer for Inc. magazine, tells the story of a meeting at the Consumer Electronics Show between a salesperson and a buyer for Lowe’s home store. The buyer started the meeting off by saying that she didn’t have much time and just wanted a quick overview of the company, but the seller, who was naturally chatty and personable, missed these cues. He talked at some length and gave the buyer a thorough tour of all the displays at his product booth. Meanwhile, the buyer looked at her watch (another cue the seller missed) before the seller concluded by saying “We really want your business.” The response from the buyer was sarcastic and a little cold: “You do?”Susan Greco, “Marketing: Selling the Superstores,” Inc., July, 1995, http://www.inc.com/magazine/19950701/2331.html (accessed May 16, 2010). Instances like this are why it is critical to listen to your customer: both his verbal and nonverbal communications. Your attempts to establish rapport can backfire if you don’t pay attention to his signals.

Don’t Use Opening Lines That Send the Wrong Message

Avoid insincere openers or openers that convey a lack of confidence in yourself or your product. Here are a few examples of opening lines to avoid:

  • “Would you be interested in saving money?”

    An opening line like this immediately puts people on guard. (Oh no, another phony salesperson trying to get my attention with an obvious ploy.)

  • “You’re probably a busy person, so I promise I’m not about to waste your time.”

    Of course, buyers don’t want you to waste their time, but if you mention time wasting up front, you are suggesting that you are someone who could waste your customer’s time. This opening conveys a lack of confidence, and it sets a negative tone for the sales call.

  • “I just happened to be in the area visiting another customer, so I thought I’d drop by.”

    This tells your customer that he isn’t a priority—just someone you were able to fit in between other, more important sales visits.

  • “I heard that you’ve been having trouble in your customer service department [or in some other area] lately.”

    This opening will also put your customer on guard. (Who’s been talking about our problems? How did she find out?)Tom Reilly, Value-Added Selling: How to Sell More Profitably, Confidently, and Professionally by Competing on Value, Not Price, 2nd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002), 138.

Approaching Your B2B Prospect in Person

Use the Following Tips to Make Your In-Person Sales Approach More Effective

  • Do use a strong, attention-grabbing opener.
  • Do take your lead from the prospect or customer.
  • Do use a personal, sincere approach.

Avoid the Following When Approaching a Prospect in Person

  • Don’t use opening lines that send the wrong message; keep in mind the six Cs of the sales approach.
  • Don’t be insincere.

Approaching a B2C Contact in Person

In B2C sales situations, there is sometimes a greater temptation to focus immediately on selling and to forget about rapport building. In most B2C situations the salesperson hasn’t invested time in researching the prospect, and he might figure that this is a one-time sale. However, relationship selling is as valuable in the retail environment as it is in the B2B sales environment. Salespeople who treat their customers as people before they treat them as sales prospects are the ones who get good customer referrals and repeat buyers. If you have a restaurant or a coffee shop where you’re a regular customer, you might already know how this principle works. Aren’t you more inclined to order coffee at a place where people greet you, know your name, and get your drink order right—even if another coffee shop opens up closer to your home or your office? Here are a few dos and don’ts when it comes to earning your customer’s trust and building rapport.

Do Talk to Your Customer

Everyone wants to be recognized. Have you ever walked into a retail store, looked around, and left, without an employee ever talking to you? How does an experience like that affect your buying decision? You might agree with sales consultant Donna Seigel who says “Frankly, when [the salespeople ignore me], I’m not inclined to ever go into that store again.”Donna Siegel, “Relationship Selling: Getting Your Customers Coming Back for More,” SalesMBA, http://www.salesmba.com/articles1/ssrl03.htm (accessed July 30, 2009). Engaging your customer might mean the difference between making or losing a sale. Even if you don’t know the person, you can make small talk: compliment the customer (sincerely of course) or discuss the weather, local news or events, or sports.Donna Siegel, “Relationship Selling: Getting Your Customers Coming Back for More,” SalesMBA, http://www.salesmba.com/articles1/ssrl03.htm (accessed July 30, 2009).

