Sales Techniques 101: Opening and research
So how do salespeople open a sales opportunity? Well, it all depends on the circumstances. No that is not a cop-out but a fact. If they work on a shop floor or an exhibition, for example, customers come to them and are actively looking at the products in the store so the salesperson can quite easily open talking about the particular product. If they are knocking on people's doors or walking up to them in the street, they would get a less warm opening and if they are telephone selling again it is different. If they have an appointment and are visiting people in their homes or office, they have an open door but until they get there they never actually know what they are going to get.
The most important aspect of the opening is to be different. Not too obvious and be likable. In being different, the need is to engage the prospect and stand out from all the other sales reps. There is a need to be more engaging and enthusiastic about the customer as an individual and their need. Being different does not mean wearing silly hats or acting like a plonker, but it does mean that they do not be the public personification of a sales person.
When opening, salespeople are taught to be observant about the person or the surroundings (if they are visiting them).
If they are deeply engaged in looking at the details of a product, it might be worth opening by asking if they would like those features explained or if they would like a demo. Simplicity works.
If the salesperson or compliance professional is visiting the prospect and the prospect is clearly dubious about whom they (the seller) are and what they want then the salesperson should open by introducing themselves and get to the point as to why they are there. The salesperson shouldn't fear to get to the point. Don’t be fooled that you can always open a conversation by admiring the prospects garden or talking about the pictures on the wall of their office, or telling a story as the old-school training manuals and trainers will tell you. Time is precious, and people are suspicious and more informed in today’s society. Not getting straight to the point can do more to irritate the prospect than warm them up. That kind of conversation should be left to a more appropriate time once they have established themselves and built up a rapport with the prospect maybe a second visit or later on in their conversation.
On the other hand, if the prospect is quite open with the salesperson and is asking them about themselves and their journey. Or if the rep makes a small comment like what spacious offices they have here and they, the prospect, do more than just agree with them but give them a detailed answer. Then this is a sign that the customer is open to a general conversation before the salesperson starts talking business and is a probably a good time to start building that rapport early. If the prospect is this relaxedthough, it does show they are probably someone relaxed in their skin and this can often be a sign of a skilled negotiator.
As a sales person, a lot of it can be down to reading the situation, feeling and trusting your gut reaction as well as watching the body language of the prospect when they make initial conversation. If the target appears irritated and offish then the real sales people change tact. If the target seems open and their body language suggests they are comfortable, then the observant sales person will carry on, but they make sure their conversation is about the customer and not themselves.
A note here on body language: there is a lot of outdated and misleading statements made about body language that has been disproven. Such as if someone sits with their arms crossed they are being closed and defensive. But that fact is that they could just be more comfortable with their arms crossed, or they could be cold. While body language can be a good indicator, we have to take the manuals and advice with a pinch of salt and rely more heavily on our gut feelings when it comes to it. There is a danger that we can read more, or less, to a situation. Hostage negotiators will tell you that it is the words both what people say but also how they say it that gives you an insight into a person’s thinking and that body language, for most, is all but useless.
Talking about the prospect and listening carefully can get the client to open up and as long as the sales person is paying attention, they can gather useful info that they can use in closing the deal later.
From a consumers point of view, we need to ask ourselves “while this stranger seems interested in me what is their hidden agenda, especially when most people don’t find me that interesting” well let's face it they don’t do they. No one, not even your loved ones, findsyou asinteresting as the sales people trying to sell you something.
If ever you are in a sales situation, and you are the buyer, and you feel like “why did I just say that, why did I tell this stranger everything” then the best course of action is just to leave or hang up the phone. It might sound rude but trust me it won't phase a good salesperson, but it might save you from buying something you later regret. If someone gets us talking especially about ourselves, we have a tendency to ramble. We have a tendency to let slip when we are encouraged to keep talking about ourselves. A skilled seller will know this and be in no rush to move on to the next client if they get a customer rambling and listen out for keywords and key drivers they can use these a tools of influence at a later stage in the conversation.
Do your research…
If a salesperson is visiting a business customer, it always pays for them to do as much research on the client and the company as they can. The same could be said about consumers but with consumers, it tends to be lower value items than in business to business transaction plus the info is harder to get for the average sales person. The higher the value item you sell, the more the research pays off.
In today’s world, there is so much information at your fingertips through LinkedIn, company websites, open profiles on Facebook, tweets you can build up a picture of what is going on in their business world as well what their personal interests. With a little research, you can find out a lot about people. Especially in their professional roles. People want to be recognised for their achievements especially when it comes to business. So they are happy to put their name to anything that will aid in their self-promotion. Salespeople need to be careful with the information they gain and how they use it but knowing a little bit more about their prospects may give them some good opening questions that they can use if things seem a little awkward, or they need to break the ice. Of course, knowing too much could come off creepy.
In future books, I will go into how to build a customer profile through the use of tools such as Linkedin and how these digital tools can be useful for salespeople out in the field.
Written by Behavioural Marketing Specialist: Sam O'Prey from Telford, Shropshire, West Midlands UK specialist in helping charities, not for profits, social enterprises and activists to get their message noticed
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