Paul Petersen Got your attention? That’s the power of a good opening question.
Conventional wisdom says you have 30 seconds to get your point across – how you’ve helped others, your longevity, etc. Otherwise you’ll experience the death of a lead through interrogation: “How much are you looking to buy? When? Are YOU the decision maker?”
If you’re a lucky salesperson getting leads from your marketing team, then it’s important to nurture those leads to make the transition from general interest to engagement. Whether I get a phone call or am making a phone call out to a lead I’ve been given, I do the following:
First, I get my name and brand out there, and remind the prospect that I’m following up on their inquiry (obviously not for a phone in).
Second, listen – prospects will often jump right into what they care about and you have to listen, and listen carefully – not for an opportunity to take over, but to see if what they say helps you assess their need and qualify the lead.
If they are slow to start (or after they’ve spoken), I’ll ask “What prompted your interest?” This gets them talking about why they’re considering solutions like yours. “Was it a problem you’re addressing, a new initiative, etc.?” With one open question you get them talking
Then assess what you heard. Is there an opportunity here? If so, I immediately confirm to the prospect that we can help, and add any relevant specifics on benefits and other customers. Then you can move to more detailed discussions about their process, timing, approvals, and how they’d like to proceed. Then mutually agree upon the next steps, dates, etc.
If it doesn’t sound like an opportunity, “go for the No” [i]. Ask some knock-out questions, or ask about the relative importance of something you DON’T offer compared to the other requirements. Maybe the knock-out is minor, but if it is a knock-out, share that with the prospect. “It sounds like X may be key for you, and unfortunately we don’t offer that, but we do all the others really well.”
Sometimes prospects want something that no one else does (know your competition). In which case, share that thought and let them know they are unlikely to find it. See if they talk themselves out of it. Or, it may be a competitive set-up, in which case you have to find a way to trump it with one of yours, or at least minimize the importance of it in the customer’s mind. “How often will you use that double-handled ice cream scoop in your operation?” The key here is to show your expertise, and either get the client to realize you are a good source or to qualify it as ‘no opportunity,’ and move on.
At one software company I had a very high close ratio of forecasted sales. When asked why, I looked back and realized I wasn’t forecasting deals I couldn’t win, and I wasn’t spending time on them either. NEXT!
I love talking to people and hearing their stories, and then sharing my expertise…and good questions make that happen.
[i] Fenton, Richard; Waltz, Andrea Go for No! Yes is the Destination, No is How You Get There, 2010, Courage Crafters