When you start a conversation, the question on the top of the customer's mind is always "Why should I talk to you?"

How you answer that question–which may remain unspoken–largely determines how, and whether, the opportunity will develop.

Here's a quick test.

Imagine you're selling inventory control systems. Below are two ways you can answer the "why should I talk to you?" question.  Read both, then pick the one that works best.  The correct answer is at bottom. (No peeking!)

  • Option 1: "It's my understanding that your industry, in general, has challenges connected with the weak economy and difficulties in controlling inventory.  However, I'd like to know how you view the situation and to what extent that weakness influences what's going on in your own manufacturing facilities."
  • Option 2: "I'm here to talk with you today because my research reveals that your firm is probably losing money because of poor inventory control.  Since your industry is currently under stress due to the weak economy, you may need our product to help you fix this problem."

The key to answering the question effectively is to show that you've done appropriate research–but still want to hear about the situation "from the horse's mouth." (Still think you know the correct answer?)

The last thing you want is for the customer to think that you're know-it-all who's going to tell her how to run her own business. That's why the more effective response is the first, rather than the second.

The above is based upon a conversation with Nancy Martini, CEO of PI Worldwide.