A question I am often asked when a salesperson doesn’t close the sale is; “What did I do wrong?”
That’s a very complex question as there are many factors that contribute to a unsuccessful sale. It might be something they did, or didn’t do, or it could be something completely outside the salespersons control. However, there is one step a salesperson cannot miss out when meeting a new prospect for the first time. And that step is; the credibility step, which comes directly after putting the prospect at ease.
I often talk about the importance of building trust and rapport in the sales relationship and while that is an essential skill every salesperson must have, there is one very important question you must ask a sales prospect in your first meeting. That question is…..
“What is your perception of (the company you work for and the products and the services you sell?)
Miss this step and you are unlikely to conclude the sale successfully.
Where does closing fit into the equation?
You would think that being able to close the sale at any cost makes a great salesperson. Yes, being able to present your product or services with confidence and close the sale is a very important skill in selling. It’s not the only thing that’s important. Selling yourself, building trust and rapport along with having credibility comes first without which you are not even in a position to close a sale.
Focusing on the close may be true in certain industries where sales managers and business owners expect their sales people to be aggressive in their closing techniques, but, is it sustainable? The answer is a simple No. No it’s not!
Why? Because once the customer walks away, even if they did buy, they often leave with what is known as buyer’s remorse. Anytime a customer feels like they were duped or pushed into a sale, they feel resentful. Not just of the sales person, also the product or service they bought. With resentment comes suspicion that it will happen again therefore the customer will do everything in their power to ensure it doesn’t happen to others by bad mouthing the salesperson, the company they work for along with the product or service they bought.
A sale that becomes a win-lose is a lose-lose all round.
Trust is the number one ingredient in a successful sale. This because a sale needs to go beyond the transaction itself. You can sell anything to anyone once, but you may not ever sell them again. Unless the sale is built on trust and has a win-win outcome, you only make a single sale which means you don’t gain a customer, at best you made a single sale with no referral business.
Trust and credibility go hand in hand, without one you cannot have the other.
A lack of trust
The number one reason prospects don’t buy is because they don’t trust the sales person. Here’s an example.
A person new to sales met with a prospective customer for the first time. They introduced themselves and immediately launched into a prepared sales pitch about how wonderful their new software system was. Oblivious to all else, the salesperson had no idea the prospect was completely disinterested and was just waiting for the salesperson to finish their presentation so they could say no!
The salesperson was completely out of tune with the customer’s body language. They were unaware that the prospective customer was now getting irritated by the barrage of ‘how wonderful the software is and why they should buy now!’
At the end of the presentation, the salesperson asks for the sale which inevitably resulted in a resounding NO!
What did this salesperson do wrong?
This salesperson, typical of many sales people who are not trained properly, did several things wrong.
- They failed to build trust and rapport.
- They failed to sell themselves first.
- They failed to establish credibility.
- They launched into a sales pitch too quickly.
- They had no idea of the customer’s needs.
- They could not read the prospects body language.
In any sales transaction, the salesperson must first sell themselves. If you get down to business too quickly and fail to build trust and rapport, the prospect will immediately dislike you. Worse still, they make up their mind early in the presentation they will not buy from you regardless of how good your products and services are.
In the example above, the salesperson was unaware a colleague of the prospective customer previously had a bad experience with the company they worked for. Based on perception, the prospect had already made up his mind not to buy from him. Had the salesperson known this, he could have saved himself 45 minutes on a presentation that was not going to end well.
While this salesperson had incredible product knowledge and fabulous presentation skills, what he lacked was the ability to relate and put the prospective customer at ease. More importantly, he lacked credibility.
What could he have done differently?
He needed to build trust and rapport and most importantly, establish credibility in the first instance.
Here’s another example.
A more experienced salesperson from the same company approached the same prospect later and took a different approach.
In the first part of the meeting, he took the time to establish rapport and put the prospective customer at ease. He was very relatable and even though the prospective customer had heard from his colleague that the software wasn’t right for them, he was prepared to listen.
Instead of launching into a sales pitch, salesperson number two asked a simple question.
“What is your perception of ACME software?”
The prospective customer then went into detail about how he heard how one of their other branch managers previously bought software from ACME and was extremely unhappy with it. Ouch!
The second sales person responded with the following.
“Mr prospect, you are completely correct when you mention one of your other branches had issues with the software. I was personally involved in finding out what happened and fixed the problem immediately. It turned out it wasn’t a software problem at all, it was a training problem. What we did was provide extensive training to their staff at our cost and the software is now working to its full capacity.”
What did the second sales person do right?
