Know Your Prospects

Your sales team needs to know your products and services inside out, but when it comes to closing a deal, they need to be just as well-versed in your customers' needs. Suppose you hear from a prospect you've been targeting for a long time. Just because you've been contacted doesn't mean a sale. Customers are likely to be looking for an idea of how your products or services are going to beef up their bottom lines -- in other words, if they buy, what's in it for them?

Two business people shaking hands

You need to give answers that demonstrate how you can bolster the prospect's operations, productivity and -- above all -- profit.

Here's a three-step strategy to help seal the deal:

Step 1: Learn

Spend as much time as possible learning everything you can about the customer's company and projects it may be starting that need your products or services.

Study the company's website. Find data on finances, operating methods, history, products, services, top executives and industry standing. Ask the customer for any relevant written material, explaining that you need the data to scope out the needs of the business.

Step 2: Question

Using your research, prepare six questions you want to ask the prospective buyer. Make the questions open-ended so they elicit lengthy answers. The goal is to uncover problem areas in the company.

Step 3: Listen

When you finally sit down with potential customers, let them do most of the talking and listen carefully. This helps you come back with insightful solutions and suggestions. It's all positioning:

By knowing your prospective customers' businesses and needs and providing solutions to their problems, you position yourself as a professional who is concerned about their success. Once they see that, the deal is more likely to be clinched.

Solid research can help cut the number of calls you make and boost the percentage of leads that become done deals. Remember, the more money you help customers make, the healthier your bottom line will be.

However, when customers decide not to buy your product, ask them why.

According to Frank Bettger, an author of books on sales success, most prospects avoid telling you the real reason why they turn you down. Two-thirds of the time, they toss out false objections.

In his book How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Selling, Bettger quotes J.P. Morgan (banker, financier and one of America's wealthiest men at the turn of the 20th century): "A man generally has two reasons for doing a thing -- one that sounds good, and a real one."

Often, Bettger explains, the customer's "real reason" is based on false assumptions and faulty data. The secret to closing a sale may be discovering that reason and providing the customer with accurate information.

So when a prospect turns you down, first ask why. Then ask: "In addition to that, is there some other reason that makes you hesitate?"

Customers often have no idea that they are basing their decisions on bad or incomplete information. Sometimes, all it takes to change their minds is to let them voice their objections after realizing they didn't give the decision enough thought or have all the facts.

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