To Sell is to talk to Strangers

While we all sell to current customers the majority of our sales calls are to people that we do not know and for some sales calls, the prospect is so remote that we may never meet them.

That thought made me consider a new way to look at how each of us approaches the sales call, beginning with the opening statement and leading the prospect to the heart of our product demonstration or presentation. As a sales rep we are all in service to our product and in a sales call we are all in service of the client/prospect.

- Mel

Opening sales statements

A topic of conversation with sales people needs to be about their opening statements. We should all be constantly looking for ways to improve that initial statement, when we are in a sales call. To test your opening statement, then you might use it on a friend or colleague.

Much has been written about opening statements … and two of the most frequently heard recommendations, are: 
  • Create immediate interest for further discussion 
  • Make it compelling

To write is to talk to strangers

If you replace the word write with sell, you would have defined what we do each and every day. We begin most of our sales talks, talking to strangers. In the sales process we have to move them from being a stranger to being a friend who will trust us with their needs and their hard earned dollars.

You want them to trust you. You might well begin by trusting them. No doubt you know some things that the prospect does not—and that is why you are here. You must also take time to understand that that the prospect has knowledge that is unavailable to you. This isn't generosity; it is realism.

Good selling creates a dialogue between sales person and the prospect. What you "know" isn't something you can pull from a shelf and deliver. What you know in sales is what you are discovering in the course of this sales call. In fact you and your prospect are discovering together.

Beginnings are an exercise in limits. Sales Reps are told that they must "grab" or "hook" or "capture" the prospect with their opening statement. But think about these metaphors. They suggest the relationship you might want to have with a criminal, not a prospect.

You can't make the prospect love you in your opening statement, but you can lose the prospect or their interest in you and your product.

You don't expect the doctor to cure you at once, but the doctor can surely alienate you at once, with brusqueness or bravado or indifference or confusion. There is a lot to be said for the quiet beginning.

Consider the most memorable first line in American literature: "Call me Ishmael." These three words, if cited out of context, can be taken as a magisterial command. It's actually more properly heard as an invitation, almost casual, and, given the complexity that follows, marvelously simple. If you try it aloud, you will probably say it rather softly, conversationally. (Say the three words out loud and then consider how their presentation impacts how the reader or listener perceives what is coming next)

Meek or bold, a good beginning achieves clarity. A sensible line threads through the sales call; things follow one another with literal logic or with the logic of feeling. Clarity isn't an exciting virtue, but it's a virtue always, and especially at the beginning of a sales call.

Clarity simply falls victim to a desire to achieve other things: 
  • To dazzle with style or to bombard with information. 
  • While you want the prospect to get on your side of the sales call, know:
    • That Skill, talent, inventiveness, all can become overbearing and intrusive.

The image that calls attention to itself is often the image you can do without.

In writing, the writer works in service of story and idea, while always in service of the reader.

In Selling, the Sales Rep works in service of product and always in service of the prospect.

That is a unique sales concept that you may not have considered in your sales calls. As Sales People we are in service of our product and always in service of the prospect. You can't tell it all at once. A lot of the art of beginnings is deciding what to withhold until later, or never to say at all. Take one thing at a time. Prepare the pathway of your sales call and only tell what is needed to move on, No More.

Journalists are instructed not to "bury the lead"—instructed, that is, to make sure they tell the most important facts of the story first. The beginning is designed to get the reader (prospect) to the: 

  • The heart of the story, what is coming next,
  • Needs to arrive in conjunction with the opening statement.
  • The care that you take in this two step process gives the prospect a reason to continue listening and cooperating with the Sales Rep.
  • The best reason for them to stay connected is a simply confidence that the sales rep and the sales call is going someplace interesting.

Mel Carney