Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Five Keys to Drawing a Sales Circle

A fine line exists between convincing a prospect that you want her business and bugging her so much that you chase her away. Though you would like to do so, you can’t make the prospect’s decision for her. However, you can do the next best thing by providing her everything she needs to make an informed choice—which is to select your service.

An advertising maxim likens this process to forming a circle, which you can start, but only the prospect can complete. This applies to you first customer and your fiftieth one. Your job is to arm the prospect with key pieces of information and to make her feel comfortable in making a decision. If you’re using any phrases similar to the ones below, however, you’re trying to complete the circle for her:
- We’re the smart choice.
- Our service is simply the best.
- Our company is the worldwide leader in (fill in the blank)
- We’re so much better than our competition, it’s embarrassing.

Never tell the prospect how great you are. Rather, give her the facts to draw that conclusion. At the other extreme, there is danger in not going far enough, which means you haven’t provided sufficient information. As a result, the prospect can’t reach the conclusion you want because there is too much effort, too much left to question, and too little comfort with you or your service.

Your job is to draw a circle until it’s nearly complete and then hand the pencil to the prospect. The circle begins when the prospect realizes she has a need. The line arcs as you build her interest in your service and then reaches its logical conclusion when the prospect realizes the best way to address her need is by choosing you.

Five easy ways to form a circle
Forming a near circle requires a set of tools that you can draw on for each situation. Here are five basic ones:
1. Testimonials
As a new company, testimonials can about you, from relationships you formed in other positions. It seems like a no-brainer, but third-party validation is such a powerful, yet often under-utilized, tool. Never say anything good about yourself when you have someone else happy say it for you.

2. Mini-case studies
As soon as you've established your first customer, use them as a case study. They are another strong form of third-party validation which help overcome your company's newness. A mini-case study should contain two or three paragraphs that briefly tell how a customer leveraged your service to solve a problem.
Here’s a simple format:
Challenge > Solution > Result
Powerful case studies should mention a return on investment, such as savings in time or the elimination of stress.

3. Trials
Let the prospect give your service a brief test drive. Quite often, a prospect’s time is much more important to her than the cost of your service. If she takes time to try it, she’s serious. Another tip: Arrange with the prospect a specific stop and end point for any trial to ensure she tests your service in a timely fashion. If a prospect has an open-ended trial, she is less likely to feel any urgency.

4. Third-party information
Prospects choose you as much as they choose your service. Prospects—human beings that they are—love getting information about things that interest them. For example, you could say, “Ms. Prospect, I just came across this article that I thought you might find interesting. I know it’s a subject that’s near to your heart.” It’s another way to show you’ve taken time to understand how her business works.

5. Listening skills
It’s natural to be so excited about your service that you can’t help but talk on and on about it. But as much as you want to talk, the prospect wants to talk more. And she wants you to actively listen, which can be the quickest way to making a nearly-complete circle. If you don’t listen, you won’t know which testimonial to share, or which mini-case study compares best to the prospect’s situation. Tip: Record yourself talking to a prospect. Even if it’s just one end of a phone call, it helps to review how you conduct a conversation. As painful as it may be to hear yourself, you will know quickly if you’re listening well or possibly talking over the prospect.

In the end, relax a little. Prospects sense when you’re overly eager to gain a sale and to move them along faster than they want to move. They can equally sense when you’re comfortable enough to let your tools work for you. Soon, the prospect is ready to complete the circle, and you’ve earned the business.

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