Sales rules are never hard and fast. The fine art of selling does involve a bit of feel and sensing. Here, 20 year sales veteran Mitch Schaefer provides an puzzling scenario. We invite you to read, make your own call, and then check it out with Mitch’s sound advice.
Tom was meeting with a prospective client. After some cordial conversation, the prospect asked, "So, what can your accounting firm do for us?". Tom, having been taught not to dump information early in the selling process replied, "At this point, I'm not really sure. Would it be O.K. if I asked you a few questions to get a better sense of your situation? Then I can talk about the specific aspects of our service that are most appropriate."
Was there anything wrong with Tom's response? He avoided making a premature presentation and asked for permission to "probe" in order to identify the prospect's need. He answered the prospect's question with a text book example of the strategy of answering a question with a question in order to obtain more information and get to the prospect's real question.
Now, you judge - Was Tom’s Response correct? If not, what should he have done?
Mitch Schaefer’s Assessment:
So, what did Tom do wrong? In this situation, the prospect's real question was, "What can your accounting firm do for us?" From the prospect's perspective, it most likely looked like Tom deflected the question, like he didn't want to or wasn't prepared to answer. Deflecting the question can cause the prospect to feel manipulated. After all, he asked a question and didn't receive an answer.
There are situations where it is O.K. to directly answer the prospect's question. The rule is: answer the question when it can't hurt you or it can help you.
It's all right to tell a prospect what you do or how you can help from a conceptual or big picture standpoint. That can't hurt you. What you should avoid is providing detailed explanations for specific solutions to problems that have yet to be fully defined. That will hurt you. There will be plenty of time for specifics and details if the opportunity progresses far enough along for a formal presentation or proposal.
How could Tom have responded so it would help and not hurt his efforts? If he did his homework before the appointment, then he would know which aspects of his company's service are most likely to be of benefit and interest to the prospect. He would then incorporate those elements into his response. Here's an example:
Prospect: "So, what can your accounting firm do for us?"
Tom: "That's a very good question. Typically, when I meet with manufacturing firms like yours, they are most often concerned with two areas: 1) more accurately allocating and amortizing production costs in order to be in compliance with profit reporting standards; and 2) reducing the time and expense of generating quarterly shareholder reports. Which, if either of those, is a concern of yours?"
Tom gave a big picture answer that focused on two areas where his company has special expertise. His answer put the ball back in the prospect's court. Now, it was up to the prospect to decide which area to discuss. But either way, the prospect still feels his question was answered with a depth of expertise. Biz4.
Mitch Schaefer has a knack for greeting Fortune 100 executives and small retail shop owners with the same convivial, effective manner. Much of this comes from his 25 years spent with American Express Company in various sales, marketing, and operations capacities. When he finally left in 2007, Schaefer was American Express’ vice president in charge of client management, responsible for $300 million in annual sales, with the aid of his account manager team. Then in 2007, Schaefer became interested by the Sandler Sales System. Using many of their techniques and many more brought from his own experience, he launched the Schaefer Training and Development Group in Hackensack. His clients range from the Fortune 500 firms to small entrepreneurs. Schaefer grew up in Brooklyn, New York, where he first gleaned his instructive skills from his mother, a teacher of 40 years. He attended the University of Maryland, graduating with a bachelor’s in business and marketing in 1980. The above article is one Schaefer modified from a Sandler Systems training text.