With some focus, you can make the most of your time with an important customer.
Regardless of what you are selling, or to whom you are trying to sell, the first five minutes with a client tells you everything you need to know--if you use those minutes wisely.
Minute 1: Get the client's attention.
When you make contact with a client, your focus should be on making your product relevant to the client. This does not happen if you open your conversation with a long monologue, or a canned pitch. If you have done your homework on the client prior to making contact (and you must!), you likely already have a few ideas on how your product might be useful to the client, but he may not yet be aware of your product, or how it could help him.
The first minute of the conversation is when you need to make a direct link between your product and the client's needs. Let's say your company creates websites, and you are calling a client to propose a website rebuild. Before getting in touch with him, you visit his current site, and note a few areas for improvement. When you make contact, you get his attention by asking "do a lot of people visiting your website have trouble finding the login area?"
By asking this question, you open the dialogue with the client based on a concrete problem he has, and you get him to confirm whether your observation is truly a problem for him.
Minute 2: Probe further.
Once the client has admitted he has a problem, you need to dig deeper. The only way to do this is by asking specific questions to help him begin the journey of explaining his needs to you and give him the opportunity to explore whether your product can solve his problem.
The goal here is to confirm that there is a direct relationship between the client's situation and your product. If he confirms that new customers often complain about the login area, you should follow that with another question to get closer to a solution, such as, "Statistics show that the best placement for the login area is in the top right hand corner of the site, which is why our web team typically places them on that section of the page. Is there a reason that the login area on your site is at the bottom left of the page instead of the top right?"
This sort of insight gives the client the chance to position his company's set-up in relation to best practices, but also to ask himself why he is doing something different on his site. In pointing this out, he follows you mentally down the path that he indeed could be doing something better to help grow his business.
Minute 3: Propose solutions.
Now that the potential client understands there is a problem, minute three should be dedicated to clearly explaining the solutions your product can offer. An example: "Customers don't like to waste time searching when they are ready to buy. Making it easy for them to find the login area makes it easy for them to order. Moving the login area to the upper right hand space on your site will increase your business immediately. This is a simple fix that could be completed quickly and inexpensively and really improve your bottom line."
By offering a succinct solution, you enable the potential client to move past his fear of the problem, and allow him to open his mind to thinking about solving it.
Minute 4: Establish a timeline.
Minute four is the time to lay out a roadmap for implementing a solution and completing the sale, which means concretely defining the steps for your product to be put in place, thereby erasing the problem. In our example, a timeline could sound something like this: "Moving the login area is something we can generally do in less than a week. If you would like to have us do that for you, we could have your customers increasing their business with you as early as next Monday. Once we get that taken care of, we can also look at other ways to improve your online business if you would like."
Now the client knows it is time for him to decide how and if to proceed.
Minute 5: Close the sale.
Minute five is the time when all cards--the client's and yours--should be on the table. Use this minute of the conversation to directly tell the customer what needs to happen to put your product to work for him. You should be clear on the price (or how and when he can expect to receive a quote), the service to be provided, and how he can expect the product to be delivered.
Finally, you need to ask directly if he is interested in making the purchase. Don't waste his time or yours by beating around the bush. You both know that a decision has to be made, and it is the client's to make, so let him know that.
Breaking down the selling process into these five minutes allows you to quickly glean valuable information from potential clients, create relationships based on real needs, and to accurately determine which deals can be done and which cannot.
In 2004, VANESSA MERIT NORNBERG opened Metal Mafia, a wholesale body and costume jewelry company that sells to more than 5,000 specialty shops and retail chains in 23 countries. Metal Mafia was an Inc. 500 company in 2009. @vanessanornberg