Whenever confronted with somebody who wants to sell them something, all customers ask five questions, in this order. If the answer to all of them is not a resounding "yes," a sale is not going to take place.

1. Do I want to do business with this person?

Within two seconds after you meet a customer, that customer has probably decided whether he is willing to buy from you. That's why first impressions, your appearance and your initial greeting are so important.  Sometimes you have no control over the answer to this question, because the customer may have arbitrary rules that run to your disadvantage. (For example, I once didn't buy a suit because the sales clerk reminded me of my ex-wife's boyfriend.  Not his fault, but there you are.) Still: Make sure you're controlling as many variables as you can.

2. Do I want to do business with the firm this person represents?

There are two possible scenarios.

  • If the customer is not yet familiar with your firm, it's up to you to position it correctly.
  • If the customer is familiar with your firm, then you've either got a good reputation (in which case you've got a leg up), a bad reputation (you've got to start with damage control) or a mediocre reputation–in which case, you're back to positioning your firm to your advantage.

3. Do I want and need what this person is selling?

Through the conversation with the customer, you will discover needs (and requirements) that match your offering.  The biggest mistake at this stage is being too pushy. Remember the truism: "Customers like buying things, but hate to be sold things." Finding out that the customer does not need what you've got is just as big a victory as discovering the need.

4. Does the price and value meet my expectations?

The customer has recognized the need, but is assessing whether or not what you're selling is affordable–and, if affordable, worth the money.  This entails weighing that need against the panoply of other demands that are vying for attention and money.  The customer may want (or have) competitive information that puts the price of your offering into context.

5. Is this the right time to buy?

A customer can be completely ready to buy and yet still feel that it's not the right time.  She may believe that holding out will result in a discount, or that another product will come along that makes your current offering obsolete. It's this last question, and its potential to block a sale, that causes companies to offer "limited time offers."

Order Matters

What's important about these questions isn't so much that the customer asks them, but that they're asked in that exact order.  If you answer them in the wrong order, you'll end up making the sale less likely.

For example, suppose you open a conversation with a new customer by saying: "This is a limited time offer!"  In most cases, the customer will either shrug or simply become annoyed, because the customer has not yet decided whether he wants to do business with you, or whether he wants what you're offering anyway.

The above insights come from a conversation with Duane Sparks, author of "Selling Your Price: How to Escape the Race to the Bargain Basement."If you found this post helpful, click one of the "like" buttons or sign up for the free Sales Source "insider" newsletter.