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All Sales Start With a Simple Conversation

March 13, 2010

From Michael Port, American Express Open Forum  March 2010 

All sales start with a simple conversation.

It may be a conversation between you and a potential client or customer, between one of your clients and a potential referral, or between one of your colleagues and a potential referral. An effective sales cycle is based on turning these simple conversations into relationships of trust with your potential clients over time. We know that people buy from those they like and trust, and you’ll begin to earn this trust when you’re able to answer the following key questions:

  1. Who is your target customer?
  2. What are they looking for?
  3. Where do they look for you?
  4. When do they look for you?
  5. Why should they choose you?
  6. How do you want them to engage with you?

Key #1: Who Is Your Target Client or Customer?
You need to choose whom you’d like to bring into your sales cycle. The more specific you are the better; choose one person or organization within your target market to focus on. Identifying and gearing your marketing to a specific individual or organization allows you to make the important emotional connection that is the first step in developing a relationship with your potential customer. When you’ve made the effort to speak and write directly to your ideal customer, she’ll feel it. She’ll feel as though you truly know and understand her needs and desires–because you will. That task alone will go a long way toward building the trust you desire with the clients you seek.

Key #2: What Are They Looking For?

You’ve got to understand what your ideal clients or customers are looking for–in other words, what kinds of products or services, specifically, would they buy to solve their problems and achieve their goals? It’s very important to be clear on your answers because if you don’t know what your potential clients are looking for, you won’t know what kind of offers to make them in your sales cycle. We usually make offers that we think are relevant. It’s time to put your target market first and work to truly understand what they are looking for. Then you can decide what you’re going to offer them (products or services) that will meet their needs.

Key #3: When Do They Look for You?

When do the people or organizations in your target market look for the services you offer? What needs to happen in their personal life or work life for them to purchase the kind of service you offer? How high do the stakes need to be before they decide to purchase the service you’re offering? They may be interested in what you do, and your offerings may resonate with them, but they might not need you at the moment they find you. This is why having a robust sales cycle is so important. You’ll want to make it easy for them to step into your environment and move closer and closer to your core offerings over time. When their stakes rise, they’ll reach out to you and ask for you. But you’ve got to keep the conversation going.

Key #4: Where Do They Look for You? 
Do you know where your target market looks for you? Do they search online? Do they read magazines? Do they call their friends for referrals for the kind of service you’re providing? What other types of business professionals do they ask for referrals? If you don’t know, survey your current customers–or better yet, every time you generate a lead ask, “How did you find us?” This should always be one of the first questions you ask a new customer. If you’re just starting out and don’t yet have your own customers, ask a colleague how her customers find her.

Key #5: Why You?
That’s a big question. Why are they going to choose you? Are you a credible authority in your field? What makes you the best choice for them? What is unique about you or the solutions you offer? What do you stand for? It’s crucial that you set your modesty aside and express yourself clearly and with confidence–no wishy-washy answers to these questions. Think back to the last time you went in search of expert help. When you first spoke to the service provider to inquire about her services, her expertise, and whether she could help you, the last thing you wanted to hear was, “Well, I kinda know what I’m doing. I might be able to help you.” While it may feel uncomfortable at first, you’ve got to get used to saying, “The best thing for you is me!”Granted, saying you are the best may be a bit too bold for you, but you at least need to be able to say, “You’ve come to the perfect person. Yes, absolutely, I can help you. I’m an expert at what I do, and this is how I can help.” Bragging is comparing yourself to others and proclaiming your superiority. Declaring your strengths, your skills, your expertise and your ability to help is not bragging. It’s what your potential customers expect, want and need to hear from you.

Key #6: How Do You Want Them to Engage with You?
Once potential customers have learned about your services, how would you like them to interact or engage with you? Do you want them to call your office? Do you want them to sign up for your newsletter on your website? What is it that you want potential customers to do? Naturally, we’d love for them to immediately purchase our highest-priced product, program or service, but this is rare. Most of your potential clients need to get to know you and trust you over time. They need to be eased gradually toward what they may perceive to be your high-risk offerings. It’s often said that, on average, you will need to connect with a potential client seven times before they’ll purchase from you. This isn’t always the case, but if you understand this principle, you will be on the road to booking yourself solid a lot faster than if you try to engage in one-step selling. “Hi, I’m a ___________; wanna hire me today?” isn’t going to be effective. That’s definitely not the Book Yourself Solid way. Maybe we should call one-step selling one-stop selling, because that’s what it’ll do–stop your sales process dead in its tracks.

Clearly answering these six questions will help you determine what you want to offer your potential clients, and it’ll also help you craft the most effective sales cycle

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