Imagine this scenario. You've had a meeting with a prospect who's expressed an interest in a particular product or service you provide. You've asked all the right questions, presented your solution, overcome any objections and are happy to have come away with the order. But reflecting on the meeting afterwards, you feel you could have made more of the opportunity. Does this sound familiar?
I discovered pretty early on in my sales career that you need to understand the bigger picture within an organisation before focusing on any specific, immediate requirements. By doing so you're able to identify all the possible opportunities rather than just what's being discussed at that particular moment. It's the difference between an opportunistic, quick win and a more consultative sales approach where you're wanting to demonstrate added value, solve problems and help your prospect to achieve the success they're looking for. Understanding this bigger picture will help you move from the position of salesperson to becoming a trusted advisor and ultimately a business partner. Here's a technique you might want to try.
Refer back to the original contact. After the initial rapport building at the start of your meeting, begin by thanking them for their time and referring back to your first communication where you offered up a benefit to them in using your product or service.
Signposting. Explain that you're keen to help them realise the stated benefit and that in order to do this you need to fully understand them and their business. For example "What I'd like to do today is ask you a few questions so that I can get a better understanding of your business. That way I can suggest the best possible solution to meet your needs. I hope that's ok?". Your prospect will appreciate your interest and see that you're approaching the meeting in a structured, professional way.
The "Big Picture" question. It's so simple and yet so effective. By asking them "Tell me about your business?" you're encouraging them to open up to you. You'll know that when you meet people for the first time, they often love talking about what they do, their business and what they're hoping to achieve. Having asked the question, the secret is to stay quiet, acknowledge what they're saying through active listening and let them continue to talk with minimal interruption. The longer you stay quiet, the more inclined the other person is to continue talking and this is sometimes referred to as "the power of silence". The most effective salespeople ask very few, really well crafted questions and let the other person do most of the talking using this technique.
You should be looking to gather as much information as you can about the company structure, the people working within the business and their roles and responsibilities, what products and services they provide to their own customers, the challenges they face, their plans for the future and what they see as indicative of success. If the decision maker doesn't provide you with this, only then should you interrupt and ask more specific questions.
Clarification. You shouldn't ever feel embarrassed or shy away from asking your prospect to clarify information that they've given you. In fact, they'll appreciate you taking a genuine interest. Remember, a misunderstanding at this point may lead you to offer an inappropriate solution later or include inaccurate information in a proposal.
Make notes. If you're to do a thorough job, I cannot stress enough the importance of making detailed notes. Only by doing so can you capture all the information that your prospect is kind enough to provide you, enabling you to create the most compelling, persuasive proposal for your next meeting with them.
Having completed this first line of questioning, only then should you start asking more probing, open questions with reference to their existing or proposed usage of the product or service you're looking to provide. By asking a very open, basic question at the outset it's possible to identify many other opportunities other than the one specific area your prospect is interested in. You might have identified, for example, that the person you've met is responsible for ordering for several other sites, or that they've just made an acquisition of another company which means that their likely usage could double. Fundamentally, if you can demonstrate a good understanding of a prospect's business and present back a comprehensive solution, that should put you in a very strong, competitive position.
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