Your First Conversation with a Prospect
By: John Chapin
I was recently in a sales meeting for a company that I just started working with. One of the subjects that came up was how to handle the first interaction with the prospect. By first interaction, I'm referring to the first conversation with someone who seems to have some interest and has decided to at least give you a few minutes of their time. In sales meetings, I’ll usually ask if someone has an example of what they do in that situation and if they could share it with the group. In this case, Wayne volunteered. He’s a veteran at the company having sold for them for about 17 years. He started speaking and after about 90 seconds of verbal diarrhea, I stopped him.
What came out of his mouth was a monolog about their company and their products. It amazes me how much this happens. Most lectures, like the one Wayne was giving, last five to ten minutes, or more, and the salesperson does not ask one question or get any input from the prospect, they just drone on hoping they’ll say something the prospect will find interesting.
The most important part of a first conversation with a prospect is to get them talking as much as possible. The 80/20 Rule applies here. Now depending upon whom you’re talking to, what kind of initial impression you’ve made, when you catch them, their personality type, etc., you may or may not achieve 80/20, but that’s the goal: them speaking about 80% of the time, you speaking about 20% of the time. And, when you do speak, most of that will be in the form of asking well-thought-out questions that both separate you from your competitors and help you determine the prospect’s needs, wants, and desires. Near the end of your first meeting, you may mention some ways you, your company, or your product might be a good fit for what they are looking for or make some comments on some of what they shared with you but this first conversation, even though you are controlling it, as you control all sales situations, the prospect is the star of the show.
The best way to open this conversation is by asking why they decided to meet with you. It can be simple as asking, “So, why did you decide to meet with me?” Or, “Why did you decide to give me a few minutes today?” If they reached out to you, you want to ask why, but you also want to find out why they reached out to you specifically now versus a month ago or a month from now.
If they open the conversation by asking any questions about you, your company, or your product, you can address those briefly, but you want to get them talking. Later you can fill them in on you, your company, and your product based on the information they shared with you about what they may or may not be looking for. For example, if they say something like, “So, I’ve heard about your company, but really don’t know a lot.” Come back with, “Well, I’m happy to share some details about our company and why many in your industry currently do business with us and a lot of that will depend upon your current situation and what you’re looking for. Is it okay if I ask you a few questions about your current situation?” After getting an affirmative response, you can ask your diagnostic questions to determine needs, wants, problems, and desires, and determine whether or not you have a solution for them.
Questions you ask will revolve around why they’ve decided to meet with you, what their current situation is, if they have any wants, needs, or problems and how bad and urgent are they, when they looking to make a decision, how they make a decision, what would make them decide to do business with you or someone else, are there any rules or parameters within which they’ll make a decision, what are the most important factors in making a decision, what kind of resources do they have to invest in a solution, etc. Basically, your questions will focus on how ready, willing, and able they are to invest in a solution that involves you and your company. Of course, you also want to make sure you listen well to the answers and get details documented.
Here are some other things to consider in this first interaction:
- Verify important information.
- Make a note of their words and phrases, so you can “speak their language.”
- You need to be scripted and you need to practice questions and what you’re going to say ahead of time; be prepared. I’m not going to point-counter-point the whole script thing. The best teams, movies, shows, and performances are all scripted and all the best players practice them and know them cold.
- Close during the call, whether that be a sales attempt, a next meeting or call, or gracefully bowing out because you realize this is not a good prospect for you. You must close on all calls.
Above all else, remember, especially in this first meeting, to let the prospect talk more than you and make sure you listen well. If you catch yourself talking for a couple of minutes or more at any point, it’s probably time to ask a question or simply shut up and let them speak.
#1 Sales Rep w 34+ years’ experience, Author of the 2010 sales book of the year: Sales Encyclopedia (Axiom Book Awards) – also the largest sales book on the planet (678 pages).
John Chapin is a motivational sales speaker, coach, and trainer. For his free eBook: 30 Ideas to Double Sales and monthly article, or to have him speak at your next event, go to www.completeselling.com. John has over 34 years of sales experience as a number one sales rep and is the author of the 2010 sales book of the year, Sales Encyclopedia (Axiom Book Awards). You can reprint provided you keep contact information in place.