What the second salesperson was faced with, was not only an objection, he had to re-establish credibility. The prospective customer had a preconceived idea that not only was the software flawed, ACME itself was not a credible or trustworthy company to do business with. He did this by acknowledging the prospects concern, and addressing his concern in such a way that it re-established credibility.
Only after he handled the objection and re-established credibility did the second sales person enter the buying and selling cycle. He went on to ask effective questions about the prospects business, what their needs were and eventually sold the same software (including training) to the new prospect.
Why establish credibility first?
When you ask the question, “What is your perception of (the company, products and services you represent)?” what you are in fact doing is flushing out any preconceived ideas the prospect has about you, your company or your products and services. This question allows you to find out in advance, if the prospect has any objections to doing business with you.
If you skip this step, you open yourself up to a number of objections either at the beginning of the conversation with a new prospect or you find out at the end of the meeting when it is too late to redeem yourself.
Responding to a positive answer to the question
“Yes Mr Prospect, it is true we offer a quality product. One of our clients improved their productivity by as much as 118% in as little as three months by installing our software on their system. In addition to being a market leader, we have also found that with a few tweaks we can easily customize the software to meet client needs at an affordable price.”
Before meeting with a client for the first time, ensure you have a well prepared value proposition and elevator pitch that not only differentiates yourself from your competitors, you tailor it to the prospect’s industry and business. This only needs to take a few minutes. Once you’ve established credibility, you are then ready to enter the buying and selling cycle itself.
Responding to a negative answer to the question
If you get a negative response to the question “What is your perception of (the company, products and services you represent)?” Whatever you do, do not argue with the prospect. Consider your response as you would any sales objection.
1. Not interested
If they are not interested, it could be because you failed to establish trust and rapport. If this is the case, you will need to work on your communication and relating skills.
Another reason they might not be interested is, because they are not the decision maker. This means, you have not done your research adequately before meeting with the prospect. If you suspect this is the case, a key question to ask is, “Apart from you, who else in involved in the decision-making process?” The reason you ask this way is, you do not want to embarrass the prospect if they are not the decision maker. The key words are; “Apart from you…” These words allow the prospect to save face if they are not a decision maker.
It could be a tactic to put you off the scent. They may have a preferred supplier or have already made the decision to buy from someone else. If this is the case, you need to explore their answer more fully to get to the root cause of their objection. You could respond by saying, “Apart from (whatever their perception is) do you have any other concerns?” This will flush out their real reason for what the prospect is telling you.
Sometimes, as in the example above, it could be a simple misunderstanding. If this is the case, you should be able to clear up the misunderstanding with ease. Whatever you do, don’t say “No you’re wrong!” This will put the prospect offside immediately and put them on the defensive. A better way to answer their wrong perception is; “Hummm…. that is a common perception. Our software does come with training and support for a period of 5 years” (or whatever the misunderstanding is).
If it’s a genuine objection and their perception is 100% correct, admit it. Do not attempt to cover it up, instead, focus on the positive aspects of your product or service offering and how you have helped other companies achieve results. This comes back to having a well-prepared value proposition and elevator pitch.
Do not miss the credibility step
Many people new to sales don’t understand that there are three phases of the sales process. The first phase is lead generation phase where you prospect for new business. The second phase is meeting with a prospect and the third is the follow up phase.
In the second phase, where you are either face-to-face with prospect, talking over the phone or via Skype, you naturally introduce yourself, build rapport then ask the magic credibility question, “What is your perception of (the company, products and services you represent)?” This is the critical step you must not miss. If you do, you could find yourself not being able to move forward into the buying and selling cycle which is part of the second phase of the sales process. This is when you get to ask sales interview questions to find out more about your prospects needs.
It may be confronting, but you must ask the credibility question in order to move forward in the sales process.
By establishing credibility, you are more likely to gain the prospects future trust even if you don’t make the sale. It leaves the door open to future sales and possible referral business.
On a final note
If you find out what a sales prospects perception is of you, your company and products or services first, you are far more likely to conclude a successful sale.
In a nutshell
- Don’t focus on closing the sale until the end of the sales process.
- Sell yourself and build trust and rapport before launching into a sales pitch.
- After you build trust and rapport, ask the question, “What is your perception of (your company, products and services)?”
- If the prospect answers positively, reinforce their perception with your value proposition and elevator pitch.
- If they answer the question negatively, handle this as you would any sales objection.
- If they are neutral and don’t know about you, your company, products or services, launch into your elevator pitch and value proposition.
- Build trust and rapport followed by the credibility step before entering into the buying and selling cycle.
- If you miss the credibility step, it’s likely you won’t close the sale.