Change your sales approach: Ask what you can do for your customers

Too many salespeople make excuses and moan about the response rate of prospects, says Shaun Thomson, founder of Sandler Training. Here's why they should turn that attitude on its head.

When JFK said ‘ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country’ it redefined citizenship in the US. It is now one of the most famous phrases in global politics.

But unfortunately the lesson didn’t transcend into the business world. Just like the salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross, we spend an inordinate amount of time making excuses and moaning about things that we feel are out of our control.

No doubt you’ll be familiar with the following whinges, having possibly made some of them yourselves:

· Why won’t they return my calls?

· How can I make them agree to a meeting?

· Why do they have to “think it over” – how can I make them sign straight away?

These questions sound reasonable, but in each case it’s complaining about the behaviour of a current/prospect client and wanting them to change. Only last week we received a call from a software company because they were hearing excuses like these from their sales team. The owner was exasperated and couldn’t see a way to break the cycle.

The fact is change only happens when we change our behaviour. For example, see how easily you can flip a question to move it from a problem to a solution:

· How do I construct a compelling message so prospects will want to call me back?

· How do I ask intriguing questions so prospects will want to engage in a conversation with me and be more inclined to schedule appointments?

· How do I structure a meeting with a prospect so we are both working toward a mutually-agreed-to conclusion?

By putting the onus on yourself you also take back control. And it quickly becomes apparent that all whinges and perceived problems can be far more easily addressed if you focus on the current/ prospect customer, rather than yourself.

In general, salespeople are much too eager to talk about their product or service – often before they have fully assessed the current/prospect customer situation, understood the outcomes the prospects are trying to achieve, discovered the underlying circumstances that precipitated the desires for those outcomes, and determined that their product or service is indeed the best fit.

Recently we trained an accountancy practice that really wanted to increase their customer base. They felt they had a great service and could do a great job for clients, but they were struggling to get any traction with the people they were calling. We asked them to take us through their existing process. It became quickly apparent that their conversation opener was all about their accountancy practice, which was immediately turning their prospects off. 

We taught them to change this conversation and focus on the problems they solve. Their conversation rate increased four-fold. For example, rather than lead with a rather self-serving introduction, such as ‘we are the leading accountancy practice in our local area and we will give you great service,’ they started to talk about the issues they address and the benefits they enable, such as:

· ‘we work with entrepreneurial companies who want to make sure they can make timely business decisions with up to date information’

· ‘we help businesses that are concerned about having sufficient cash flow to pay their tax

· ‘we help businesses who need to have access to real-time financial information, so that they have the right numbers at their fingertips for the banks if they to make a decision on an overdraft facility’.

When you start to think about what you can do for your prospects, as opposed to what they can do for you, you’ll find that the rewards speak for themselves.

Related: Five neuro-linguistic programming tips to help you win sales


Shaun Thomson

Shaun Thomson is founder and CEO of Sandler Training UK.

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