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Monday, October 18, 2010

THE COLD, HARD TRUTH: Prospecting 101, Part 7

The Cold, Hard Truth with Gabriel Siegel

THE BOTTOM LINE: The successful entrepreneur must learn to think of him/her self as a sales person. The PROSPECTING ROUNDTABLE will teach you to:
  • Ask questions

  • Listen to what and how your prospect answers the questions

  • Never, ever assume you know what someone else is thinking

My last article generated a substantial number of E mails, in which many writers voiced opinions about sales training seminars they’ve attended, or about books they bought, promising instant riches from sales techniques. Other complained that “sales training” seminars they’ve attended emphasized a positive mental attitude; smile when you meet a prospect and preparation of the worthless “elevator pitch”. I’ll address some of these.

I recently attended a networking group. The attendees mingled, handed out business cards and broke into groups (which I soon realized were cliques). Newcomers, including myself, were left to our own devices. I approached one newcomer and she immediately wondered if there is any real benefit to this group. The “facilitator” asked each participant to give a quick presentation, an “elevator pitch”. Each pitch sounded like elevator music; bland, innocuous, ridiculously repetitive and forgettable. When it came my turn to speak, I said: “Ditch the pitch. Not one of you told me how you can make or save me money. I can’t possibly refer any of you to someone who may need you because you all sound the same, and, to make matters worse, I have no idea how you can help”. I focused on the web designers and told them how they could have incorporated the idea of internet marketing and search-engine placement into their presentations.

Don’t delude yourselves into thinking that networking is prospecting. As many of our readers have written to me-it’s not! I have no doubt that for a few, very few, it’s successful. But most of us, in order to survive as entrepreneurs, will have to resort to cold calling. This brings us full circle to sales training which is the key to “getting your foot in the door”.

Several readers E mailed me with questions about “industry specific” sales training. My reply always is “What objections are industry specific”? There are none. Another writer, responding to my rejoinder about bringing nothing with you on an initial interview wrote:

“Our sales manager insists we give the client information about our company. We have a 4 color brochure, on which we spent a lot of money. What’s your problem?”

I have been on countless interviews with sales people. Invariably, they hand the prospect a brochure which they immediately begin to read. You’ve lost them! Instead, why not try this approach. “My purpose in being here is to see if I can help you. Until then, there’s nothing I can give you”. It works because you have control of the interview with your questioning and the prospect is more relaxed and will give you the information you need to close the sale. You’ve gained his trust, and, as every detective will tell you “Trust leads to the truth”. You’ve also minimized the potential for objections and are a step closer to a sale. At the end of the interview, you can leave a brochure or mail one.

An investment advisor friend, and client, shares this story. Early in his career, he cold called a family and was invited in for a presentation. They were an elderly and affluent couple. He immediately pulled out his glossy brochures on AAA bond funds and long-term fixed annuities. Try as he would, he couldn’t make the sale and was given every objection one can think of. When he called back, he was told they went with another advisor because they were looking to invest for their young grandchildren and were open to the idea of riskier investments for long term growth. My client told me he learned three important lessons from that experience. One, never bring anything with you on an initial interview second, never, ever assume you know what a prospect wants and third, ask, ask and ask. Addressing number two, I’ve heard too often from sales people “My clients don’t like that”. How do you know? You’re not a mind reader!

A landscaper client shared his thoughts on questioning. He cold calls in affluent areas and was invited to meet a prospect. The rear of the house was a large and hilly yard, with a scattering of plants and trees. He was asked for his thoughts on transforming this expanse into a garden. He told me “Gabe, I remember what we said about interviewing when I attended a PROSPECTING ROUNDTABLE”. He said “I’d love to give you my insights, but I really need to know your thoughts and ideas”. She told him she always wanted a Japanese garden because it reflects peace and tranquility. Her friends and neighbors told her it was impossible because it was expensive and difficult to maintain. My client asked her about a budget and promised to return with a rendering and a rough sketch.

He did some research and consulted with a landscape architect (with whom he shared the fee). They came back within a week with a plan for a garden. After some modifications, the client gave them the go ahead. This turned out to be his largest project for the season and he got two referrals for major landscaping jobs. The moral is: ASK QUESTIONS, LISTEN AND NEVER ASSUME YOU KNOW WHAT SOMEONE WANTS OR IS THINKING.

I would also add at this point that when another “head” is needed, don’t be afraid to ask for a consult. I’ve heard from too many salespeople that they don’t want to split commissions or fees. Our landscaper would have never gotten that job without the expertise of the landscape architect. He never would have gotten the two additional referrals. Half a commission is better than none.

You may wonder why I haven’t directly addressed the issue of overcoming objections. As I mentioned in an earlier article, this is the most critical component of the sale. You can never anticipate all objections, contrary to what some sales training programs promise. With questioning and listening, you can diffuse some of the most common ones. We will address some specific doubts your prospects may be entertaining with insights from our readers and PROSPECTING ROUNDTABLE participants.

For now, however, how often have you heard these three common objections?
  • I can’t afford it

  • I need to discuss this with my wife/business partner

  • I have to think about it

The first two objections can be addressed early in the interview. Too often a presentation is made to the wrong person or a mix of persons, or, the product is inappropriate. You need a way to deal with this.

A participant in one of our PROSPECTING ROUNDTABLES tells this story. He is a downsized IT executive and is building a consulting business working with small to mid-sized companies developing networking solutions. He met with the owner of a string of auto repair shops (his first client), conducted the interview and qualified the prospect as the decision maker. He prepared a presentation and, while driving to the meeting had what he called an “epiphany”. He told us there was no way this business owner would have gone for his solution. He said, “I was still in corporate mode. I was used to dealing with IT staffs with specialized training. I also realized that had I given my original presentation, he would have thrown every objection in the book”.


The third objection “I have to think about it” is the most frequently heard. Our participants have shared their thoughts and suggestions and I will share some strategies.

For anyone wishing to share thoughts or comments, the writer can be reached at I respond to E mails quicker and more thoughtfully than I do when contacted on social networking sites.

NOTE TO READERS: Our PROSPECTING ROUNDTABLE SEMINARS are sold out through February, 2011. We will be announcing new dates shortly.

For more information, please visit Gabriel's TNNWC Bio.

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