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How to Maximize the Power of a Sales Call
By Dave Kahle   Printer Friendly Version

No matter how clever the marketing program, how creative the advertising, or how friendly the customer service reps, if you mishandle the sales call, everything else is a waste.

The sales call is the most critical point in your sales and marketing system and the ultimate test of your marketing program -- It's the point where all your work comes together and you either succeed or fail.

Mishandle the sales call and you may lose a customer for years. Handle it correctly and you'll take the first step toward a lifetime relationship.

With so much riding on those few minutes, it's important to maximize the value of your time spent.

Yet few of us systematically do so. We never fully capture the value of our time with our customers and prospects. Instead we react to our customer's agenda and too often waste important and expensive time together.

The key to maximizing that power is to implement some systematic methods of structuring that time together. By doing so, you'll take pro-active control of the interaction and wring the most value out of it -- you'll maximize the power of a sales call.

Start by thinking of a sales call differently. That means using the best terms. Instead of using the words "sales call," let's call the same event "managing an Interactive Sales Dialogue."

This isn't just a word change --it's an expression of a new way to look at sales. The words "sales call" implies that you are visiting the prospect for the purpose of getting him/her to give you money for something you're peddling.

The focus is on the product or service and the dollars it represents. However, when you start talking about "Managing an Interactive Sales Dialogue," the focus is on the people and the processes that go on between them.

Today's customers are much more sophisticated and demanding than ever before. To respond effectively, you need to focus on the people and the processes, not the dollars.

Let's look at each of those terms in detail in order to more accurately understand this concept.

"Managing" implies that it's your responsibility to see to it that certain processes take place.

"Interactive" emphasizes that "selling ain't telling." It is a two-way conversation with both parties exchanging and receiving information, listening and talking.

"Sales" asserts that this interaction differs from a conversation you'd have with a friend in that it is directed toward a specific end. It should conclude with an agreement for both parties to do something -- to take some action.

"Dialogue" stresses that this is an honest exchange of feeling, facts, ideas and aspirations.

So, the first step in maximizing the power of a sales call is to think about it differently -- to perceive it in different terms.

Then, let me suggest a format that will allow you to manage this Interactive Sales Dialogue effectively, time after time, in all sorts of situations.

It doesn't matter if you're responding to a loan request from a small start up company or negotiating an increase in the line of credit for a large, old customer. Regardless of the situation, you can use this format to effectively manage the dialogue.

Imagine a baseball diamond. It provides the analogy that makes it easy to remember the format. In case you're not sure how baseball is played, look at the illustration. Let's imagine that you're the batter. First you warm up in the on-deck circle. While you're there you have no chance to get a hit because you haven't been up at bat. But, you can't get to the batter's box unless you go through the on-deck circle.

Once you get to the batter's box you have a chance to make a hit. If you are then fortunate enough to hit the ball you run to first base. Now think for a minute what would happen if you ran to second base first. You'd be laughed at. Your friends would never let you forget it. You'd have a nickname that would follow you the rest of your life. Your grand children would hear about it.

It's unthinkable. You must go to first base first. Then, if things go well you go to second base, then third. At that point you have made it around 3/4 of the diamond. And yet, no runs have scored. If you only get that far and no further, nothing goes up on the scoreboard. Nothing happens until you make it to home plate.

That image of a baseball diamond can provide you an excellent image to use as an outline for managing your Interactive Sales Dialogue. You're the batter standing in the on-deck circle. Your first task is to get to the batter's box -- to get a chance to make a hit.

In an Interactive Sales Dialogue, in order to have an opportunity, you must create some trust and respect first. The prospect must see you as a real person he can trust. In other words, you have to create the start of a real relationship with that person.

Unfortunately many salespeople have a defective idea of how they should relate to their prospects and customers. Maybe you're one. You've been told that you must be professional and perhaps a little aloof in your dealings with clients.

Totally untrue. Customers in the 90's don't want "professional" they want "real." Your job, if you're going to be successful is to connect with him/her in a real way.

Here's one way to do that. In the first 10 minutes of your meeting with someone, while you're still discussing superficial things, share something unique and personal about yourself.

Here's an example. I often am able to bring into the conversation with a new prospect the fact that I'm a foster parent, and that my wife and I have had 17 foster children.

What does that have to do with sales? Absolutely nothing. But it has everything to do with creating a relationship with the customer in such a way that he/she sees me as a real person.

So my sharing something that makes me a little vulnerable allows me to break through the invisible barriers between him and me. Most people want to treat you as a stereotype because it's easy. You're not a person, you're a "banker." And it's easier to deal with you as a "banker" than as a real person.

If you can share something personal about yourself, you break through those walls of superficiality, you burst through the stereotype barriers and make yourself be seen as a real live human being with real blood flowing through your veins.

Back to our analogy. Let's say you're successful in developing something of a real relationship with the other party. That means that you have traveled from the on-deck circle to the batter's box. Now you have to get to first base.

Getting to first base in a sales call means using questions to more completely understand the prospect's needs, interests, situation, and motivation.

