When Paul McCartney returned to New York in July 2009 to play a concert at Citi Field, where The Beatles first invaded the American music scene in 1965, the atmosphere was electrifying. He started the concert by saying, “Welcome to the new Citi Field Stadium. It’s been a long time since I’ve been here.… I have a feeling we’re going to have a little bit of fun tonight.” (Paul McCartney’s first concert in City Field, 2009). Then he played The Beatles’ classic “Drive My Car,” and the crowd went wild (Paul McCartney at Citi Filed Opening song, 2009). Paul McCartney didn’t need to talk to the audience. In fact, people didn’t come to hear him speak at all; they came to hear him sing. But Paul McCartney clearly understands the power of a strong approach. His brief welcome, tip to the past, and promise for a great show were all part of his short but effective sales approach. While you might not think of Paul McCartney as a salesperson, his concerts, just like those of other rock stars and recording artists, are actually sales presentations for his new album or song. In all types of selling, the approach precedes the sales presentation. In the case of the concert, you probably already know Paul McCartney and what to expect from him. But when you are meeting someone for the first time in sales, your approach won’t be successful unless you how you make a good first impression.
First Things First
“You only get one chance to make a first impression.” This is a saying you’ve probably heard many times before. First impressions are formed within a mere 7 seconds (first impressions, 2020), are difficult to change, and can have a lasting effect (BNET healthcare industry, 2001). Think of a first date, your first day of high school or college, or any job interview you have gone into. You were probably nervous because you knew the importance of making a good first impression. Similarly, the sales approach is the most intimidating point of the sales process for many salespeople because they know that the decision to buy or not to buy can often start with this initial contact.
The Six Cs of the Sales Approach
While prospecting and the preapproach are entirely under your control, the approach is the first part of the sales process where you actually come in contact with your prospect and you’re not quite sure what they will say; this can be a little nerve wracking. Having done your research on your prospect, you will have confidence that you will be able to adapt your sales approach to your individual customer. Keep in mind that you aren’t selling a product during your approach; you are actually introducing yourself and opening up the way for the opportunity to make your sales presentation later. Consider these six Cs during your sales approach: Confidence, credibility, contact, communication, customization, and collaboration.
If you know your product inside and out, and you’ve set your objectives and prepared a general benefit statement, you will be well equipped going into your call, so have confidence. Confidence without preparation is a sure recipe for disappointment, so make sure you actually have done your homework first. Of course, feeling and appearing confident in a stressful situation is more easily said than done, but there are some simple psychological tricks that can help. For in-person sales approaches, sales coach Jim Meisenheimer suggests giving yourself an affirmation before heading into the meeting. For instance, tell yourself “This will be one of the most positive sales calls I have ever had with a new prospect.” (Meisenheimer, 2009). If you believe you will succeed, it is more likely that you will succeed. In addition, dressing well for your sales call (discussed in greater detail later in this chapter), will help you feel more confident and professional. For sales calls that happen over the phone, prepare for your call by organizing your workspace first. Clear off your desk and make sure you have everything you will need within easy reach—calendar, note pad and pen, fact sheets, precall planning worksheet, and anything else that might be helpful during the call (Harrison, 2001).
Building credibility is one of the most important challenges you will face early on in the sales call; you want to convince your customer that you are competent, that you offer valuable solutions, and that you are trustworthy (Freese, 2003). Open the conversation by introducing yourself and your company; if you are meeting your customer in person, make eye contact and offer a firm handshake. Next, briefly explain the purpose of your call (without making your sales presentation). Your customers are busy people, and will appreciate it if you are direct. While qualifications like a proven track record, satisfied customers, or number of years in sales might help establish your credibility, according to Jeff Thul, CEO of Prime Resource Group, these qualifications are expected, and listing them isn’t an effective way to lead off your sales call. Thul says exceptional credibility comes when you can demonstrate that you have done your homework. In other words, it’s not what you know about your company and your product that will impress your customer; it’s what you know about your customer and their situation (Thul, 2007).
By now you might be wondering how you should approach your prospect. Do you want to make your first contact in person, on the phone, or over e-mail? The way you make contact will depend on the specific selling situation. For instance, maybe you work for a company that specializes in corporate training and personal development services, and your customers include referrals (in which case the prospect is approaching you) as well as prospects you have identified through research (in which case you are contacting them). Even retail selling can include a mixture of both. If you are selling cars or fine jewelry for instance, your customer might come into the showroom or store and ask you for help directly, or they might just start looking around, in which case you would approach them. While there’s not one set way to make an approach, the constant is to make every approach personal.
Face-to-face interaction is definitely the most personal approach you can make, but it is also the most difficult. In large B2B sales, since your contacts are decision makers with high levels of responsibility, they are busy people. You wouldn’t just show up at their businesses without an appointment. In these cases, it’s best to call first and ask your contact if you can schedule a time to meet with them in person.
Whether you approach your prospect in person or over the phone, you want to build good rapport. After all, wouldn’t you rather do business with someone you like? Your customer will too. “Most decision makers base their purchasing decisions on who they are buying from, not what they are buying,” says Ray Silverstein, sales columnist for Entrepreneur online (Silverstein, 2007). Rapport building happens at every step of the sales process, but it begins with your first interaction. For in-person sales approaches, keep in mind the powerful elements of nonverbal communication (see Chapter 5) such as when people communicate face-to-face, only about 20 to 30 percent of that communication is verbal (Mehrabian, 2007). This means that it is important to focus not only on what you are communicating but also on how you communicate it. You can make an instant positive connection simply by remembering to smile. This is critical: people are naturally wired to smile in response to others’ smiles, so by smiling you will put your prospect at ease and help create a positive atmosphere (James, 2009). And don’t forget to bring some business cards with you.
On the other hand, when you communicate over the phone, you won’t be able to use body language to help put your prospect at ease or establish rapport; your voice (including your pitch, tone, enunciation, and word choice) is the only tool you have (James, 2009). You want to have a relaxed voice with a pace that is not too slow or too fast, enough volume, clarity and tone to ensure comfort for your prospect (Prater, 2019). It takes 10-30 seconds for a listener to adjust to your voice to don’t make the first part of your message the most important (Prater, 2019). Practice recording your voice so that you can listen to how you sound to other people (Weiss, 2004) and then you can ensure you are not too fast, too slow, and have a clear message that is friendly.
Tailoring your sales approach to the individual customer is one of the keys to relationship selling. Even in retail situations in which the prospect is approaching you first (so you aren’t able to research them beforehand), you would approach different customers differently. Think again about selling a gym membership to a prospect who walks into your fitness club. If a parent with two young children comes in, you would probably spend time showing them the child care center, and you would discuss any family centered activities your club offered. If they expressed an interest in aerobics or Pilates, you would show them the class schedule and the fitness rooms where the classes are held. Adaptive selling—especially in situations in which you haven’t been able to prepare—involves observation, listening, and asking directed questions to uncover what your prospect needs and cares about.(See Chapter 3 and 7). Ultimately, the trick is to get inside your customer’s head. Ask yourself, “What would I care about and want to know if I was this person? What would I respond well to?” Putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and adapting accordingly will help you earn their trust (Brennan, 2009).
You’ve learned how relationship selling is about partnering in Chapter 3. Of course all sales have a bottom line (you ultimately want to close the sale), but your customer has something they want out of the transaction, too. In relationship selling you want to focus on your customer so they get what they want; when you do this, your selling becomes a collaborative process.