When you’re making a sales presentation to a new prospect or to a company you’ve never worked with, use your ears first. Preparation and approach can mean everything in getting that first yes. Ask general questions about how they will use your product or service; then keep quiet and listen to the answers.
Try to pick up little clues or keys in what people say so that you can customize your presentation to emphasize the benefits in which they are most interested. Before you even arrive, you should know something about the company and/or the person with whom you are meeting. Search the library or the web for information, and be sure to know what the company does and their position in their industry. Have the people you’re seeing written any papers or published articles that will give you valuable clues to their views and personality?
The larger the account, the more preparation you’ll need to do. You’ll only get one chance at a first meeting, after all.
When you’re face to face, it takes more restraint to listen than to talk. Ask questions that require more than a yes or no answer and then sit there and really listen to the responses. Customers like to feel as if you’re really listening to them—and it’s hard to get your foot into a closed mouth.
Plan your questions in advance and be prepared to deviate from your original approach based on the responses you’re getting. You may need to come up with new questions on the spot to keep going in the right direction. Make sure that you look and act interested and try your best to remember their responses. You likely won’t remember everything, but do take note of the important points the customer makes. Write down the high points and keep your notes in front of you so you can refer back to them as needed.
Some people get right to the point, while others take a little longer. Give your prospects and customers whatever time they require. Don’t let silence scare you—wait for an answer. Sometimes 10 seconds seems like forever, but don’t give in. If you feel the silence has gone on for too long, just remind the person of the question, courteously. Above all, never talk down to a prospect or make him or her feel inferior. You want the prospect on your side, not against you.
Listening is an art that sometimes needs to be acquired through practice and patience. Many sales reps are Type-A personalities, and listening can be a nuisance—they want to get on with things. But your prospect may be the opposite personality type and may not want to be rushed, so you must listen and understand. Try this with your spouse or friends until it becomes a regular habit. You’ll find your prospects are more comfortable when they are doing the talking, and you’ll learn the secrets of closing the sale from what they are saying.