INTERVIEWING YOUR PROSPECT
You have scheduled an appointment with your prospect and the day comes for your appointed time to deliver an effective presentation and you are on your way to closing the deal and gaining a new customer.
Sometimes when you are in front of your prospect, they might throw you a curve ball that forces you to think quickly on your feet. The features and benefits you planned on selling them with come to find out are not the benefits they are looking for. For this reason many people do not try to close the sale on the first meeting. Sometimes this approach works well for me and other times I go ahead and move into closing directly after my presentation.
Whether or not you do a “one call close” will greatly depend on your product and your style. As far as I am concerned when selling woodwork, there really isn’t a right or wrong way as far as if you close on the first meeting or not. Some of my clients I close at the first meeting and some I visit two or three times prior to going for the close. Allot will depend on your personal style and how things go during the first meeting.
But as far as the elements of the presentation, where do you begin? In my last blog on cold calling I said to leave out the pleasantries and to get straight to the point. When it comes to your first in person meeting, take what I said about cold calling and throw it out the window because it doesn’t apply here. Usually your meeting will start out with the pleasantries and hand shake and introductions. I usually comment on their office or store or anything to “break the ice” and get the conversation moving. Allot of times I will then start out with a short 30 second “commercial” if you will about my company and who we are what we make and the clients we serve. At the end of this short commercial, I don’t go right into presenting my products but start getting the prospect to talk by asking questions.
The questions you ask can be in any order tailored to your particular presentation but the key points you want to know are: (Note: do not ask these verbatim as they can sound too direct, try to use tact in asking your questions to not sound forward)
1. Do they currently use a product similar to yours?
2. Who are they currently using as a vendor for their products?
3. If they no longer use a product like yours, why did they change?
4. If they are not using a product like yours, what are they using instead?
5. What are their future plans for using a product like yours?
6. Who are the customers they currently serve?
7. What are they usually paying for a product like yours?
Depending upon your product that you are selling, some of these questions may or may not apply. There might be a lot more questions that you can ask that will benefit your presentation too depending upon your product. The important thing to remember: DO NOT shoot from the hip. Before you show up to the meeting, have several questions in mind and just how you plan to ask it.
Let me tell you a horror story that happened to me not long ago. I was giving a presentation to a casket dealer that served funeral homes across three states. Being use to presenting directly to funeral homes, I asked a question that I have asked several funeral homes and have never had a negative response.
Basically concerning what he was paying for his casket is where I flubbed up my presentation. Normally I will ask a funeral director very direct, what are they paying for their caskets from my competition. They have always been very receptive to pull out the price lists and show me what they are currently paying, as this price list will vary from funeral home to funeral home depending upon the volume they give a particular supplier.
I asked the casket distributor this question in the same manor and forgot to remember one small detail. In one of those three states, he considered me a competitor as I sell directly to the same funeral homes that he was targeting. His reply was very direct that he didn’t feel it was any of my business to know what he was paying from other manufacturers.
Needless to say, this set a downhill atmosphere for the rest of the presentation. Hind sight being 20/20 I should have rephrased that question (and in fact have modified the question even when presenting to funeral homes) to say: “If I were to supply you with my caskets at X amount of dollars, does this leave room for you to be able to market my products at a competitive level and still be profitable for you?” After all the whole reason for asking what they are currently paying was to find out if my product is priced competitively. Perhaps if I had asked the casket distributor in this fashion, the outcome would have been more rewarding on both of our parts.
Even if you believe that you already know the answer to a question, still go ahead and ask it. I learned this technique from a friend of mine who was an expert at marriage counseling. He told me something that holds true for sales. He said that in effective counseling, most people already know the answers to the problems in their marriage and how to fix it, but some people just need to hear it from an outside source before they apply it.
In sales, sometimes asking a question you might already know the answer to will allow a prospect to see your product in a different light or see a benefit they hadn’t realized before.
Now when I mention asking a question you already know the answer to, that does not mean to ask a ridiculously dumb question. I don’t go to a funeral home and ask “What do you do here?” Of course they are in the business of funeral services and final arrangement planning. But how I would rephrase this is:”Does your funeral home cater to a particular religious or ethnic group?” When you phrase your question in this type of manor, your prospect will usually answer with more detail than a simple response to your question.
