When opportunity comes knocking

Know when to ask for the business

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Let’s face it. Competing for customers is tougher than ever these days. Few recognize that there is an art to seizing a sales opportunity-whether in a one-to-one selling environment or in mass marketing. Adopt these critical principles to give your company the greatest chance of getting in on the action:

  • Remember: timing is everything. Know when and how to sell your products or services using this five-step process, says Nate Brooks, CEO of Nate Brooks & Associates, a Chino Hills, California-based customer-service and sales-training consulting firm: (a) build rapport; (b) ask questions that gain you personal information, tell you what challenges or problems your customer is trying to solve and what they’ll gain once the challenge is resolved; (c) present your solutions to their problem, explaining features and benefits; (d) overcome their objections; (e) close the deal.
  • Pay attention and really listen. A client’s body language and speech patterns express valuable information. Don’t miss the silent cues, because they can help you close or open a deal better than any words fired across a table. If your client is restless, that may be a signal to either stop and ask more questions or close the sale. But don’t panic. Just be aware of his restlessness, gain confidence from the perception and pace yourself to make your point effectively.
  • Employ skillful questioning. Try to discover either the desire or the problem that is driving a prospective client to consider your company. Find out why she’s dissatisfied with the competition. For example, ask these questions: “How long have you been in your position?” “What do you like/dislike about it?” “What are the challenges you face?” “Who makes decisions in your company?” Use words like “describe,” “explain,” and “tell me.” Always do your homework to show that you have taken the time to make yourself knowledgeable about their industry and the possible challenges that are unique to them, says Brooks. Read company literature, newsletters and articles, and do research on the Internet.
  • Don’t oversell. Few people recognize that many sales are lost because the representative continued to sell a sold client, thus giving the client a reason to stop listening (or being persuaded) and start thinking (often critically). Look for buying signals. “A buying signal is anything a person will say or do to indicate that they are ready to buy,” says Brooks. So, what might they say? “Do I make a check out to you or a specific department?” “Do you take purchase orders?” “How soon will my service start?” What might they do? Pull out a checkbook, give you a purchase order, call in someone else to hear what you’re saying or interrupt your presentation. What if you’re not certain it’s a buying signal? Ask, “Do you think our products will help you save time and money?” Listen to the answer to know if they are ready to buy or if you should keep giving more information, says Brooks.
  • Follow up after the sale. Send thank-you notes and always keep in touch for future sales.
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