The Missing First Step in Sales
One of my most disliked words in the English language is the word “assume.”
Whenever we ASSUME that we know something, it automatically prevents us from considering alternative possibilities. Whenever we ASSUME to know another person, we are practically always wrong. Whenever we ASSUME that we have mastered a subject, look out! One of the deadliest mistakes we can make is to ASSUME that we know everything there is to know about _____________; therefore it’s not necessary to investigate further.
I assume you know what I’m talking about! (Please forgive the tiny little joke).
I recently delivered sales training and coaching to a group of sales executives, and as usual I learned almost as much from them as they did from me. Even though I’ve been selling, managing, coaching, and training salespeople for the past 30 years, I never ASSUME that I have become the MASTER of all things sales. And since I cultivate a practice of remaining wide open to new ideas, I am frequently astonished by what I learn (or unlearn). In today’s article, I am going to revive, rehash and revitalize one of the most important and overlooked sales lessons of all time: Trust and Rapport. Read on…
If you are determined to fail every time on your sales calls, then simply jump into your sales pitch right off the bat and skip the pleasantries. After all, time is scarce and we’re all in a hurry so let’s just skip to the bottom line and get this deal closed, right? Wrong, dead wrong.
Your first job in any sale is to build trust and rapport by connecting with the other person, entraining your energy, and using your positive energy and empathy. To do this, you must focus your attention and your intention on the other person, and you should sincerely intend to do the best possible job you can do for THEM. When you cultivate this winning sales attitude, you attract positive people and beneficial events will flow in the right direction.
This essential first step applies to F2F sales, telephone sales, email sales, texting sales, web-based sales, retail sales, direct sales, indirect sales, strategic sales, consultative sales, and every other type of sale we have made since the beginning of time. In short, this is a universal truth never to be neglected.
People buy from people they like, care for and trust. That’s the bottom line. If they don’t know YOU, they won’t take the time to know your COMPANY, and therefore they won’t bother to learn about your product or service. This is such a simple, elementary, basic truth that it is overlooked and ignored by 95% of the salespeople I regularly train and coach….and these are the best of the best!
The first step in building Trust and Rapport is to express interest in THEM and you do this by asking simple icebreaker type questions. This is a natural friendly human skill most of us already have and should not be terribly difficult. Where are they from originally? What do they like about their company/job? Do they enjoy the city they live in, how long have they been there? What do they do in their spare time? Where’d they go to school? If they have kids, where are their children going to school? How long have they been in their current job? If you are simply curious and sincere, they will open up a bit about themselves, and you get to listen and learn. Naturally, they will ask a few questions about you and you can engage in some non-business related bonding.
Of course, in preparing for your meeting you should have researched your customer via the internet, Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and their company website. You should already have a few simple questions prepared.
For more on this topic, read Ch. 15 of my book Precision Selling.
Using these simple steps, and your good communication skills, you should be able to build initial rapport with your prospective client in the first few minutes of your sales call, setting the stage for the next step.
Now that you’ve successfully laid the groundwork by establishing rapport, the next step is to build trust. Curiously enough, the essential skill needed to build trust with your prospective client is the ability to focus your attention on them, to ask questions and to LISTEN.
People love to talk about themselves and their company, and they can never seem to find a good listener. Their # 1 topic of conversation is themselves, followed closely by their jobs and their company. This plays well in a sales situation, because the next step in a normal sales process is called “Discovery” and it requires you to ask questions and to listen. Your job is to learn as much as possible about their company, their issues and challenges, their business needs, objectives and their roadblocks. If you stay on track, ask perceptive questions, listen and learn, this will build enormous trust with your client. Your empathy and your listening skills actually encourage sharing of vital information and ideas.
In the past, your customer has probably been “burned’ by overeager salespeople who just wanted to sell them a product or service and didn’t even bother to find out if they needed it! Resistance to “pushy” salespeople is entirely created by untrained salespeople who don’t take the time to ask questions and listen. Salesmanship is all about taking the correct action at the appropriate time, and you never want to jump into your sales pitch prematurely.
Because you can listen, and you are prepared, you are perceived to be a professional who exhibits expertise in the industry and can add value by your comments and questions. The more they talk, and the more you listen, the more highly regarded you become in their eyes. We trust the people who understand us and can add value to our lives, and this is exactly what you demonstrate during a good needs analysis/discovery session.
In summary, always build rapport and trust as the essential first step with your prospective customers. And don’t just assume you have accomplished this step! The vast majority of salespeople I’ve worked with over the years tend to skip this step or try and get it done too quickly in their rush to close deals. One clear indicator will demonstrate if this step was completed or not: how difficult is it to complete the sale and handle their objections? If the rest of the sale is smooth as silk, you were probably successful establishing trust and rapport from the beginning. Alternatively, if the sale becomes increasingly difficult or impossible, you most likely skipped building rapport and trust. Or worse, you may have assumed it was not needed!
Here’s to your ongoing success!