Whether you ask for it or not, there’s only so much time that a prospect can spare out of their extremely busy schedule to entertain sales professionals. You’re lucky if they agree to give you even 30 minutes just to introduce your product/service. Yet that first conversation is critical for determining whether a deal will move forward. You should optimize every single minute that you’re in contact with a prospect.
By following these tips, you can maximize your chances of setting the groundwork for a sale:
1. Build rapport (but don’t spend too much time discussing non-business issues.)
Some people don’t want to jump right into talking business before they’ve gotten to know you. Before delving into your big questions, establish a rapport with the prospect. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean small talk. That can irritate prospects and eat away at your precious time. If the prospect wanted to talk about the weather, they’d consult a meteorologist.
To build rapport, be friendly and genuine with the prospect. Your prospects are busy and that deserves to be acknowledged. At the same time, you don’t want to imply that talking with you is a waste of their time. Instead of saying, “I know you’re really busy,” simply say, “thank you for taking my call.” This signals that you’re appreciative and professional without sounding desperate.
Once you’ve started to form a personal connection, the prospect will be more open to discussion.
2. Let the prospect know the game plan for the talk upfront.
When people are on the phone with an unfamiliar sales representative, some part of them is thinking, “Oh my God, will I have to talk with this person forever just to avoid being rude?”
Allay their fears by setting a clear agenda for the call at the beginning. Say, “I’m going to talk to you for about fifteen minutes.” Tell them the topics you’d like to discuss. This shows how much you respect their time and will engage them in a focused discussion. Instead of anxiously watching the clock and trying to figure out a polite way to end the call, the prospect will be engaged with you for the entire duration.
3. Encourage prospects to discuss their needs and pain points.
The average sales representative talks 65-75% on their calls. Top sales representatives talk only 43% of the time. Keep this in mind in all the conversations with your prospects.
In most sales calls, the sales representative should be talking less than the prospect. This is a little different for cold calls because you must explain who you are and the purpose of the call. Even so, you need to give the prospect ample opportunity to provide input.
To do this effectively, practice slowing down your speech. Become comfortable with silences—it really is okay if not every second of the call is full of talk! Pauses can give the prospect time to collect their thoughts and jump in as necessary.
Open-ended questions are the best way to get prospects to open up and reveal critical information that will help shape the sales process. Don’t try to ask too many questions on the first call. Focus on asking substantive questions that prompt prospects into an in-depth conversation.
The way you word questions can impact how the prospect talks to you. “What goals do you hope to accomplish within the next year?” is a fair question. But it isn’t quite as good as, “can you walk me through the plan for the next year and how you will accomplish your goals?”
4. Focus on one major selling point during the conversation.
One of the worst things you can do is to try and cram an hour-long sales pitch into fifteen minutes. Instead of trying to get to everything at once, focus on one primary selling point. When you end the call with the prospect, they should be thinking that your product is beneficial. Use your pre-call research and the prospect’s responses to decide what point to emphasize.
5. Show that you’ve done your homework on the prospect.
Chances are, you’re not the first sales representative to contact the prospect this month, or even this week. Prove that you’re not just mass-calling people without prior research. Don’t ask questions that can be answered through Google. Tailor your questions by including specific information you’ve found in pre-call research. This signals that you’re serious about consulting with the prospect.
6. Reference information that establishes you as a trusted expert.
Many prospects are understandably skeptical that sales representatives understand their industry. Prove your worth by demonstrating expertise. Using industry jargon probably won’t help but reference past experiences. Say, “I’ve worked with many companies such as X on similar issues…”
7. Paint a picture of the impact your solution will have on the prospect’s business.
From early on in the sales process, you want to show your prospect what life will be like with your product. Be as specific as possible to really help them visualize it. Talking about customer success stories can be a great way to do this effectively.
8. Conclude with a plan for next steps.
When it’s time to finish up the call, thank the prospect again. Then, let them know what the next steps will be in the process: “I’ll be sending you an email later today about the issues we’ve discussed.”
This signals that the call was just one step in the larger sales process, and prepares the prospect for further contact.
If you can master these tips, you stand a good chance of moving forward on a deal.