Do Treat Your Customer Like a Guest

Make your customer feel welcomed and comfortable when she comes into your business. Earl Taylor, longtime employee at Dale Carnegie & Associates, says, “The specific words you say are different, of course, but the motivation and attitude should be that you are truly grateful for the opportunity to interact with this individual and have the opportunity to be of service.”Geoffrey James, interview by Earl Taylor, “Building Rapport in Retail,” BNET, May 12, 2007, http://blogs.bnet.com/salesmachine/?p=20 (accessed May 16, 2010). Making the customer feel at home means not only interacting with him but also going out of your way to help him. Maybe the customer comes into your computer store looking for printer ink. Rather than leaving him to fend for himself, walk him to the aisle where you keep your printers (don’t just point him in the right direction). Once you take him to the aisle, ask if you can help him find the right ink type for his printer.

Don’t Ask “Can I Help You?”

“No, thanks. I’m just looking” is the customer’s automatic response to this question, so the question itself actually comes across as a polite way of giving your customer the brush off:Geoffrey James, interview by Earl Taylor, “Building Rapport in Retail,” BNET, May 12, 2007, http://blogs.bnet.com/salesmachine/?p=20 (accessed May 16, 2010). “I won’t bother you, and I don’t expect you to bother me.” Instead, ask a question that will get your customer talking. An open-ended question like “What brings you into International Jewelers today?” will be a more effective way of engaging someone.

B2C Approach: What’s Important to the Customer?

When a customer enters a high-end car dealership, all the elements of the approach should be used to engage the customer, as in the example below:

You: It is a great car, and it gets over thirty miles per gallon in the city.
Customer: It is really nice, but I’m not sure a hybrid is what I need. I just came in to learn a little more about it.
You: That’s a good idea. I’ll be happy to give you a lesson in hybrids to determine if one is right for you. You should also consider a test drive so you can see exactly how it handles on the road.

Don’t Put Any Pressure on Your Customer

What is the number one fear customers have about talking to salespeople? You might have guessed it: pressure. In fact, some customers will go out of their way to avoid salespeople for this reason. Let your customers know that they don’t have to worry about pressure when they buy from you. As in all selling situations, take your cue from the customer by listening and asking questions to uncover her needs first. Don’t start the conversation off with a question like “What’ll it take to get you into a Lexus today?” That’s essentially putting your sales presentation before your approach. Finally, keep in mind that asking your customer’s permission will also help take the pressure off: “We have a number of new sports utility vehicles. Can I ask you some questions about the specific characteristics you’re looking for?”

Don’t Prejudge a Customer

You’ve probably seen the scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Robert’s character walks into a high-end clothing boutique on Rodeo Drive and the saleswomen turn up their noses at her because she doesn’t fit the right customer image. You probably felt a little triumphant, especially if you’ve ever been slighted by a salesperson, when her character returns the following day to spend a few thousand dollars at several stores, embarrassing the salespeople who treated her so poorly. The moral of the story for a salesperson? Never make assumptions about a customer based on the way he looks, speaks, or dresses. Treat all your customers with respect and care.Edward Delgaizo and Seleste Lunsford, Secrets of Top Performing Salespeople (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003), 51.

Power Point: Lessons in Selling from the Customer’s Point of View

The Approach That Customers Like

Customers can’t seem to stop saying good things about WholesaleCars2U in Rocklin, California. The dealership has been recognized for relationship selling and its low-pressure sales approach. As one customer said, “No pressure to buy.…They treat you with respect and care. It’s refreshing to know that it wasn’t just about the ‘bottom line.’” WholesaleCars’ customer care wins them repeat business and many referrals. Another customer says, “We will not buy a used car from another dealer again. Trust is something we felt immediately.”WholeSaleCars2U.net, “Testimonials,” http://www.wholesalecars2u.net/Testimonials.aspx?wsid=87. (accessed August 2, 2009).

Approaching Your B2C Prospect in Person

Use the Following Tips to Make Your In-Person Sales Approach More Effective

  • Do talk to your customer.
  • Do treat your customer like a guest.

Avoid the Following When Approaching a B2C Prospect in Person

  • Don’t ask, “Can I help you?”
  • Don’t put pressure on your customer.
  • Don’t prejudge any customers.