Some sales trainers and books will say to ask questions that uncover a particular problem your prospect is having and then give them a solution to it.
This approach sounds good, however; not every prospect is going to have a problem with their current supplier. I tend to believe in the internet age, if a prospect is experiencing a problem with a supplier or their product, they are not going to sit long waiting for a new company to come solve the problem but get on phone and contact a new supplier on their own.
Earlier this year I fell victim to this thinking that there was a problem with a prospects supplier. I gave a presentation to the manager of a funeral home. We closed the meeting with another appointment where I would give the same presentation to the Board of Directors prior to them committing to using my product.
He made the statement that he really liked my product and would brief the board that he wanted to remove all products from another supplier and use my products exclusively.
A few days later, I was back in front of their board and gave a very solid presentation. The President of the board then stated that they were already under an exclusive contract with my competitor and excused himself from the meeting so that he could call their attorney to find out if there were any repercussions of canceling their contract early to use my products instead. While waiting for him to return, I mentioned to the board that twice I had heard remarks about the competing company and sensed there was a problem, and exactly what went wrong with their other supplier. They all looked at each other with blank faces and finally the manager spoke up and said, “Nothing went wrong, the difference is you. You have a casket in front of us and 15 different styles of urns on our table and to be honest, they are similar to what we already sell, but we just like you.”
When you here a statement like this from a customer, you know you did your job well in selling to them.
Do not transition from the interview stage to the presentation stage too quickly. The interview stage is where you are learning about your prospect and taking note of how your product can benefit them. It is during this stage of the sales cycle that they should be doing most of the talking. This does not mean that you cannot go into your presentation stage in the same meeting, just be careful to not transition too quickly as this is your opportunity to learn all you can from your prospect.
Some sales books out there will say that each of the stages should take part in separate meetings. Where you interview during one meeting, give a presentation the next followed by a third meeting for your final proposal and closing of the deal. This might apply if you are selling high tech custom designed integrated software systems, but when it comes to woodworking, I really do not see a problem with a one call close.
There have been times where I did not go into my presentation stage or closing on the first meeting. It all depends on the situation and your prospect.
One time I went to my first meeting with a funeral home that had been in business since 1935. To my surprise, it was still owned and managed by the wife of the founder. I arrived for a 2pm meeting and she mentioned to me that she had another appointment scheduled at 4pm. Thinking this was more than enough time I gave my 30 second commercial and went into the interview stage. She told me the whole history of the funeral home, took me on a tour of her facility, told me the ups and downs and trends of her business over the years and before I knew it, 4pm had arrived and I had yet to open my presentation binder to even show her any of my products. She began to apologize for dominating the conversation and not giving me a chance to even show her my products. I told her that it was okay, I wasn’t planning on selling her anything that day because I needed the time to get to know her and her business before I would know if my products would benefit her business. I suggested we meet again and set up another appointment for the following week.
A week later I returned for our second meeting and gave my presentation and closed the sale. In wrapping up the formalities of our contract, she mentioned that she was sold the week prior on the fact that I listened intently and didn’t assume my products would fit her needs.
When you see yourself in the position that you do not close on the first call, the most important thing to do is to move to the next step which is to set another appointment. Do not tell your prospect that you will call them in a day or so to schedule the appointment as this may very well set you back to stage one. The person might not be available to be reach on the phone for a couple weeks and they forget everything they know about you. Do not depend on the person to call you later to set an appointment, they never do. They end up getting busy with their other tasks and with the status quo, and for the most part calling you to schedule another appointment is on the bottom of their priorities. By not setting the appointment right then, you only prolong the sales cycle. At all costs, try to get the next appointment scheduled prior to you leaving.
The style you choose in interviewing and presenting your products will greatly depend on your style and comfort level. If you attempt to go to a presentation using methods that you are not comfortable with, this will show, and reflect on your presentation as a whole. It doesn’t mean that certain techniques are wrong, they are just wrong for you. As long as you concentrate on the key factors of asking questions and interviewing your prospect, regardless of the method, it will enable you to transition into the presentation stage and closing stage more easily.
-- Michael Mills, North Carolina, http://www.scicaskets.com