While we all know that there’s a proper time and place for everything, this maxim could not be more true than in the case of sales and marketing.
When salespeople rush into “selling mode,” they run the risk of driving away their prospects and potentially destroying any chance they have of establishing trust and rapport. An overly ambitious sales rookie can easily clear the room by announcing the wonders of Product X and that he or she has a limited-time special offer for that exact product. This is normally followed by the handing out of brochures and business cards to every person in the room, while ignoring the fact that those people haven’t expressed any interest in Product X whatsoever.
One of the hallmarks of a true professional salesperson is a knack for good timing. An instinct for saying the right thing at the right time and smoothly moving the sales process along to a successful conclusion are qualities of a true salesperson. Unlike the fool who rushes in, the true professional takes the process one step at a time and never forces the issue.
The Sales Ladder
One can compare the selling process to climbing a ladder. If three steps are taken at a time, the chances of falling off of the ladder are high. The proper ladder-climbing technique is to establish a firm footing on one rung before extending to the next. In the same way, one must complete the initial step of the sales practice before moving ahead. For example, if attempting to deliver a sales presentation without first discovering the customer’s needs and wants, the salesperson will flounder. If the prospect’s business is not completely understood and poorly researched, the salesperson is unlikely to secure an appointment. Each step of the sales process has an activity and a purpose, and must be completed in the correct order.
Common mistakes most salespeople make by rushing up ladder rungs include the following:
- Wasting time on the wrong people, due to lack of research into the correct target market
- Not asking enough questions
- Failing to listen with empathy
- Not finding out the customer’s WIFM (“What’s in it for me?”)
- Missing the close—where the customer wants to buy, but you weren’t listening
- Not getting appointments with the right people
- Giving up—usually a result of trying to rush the outcome
- Failing to build trust and rapport at the beginning of the process
The Four Cs
The most important step on the sales ladder is the needs analysis, which generally occurs during one of the first meetings. This step is so critical it cannot be overemphasized. If a salesperson has not taken the time to create a communication channel with his or her prospect—or know anything about that prospect—and vice versa, there is no basis for any mutual affinity, and communication will be nonexistent. Before any sale can be processed, there must be a connection and some relationship and confidence built between the two parties.
The best way to accomplish this is to ask questions and listen carefully to answers. When people are talking about themselves (i.e., company, family, life, and challenges), they will naturally feel better about the salesperson. An initial relationship can be built if the salesperson is a good listener and asks the right questions. Listening is what enables the prospective client to build trust and have rapport.
Before listening, one must be prepared with questions. The four Cs refer to asking questions that can be useful when approaching customers.
1. Curious. Obtain as much information as possible about the business. Ask many open-ended questions and express interest.
2. Change. Obtain details on what has changed in the past few months. Who transferred out, who got promoted, what are the new product lines, how has their business changed?
3. Concerns. What are the biggest issues the company is facing? What is it constantly having trouble with?
4. Consequences. What are the consequences if Problem X is not solved? What impact is the company feeling from Issue Y? What would happen if Problem Y does not get solved? How has the problem been solved in the past?
The fourth C is the most critical because, after thoroughly answering these questions, a prospect will often simply ask the salesperson for guidance.
Sometimes, when talking about concerns, a prospect may display emotion. When feelings such as anger, frustration, grief, and apathy surface, key issues have been brought to light and it is important to focus and keep listening. When people feel enough pain, they will frequently seek guidance and ask for help.