Turning a Contact into a Sales Call

You might be thinking at this point, “Fine. Now I know how to establish rapport, but how do I turn the call into a sale?” The transition from the approach into the sales presentation will vary, depending on the selling situation. In a B2B sale, your approach might lead to a face-to-face meeting, which might be an information-gathering session where you learn about the customer’s needs in greater detail, and you might not actually make your sales approach for several months. On the other hand, in some B2C sales, the salesperson might be able to launch into her presentation in less than a minute after meeting the customer. There is no formula that applies; the important thing is to understand the environment in which you are working. Sometimes it makes sense to move directly into a sales presentation, and sometimes it doesn’t. As salesman and CEO Pat Cavanaugh says, “You don’t have to shoot every time you have the ball.”Susan Greco, “The Nonstop, 24-7 CEO Salesman,” Inc., August 1, 2000, http://www.inc.com/magazine/20000801/19766.html (accessed July 31, 2009).

Key Takeaways

  • In all sales calls, make sure to listen to your customer and ask for her permission before continuing with your approach.
  • Use your elevator pitch to engage your prospect and secure the opportunity to make the complete sales presentation.
  • When making a sales approach over the phone

    • Do give your name and the purpose of your call in the first twenty seconds;
    • Do remember to ask, “Is this a good time?”;
    • Don’t launch into long explanations. Keep it brief and businesslike.
  • When making a sales approach by e-mail

    • Do draft a number of e-mail templates from which to choose,
    • Do make sure the e-mail is well written and businesslike,
    • Do make the e-mail as personal as you can.
  • When approaching through online social networks

    • Do make sure to comment when you add a prospect to your network,
    • Do contribute to the social network of which you are a member,
    • Do avoid slang in your communications.
  • When approaching a B2B contact in person

    • Do use a strong opening line that gets the customer’s attention,
    • Do follow the customer’s lead when it comes to small talk,
    • Do be careful that your opening line doesn’t send the wrong message.
  • When approaching a B2C contact in person

    • Do make conversation with your customer;
    • Don’t just ask, “Can I help you?”;
    • Do avoid putting any pressure on your customer.

Exercises

  1. Take the listening quiz by clicking on the following link: http://www.proprofs.com/quiz-school/story.php?title=test-your-current-listening-skills_1. How did you score? What areas do you feel you need improvement? How will this help you in selling?
  2. Listen to some business elevator pitches with this video: http://www.blinkx.com/video/elevator-pitch-piece-of-cake/SmKk9ZSYrHee-91t7dDalA. What are the elements you thought were important in the elevator pitch? What elements did you think were not important in the pitch? Why do businesses have elevator pitches? To whom do they deliver the pitches?
  3. Review the following video and identify at least three things the salesperson is doing incorrectly on this sales call. What do you recommend he do to change the outcome of the call?

  4. Review the following audio to hear a voice mail message that was left for a prospect. Identify at least three things that are wrong with it. What suggestions would you make to change this into an effective voice mail message?

  5. Assume you work for a wholesale auto parts distributor whose customers include a mix of smaller, privately owned mechanic’s shops and large, national auto repair companies. In the coming week, you plan to approach buyers from two large national chains in addition to ten new prospects at small- to medium-sized companies. Considering that your workweek includes other tasks that require your time and attention as well, outline a plan for how you will approach these contacts.
  6. Imagine you are the head of cosmetics purchases for a large department store. Just as you are about to run out the door for a meeting, you get a call: “Hello Mr. Davis. How are you doing today? What if I told you that you could save up to 50 percent on your next big purchase of L’Oreal products? Our company has been selling top name cosmetics at wholesale prices for the past thirty years. Some of our customers include big names like Bloomingdales, Macy’s, and Nordstrom.” Offer a critique of this salesperson’s approach based on the pointers you learned in this section.
  7. Assume that you are in sales for a major financial services company. Given the state of the economy and the challenges that baby boomers are facing with retirement, you have new opportunities. What method would you use to approach a fifty-year old prospect that just lost his job and is concerned about his family’s retirement nest egg and was referred to you by one of your customers? What would you say (or write) as part of your approach?