SALES

Sales Rule No. 1: Start a Simple Conversation

Don't try to sell at the beginning of a customer relationship.
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Many sellers think that the best way to cultivate a prospect or sales lead is to start a sales pitch.  Sales pitches consist of two parts:

  1. A description of your offering and its benefits.
  2. An attempt to get the customer to either buy immediately or agree to an appointment. (The close)

However, sales pitches almost always fail because they flood the prospect with information and then demand a commitment.  It's too much, too soon.

Rather than pitching, your goal at the beginning of the relationship should be to start a conversation.  For example, suppose you're making cold calls.  There are two ways to do this:

1. A sales pitch:

  • You: I'm John Doe calling from Acme, a leading provider of cloud-based services that increase productivity and save money in the following ways... yada, yada, yada...  Our product has these unique features... yada, yada, yada... If I could show you how to save 100%, would you be willing to meet with me for an hour for a free estimate at no obligation?
  • Prospect: [hangs up]

2. A conversation starter:

  • You: This is John Doe from Acme. Is this a good time to talk?
  • Prospect: Yes [or No]
  • You: Okay, I'll be brief.  I'm calling because retail firms hire us to increase walk-in customers with curbside advertising. How are you currently enticing customers into your store?

With the sales pitch, you're lucky if you get to the end of the pitch before the prospect hangs up.  More importantly, you have no idea whether what you said (your pitch) made any sense to the prospect.  A prospect who really DOES need your offering may hang up, or say "not interested" simply because they didn't "get" what you were talking about.

By contrast, the conversation starter simply states in brief how you help your customers (from customer's viewpoint) and then invites a dialog.  Because you're not overflowing the prospect with information, you can now discover the prospect's needs and whether your offering is a good match.

The same thing is true with sales emails.  There are two ways to write them:

1. A Sales Pitch:

Dear Mr. John Doe

I hope you are well.

I represent Acme, a leading provider of cloud-based services that increase productivity and save money in the following ways...[yada, yada, yada...].

Our product has the following unique features... [yada, yada, yada]

If you call me at 800-555-1212, I can give you a quote.  For more information, click on our website www.veeblefetzer.com.
If you have any questions please don't hesitate to call me at 800-555-1212.

Sincerely,
Jane Smith

2. A Conversation Starter:

Mr. Doe,

I'm writing because retail firms hire us to increase walk-in customers with curbside advertising.  If you're interested in how this works, I can send you a short summary.

Jane Smith

The sales pitch will almost always result in the prospect deleting the email.

By contrast, the conversation starter is more likely to get a response because it places almost no burden on the prospect.

So, let's say the prospect responds to your conversation starter.  You now provide a little more information, and continue the conversation, using email as the vehicle:

John, thanks for responding.  Our customers hire us to paint their automobiles so that they're mobile billboards.  When parked outside a store, they can increase foot traffic as much as 50%.  How are you currently enticing customers into your store?

You may end up trading emails several times as the conversation proceeds.  Because you've engaged the prospect in a conversation, you can now assess needs and craft a meaningful solution.

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IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Sep 11, 2013

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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