I had yet another telesales call this week that reminded me why some of the basic sales training I undertook in my early days is still valid today. It went something like this…
- Telesales guy : Can I speak to the business owner?
- Me: Yes, that’s me.
- Telesales guy: Oh good. Do you have an epos machine?
- Me: No
- Telesales guy: Would you like to have an epos machine if the monthly charges were lower?
- Me: No
- Telesales guy: Oh. Wouldn’t it help your business to have an epos machine?
- Me: No
- Telesales guy: Oh. OK. Bye then.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that you won’t get very far by asking a series of closed questions, yet we all fall into the trap from time to time. I watched an experienced newsreader just last night trying to interview an eight year old boy using closed questions. It was painful. The boy, who was clearly dying to tell his story, was prevented from doing so by the interviewers ineptitude.
Closed questions do have their place of course, and they are great for:
- Gaining factual information, as in: Am I speaking to the business owner?
- Clarifying that you have understood a situation, as in: So am I right in thinking that you don’t currently have a marketing plan?
- Getting a desired positive answer, as in: Would you like to generate more business?
- Seeking to close a deal or teasing out an objection, as in: Would you sign today if I were able to deliver next Tuesday?
If ultimately you are trying to sell something, you will need to use a mix of open and closed questions to really develop the conversation. The good news is that most of us do this naturally in a social situation, which is perhaps why people who are genuinely interested in others often make good sales people. With a little self awareness and preparation you can hone the questioning techniques that you are probably already using and start to turn your conversations into natural sales opportunities.
Recently I have had a number of conversations with business owners who are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain a reasonable rate for the service they offer. They report that more and more contracts are being won or lost on price. Yet others seem to have no problem earning what they are worth.
Sure, we are in pretty tough economic times and price will always play its part in business decisions. In my experience though, price is rarely the most important factor when it comes to a clients list of requirements. If you find yourself having to discount heavily to win business here are some of the questions you should be asking yourself:
- Are you attracting the right target market? Can your particular market segment afford the service you offer or do you need to look at new segments?
- Are you providing value for money? How much value can you add to your client and what is the net benefit of using your services?
- Are you communicating the value of the service that you offer? Are you focussing too heavily on the price you charge at the expense of the benefits you are offering?
- Is price the real reason you are not winning business or is there something more fundamental, like your service level, holding you back?
- Do you discount as a matter or policy? Discounting can give a client the impression and you don’t think your services are worth the full price.
It may be worth taking a closer look at your business model before blaming the fact that you can’t charge what you would like on the economic climate.
I had a call from a bank last week and, since I was considering changing my business account, allowed the caller to launch headlong into his well prepared sales pitch. After a good three minutes of my time he had managed to miss all the buying signals and went away empty-handed. Why?
It often happens. I’ve done it myself. You have done your preparation, thought about the questions you are going to ask and outlined how you will answer any objections. You are finally in front of a great prospect…it’s all going to plan…and then they say something you weren’t expecting. Instead of listening, taking stock and changing tack, you blindly battle on with your prepared ‘script’ because you don’t want to waste all the time you spent preparing!
All too often your prospect is actually interested in what you have to say and simply wants to get to the information that they want.
Quite how my caller missed: ‘ I might be looking to change my business bank account’, as a buying signal I’m not sure, often they are more subtle. If your prospect asks specific questions about price, delivery, specifications or who else you work for, take it as a sign of interest. If they actively agree with you and are talking positively about how your product or service could help them, take note.
It’s hard enough to get in front of a real prospect; make the most of the opportunity by listening and responding to the buying signals that are probably staring you in the face.
Networking is often quoted as the number one lead generation mechanism for small businesses and frequently appears in lists of, so-called, free marketing activity. So, should you be doing more of it?
I went to a very well attended event a couple of weeks ago and, as I walked into the room of some 200 people, I soon realised I had very little chance of tracking down those people I had hoped to meet. I was approached by someone wielding an A3 presenter who, without asking me a single question, tried to sell me something I had no need of. I squeezed round the exhibition space apologising for bumping over-sized handbags with similarly stressed looking individuals; to be greeted by stall holders intent on making snap decision about whether I would be of any use to them!
Hadn’t they read the books? Networking is about building relationships, it involves asking questions and finding mutual ground; it’s not about selling. It’s not free either, it takes time and effort before, during and after the actual event and we all know that time is money.
Networking is like any other marketing activity; it has its own protocol, a set of rules by which a good networker operates. It is undoubtedly a brilliant tool for business generation when used properly and with the planning and discipline you would afford any other marketing activity.
There are lots of books, articles and blogs about networking. Do yourself a favour and try reading one like FT Guide to Business Networking before embarking on your next campaign.
I had a ‘phone call today. The caller simply made me a, very kind, offer of 90 litres of spring water and 100 cups delivered to my door… absolutely free. I hesitated before giving a polite ‘no thank you’, not because it wasn’t a compelling offer, but because it was totally inappropriate.
I had visions of trying to cram an enormous bottle of water into my, already pretty ‘spatially challenged’ home office. I mused at the idea of chatting (to myself) around my new water cooler. I wondered how long it would take me to use up 100 cups. And still my answer was no.
I should never have received that call. Surely given a couple of simple facts about me and my business someone could have worked out that I probably wasn’t in the target market? And even if I had slipped through that particular net, shouldn’t the caller have qualified who I was? Even the… ‘can I speak to the person responsible for purchasing 90 litres of spring water and 100 cups please’ … introduction would have been better than nothing.
Granted it’s not always easy to identify and reach your market. But it’s certainly worth a try. Identify your target audience as precisely as possible, talk to them in their language, make them an appropriate and compelling offer and, you never know, they might just say yes.
This week I was involved in two, quite different, sales situations with two vastly different outcomes (for the sales person that is). Coming out of one meeting feeling irritated and somewhat patronised, and the other feeling excited and energised, I set to thinking about what makes a good sales person.
Here are four really very simple rules:
- Be prepared. Yep, as every boy scout will tell you, this really is fundamental. No excuses here, it’s so easy. Ask what your client wants to get out of the meeting, who will be attending and what their role will be. Google them, you may even find a mutual connection.
- Listen. Find out what your client or potential client needs and then, and only then, tell them how you can solve their problem. Avoid at all cost lengthy lectures about your wonderful, yet totally irrelevant, credentials.
- Never assume. It’s the oldest one in the book. Focus your attention equally amongst the individuals in the meeting. It’s not always easy to spot the decision makers and influencers.
- Be professional. Well that’s obvious isn’t it? Not always it would appear. Bring something to take notes with; can you really remember everything you client has told you in an hour-long meeting? Arrive on time, have a business card, dress appropriately. Small things that make a big difference to how you are perceived.
You are right, these are all easily achievable, and should come as second nature to most business people. It just takes a little forethought.