It is easier to close a sale when a prospect has sought YOU out, rather than when you approach them. One of the reasons for this is that when a prospect approaches you, the business relationship starts out on a more equal footing.

Contrast the situation where a prospect approaches you with the built in resistance and or skepticism you encounter when the first contact is made via a cold call or unsolicited mailing. When people feel that they’ve discovered you, then you don’t encounter the resistance that can occur when you approach them.

Defenses are down, the buyer feels more in control of the communication. Instead of YOU saying, ‘Here’s how I think I can help you’ and then having to prove your claim with lots of convincing and persuading, the prospect is saying, ‘I think YOU’RE the person who can help me. Tell me how this works.’ They are much more motivated to listen to your answers! So usually in these articles I share ideas on what you can do to make the telephone ring, but once they’ve called you, how you handle that all important first phone call can make the difference between you landing a client – or losing them forever.

When a person seeks your service, before the phone rings, are you prepared? Prepare to handle the conversations and practice them in your mind. They will come in handy! The first thing you have to ask yourself is what is the reason someone would call you? What is it that you can do to help? Also, just as important…..Can you reel them in?
I have found that the first phone conversation played a critical part in the overall sales process. Handled correctly, the prospect was ‘pre-sold’ even before our first meeting, the progression from initial inquiry to signed agreement was smooth and in some cases the phone conversation went so well that the caller made the decision to buy without us having to meet.

So the first phone conversation is a crucial moment in the overall sales process and sadly many opportunities are lost forever by mishandling this critical stage. It’s not your job to ‘convert’ every caller. The purpose of this first phone conversation is to find out more about each other, and if appropriate, progress to the next step. But that doesn’t mean that every phone conversation will or should result in a sale. For a multitude of reasons, you may not be a good match for each other. I’ve witnessed many sellers put themselves – and their prospects – under unnecessary pressure because they were ‘going for the order’ before it had been established whether that was the appropriate next step. Shift your goal for the call to ‘let’s find out more about whether we’re right for each other’ instead of ‘must get the sale at any cost’.

You’ll be more relaxed, and when the prospect doesn’t feel pressured, they are more likely to lower their defenses and tell you what they really want and need. Result? When appropriate the sales will flow naturally, without you having to push. And, if it’s not appropriate to progress to the next stage right now, you have left the door open for future business and/or referrals. It’s true what they say about first impressions. Because they have called YOU, they already know something about you and what you’re offering. The fact that the prospect has bothered to pick up the phone to call you and find out more is a huge sign that they’re interested in buying. The downside is that you may not be the only company they’re calling.

So what do you need to do in this phone conversation to help things progress easily to the next step? The secret is to gauge what the caller really wants, and then give it to them. But you can’t do that unless you first get them to open up and tell you what they really want. The most important thing to do in the first few seconds is establish rapport with the enquirer….

and then … Get permission to ask questions.

When you build trust and ask the right questions, your prospects will give you all the information you need to solve their problems, give them what they really want and ultimately win their business. At the same time, some callers may be reluctant to open up on the telephone and discuss their real needs. If callers are reluctant to give you information it’s either because they don’t trust you, or because you aren’t asking the right questions. You can earn their trust by demonstrating in your attitude and manner that your primary aim is to help them make an informed decision. You can’t fake this. Customers are smart and they can sense who’s genuinely interested and trying to help, and who’s just after a quick sale.

Know who your client is! Ask about the prospect’s needs and what results they hope to achieve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling coaching, financial services or training, there are key questions that you can formulate to find out what they want to achieve, what they want to avoid, and how they plan to use the product or service that you can supply.

Can you relate to your customer? I have food for thought on one of various ways to handle this situation, as it will arise in the future I am certain. The first thought is to “hear” and “understand” what the customer is saying. No one wants to hear what YOU have to say until they know you care. Second, what are their needs? Ask questions that lead down a path that discusses their situation right now and what made them call?

Spend twice as much time listening than talking. The most successful sales performers spend 70% of their time asking questions and listening to the answers, and only 30% of the time talking about the solution they could offer. Aim for a similar ratio in your conversations with prospects. This means preparing lists of questions to use in your calls.

That said, it’s not the Spanish Inquisition! If the caller feels you are mindlessly working through list of questions without fully paying attention to them or that the questions are for your benefit rather than theirs, you’ll lose rapport and credibility. It’s a paradox that when you set aside your own needs to focus fully on what the customer really wants – even at the risk that you may not be able to provide it for them – you create an environment of trust that can ultimately lead to more sales than if you were focused on your own goals throughout the call. What’s the next step? Depending on what you are selling, the next step might be to book a treatment, book a trial session, arrange a face-to-face meeting, send information, or you might even take an order there and then.

As the seller, it’s your responsibility to make clear what the next step is, but involve the prospect in determining what they are comfortable with.