A well-phrased, appropriately-timed question is the salesperson's single most powerful selling tool.

Yes, it's important to communicate clearly. And yes, it's important to listen attentively. But both of those skills are secondary to the ability to ask good questions.

Here's why. When you ask a question you cause certain thought processes to take place in the prospect's mind. For example, suppose I ask you, "What did you have for breakfast this morning?" If you're even remotely normal, you'll quickly think back to breakfast and visualize what you had to eat, if anything.

So, my act of asking a question caused you to think about something I wanted you to think about. Why is that important? Because the decision to buy something -- to agree with the action plan you arrive at -- takes place in the prospect's mind. A question causes appropriate processes in the person's mind.

So, getting to first base is a matter of asking questions in order to more completely understand the prospect.

Remember, you can't go to second base first. It's totally inappropriate. So, in managing an Interactive Sales Dialogue, you can't start talking about your proposal until you have used questions to understand the prospect. Unless you understand him/her, you're working on information about the prospect that is based on assumption and speculation. And that's always dangerous.

Ok, you're on first base. Now that you understand the prospect well, you can begin to talk about your proposal, your bank, your service and yourself. Your job is to chose those items or features that meet the interests and needs of this particular prospect. In other words, every person gets a different "presentation" because every person is different.

Image that you're selling a package of marking pens. Your pens come in a package that contains an assortment of colors, or they can be purchased one at a time in the color of your choice.

Now suppose you're talking about the features of those pens to someone and you choose to stress the assortment of colors. And, unbeknown to you, your prospect is color blind. Your discussion of the assortment has raised in his mind a negative. And that negative may translate itself into fear that may defeat the sale.

All of that could have been avoided by simply stressing those features that were right for this particular prospect.

So, you get to second base by selecting those features that are right for, and of interest to, the particular prospect you're speaking with.

Now you're ready to go to third base. You do so by translating the features into benefits. While a feature is a statement about some describable characteristic of your service, a benefit translates that into what it means to that particular prospect.

Benefits answer these questions in the prospect's mind,"What's in it for me?" and "So what?"

Let's say that you've just said to a prospect, "Our Preferred Client Program has a ten percent interest rate." You've gotten to second base by relating some feature to him. Now you get to third base by translating that into a benefit. Use this transitional phrase: "This means that you ...." and fill in the blanks.

What does it mean to him/her? Your job, as the manager responsible for this Interactive Sales Dialogue is to translate it in such a way as to make it perfectly clear what it means to him/her.

You could say "This means that you will be saving money by paying one of the lowest rates in the area."

Now he knows what the significance of that feature is to him. You've answered the question, "What's in it for me."

Here's a little visual trick that will help you remember to always go to third base by translating features into benefits.

Imagine your prospect with a three-inch high neon sign fixed to his/her forehead. The sign is bolted in with four stainless steal bolts at each of the four corners. On the sign are bright red neon letters which spell the words "SO WHAT?"

Now, every time you say something about yourself, your bank, your service or your proposal, imagine the sign lighting up and flashing at you "So what, so what , so what. " The only way you can get the sign to shut off is to translate that statement into a benefit by using the words "This means that you....."

That gets you to third base. Unfortunately none of your efforts matter unless you get home. And getting home means closing the sale.

Closing can mean a lot of things at different places in the sales process. It doesn't always mean getting a signature on a document. Sometimes, particularly in the kind of selling process that takes several visits, its' not appropriate to ask for the order. But it is appropriate to ask for an agreement on the next step -- the action you and he/she will take as a result of your dialogue.

Again, in this short article we can't condense a four hour seminar into a paragraph or two. However, two rules can apply. First, think of a close as an agreement between two people on the action both will take as a result of the dialogue.

Second, close every interaction. To illustrate, let's say that you've visited a commercial loan customer for the purpose of getting them to use your investment services. You've run the bases well, establishing rapport, using questions to understand their needs, explaining the appropriate features of your service, and translating them into benefits.

Now the prospect says "Thanks for your time. I appreciate knowing about that." You may feel pretty good getting the warm fuzzys from your prospect, but if you leave now, the call will most likely result in nothing.

You've got to maximize the time you've spent together by closing. And that means getting some agreement on the next step.

So, instead of leaving you say, "I'm glad you feel that way. Can we set up an account for you?" You've just asked a closing question.

The customer says, "Maybe, I'll want to talk to the CFO about it."

A lot of people would leave at this point, feeling that they can't go any further. But the Interactive Sales Dialogue is not closed because there is no agreement on the action steps.

So, you say "Great. When do you think you'll be able to do that?" and he says, "Oh, sometime this week." And you say, "OK, shall I call you on Tuesday, then, to discuss it? " And he says, "No, maybe Thursday. You say, "OK, then you'll talk to the CFO about it, and I'll call you on Thursday to discuss the next step."

You've just closed the Interactive Sales Dialogue because you've gotten an agreement on the next step.

And that's how you maximize the power of your sales calls. Think differently about them, and follow the baseball diamond outline all the way around the bases so that you score a run every time.


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