SALES

How to Turn a Contact Into a Customer

Use your initial meetings with business contacts to discover whether they're potential customers.
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In the post "How to Give a Flawless Elevator Pitch," I explained how to turn a social conversation into a sales opportunity. The goal of that process is to set up that all-important initial business meeting.

Of course, there are other ways, such as cold calling or a referral, to get that initial meeting. Regardless of how it comes about, that meeting is your chance to turn a business contact into a paying customer.

Because the contact has agreed to meet with you, you already know the contact has some interest in what you're selling. To take the sale to the next level, you ask your contact questions such as:

  • What are you trying to achieve?
  • What's blocking you from achieving it?
  • How are you trying to achieve it?
  • What would represent a big win for you in this area?

When you get answers to these questions, you propose a tentative solution that matches what you've learned. Then you "close" on the next step.

For example, suppose you're selling sponsorships for a minor league baseball team. At your sister's wedding, you meet the owner of a local restaurant and bar who seems interested in the idea. You set up a meeting.

At that meeting, the conversation might go something like this:

  • You: Who are your customers?
  • Owner: It's a mix. In the late afternoon, it's mostly the over-50 crowd, and after 10 p.m., it's a combination of young couples and singles.
  • You: When are you the least busy?
  • Owner: We have too many empty tables in the early evening.
  • You: What types of people tend to come in during that time?
  • Owner: Young families, but we're not getting enough of them.
  • You: What are you currently doing to bring them in?
  • Owner: We ran some ads on local cable.
  • You: How well did that work?
  • Owner: We still have plenty of empty tables.
  • You: So, if I understand rightly, the big win for you would be full tables in the early evening.
  • Owner: That's right.
  • You: What's worked for several local businesses in the past has been a billboard at the park with a discount coupon handed out with each group of tickets.
  • Owner: Is that expensive?
  • You: Well, the cost depends on how we set things up. What's most important, though, is that we can use the coupons to measure how much new business we're creating.

At this point, you now know 1) what the customer needs and 2) that the customer has some money to spend. Therefore, you move to the next phase: discussing possible solutions, filling in details, and answering objections.

While, for clarity's sake, I've used a very small-town example, the exact same types of questions work when developing million-dollar opportunities.

More on B2B Selling

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Last updated: Jul 10, 2014

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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