Qualify Leads Before Making the Pitch

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Nearly every salesperson thinks that there are one or more secrets to success - skills or techniques that separate the super sellers from the rest. But marketing experts agree that the most important selling skill, both for raising the seller's closure rate and for generating revenue to the company, is learning how to qualify the sales prospect effectively.

Far too many sales calls waste both the salesperson's and the prospect's time because the sellers launch into a product presentation, or "pitch," when they know little about the targets or their needs. Even if their pitch is irresistible, some sellers often have no certainty that the person they are pitching has the authority to buy, or whether the prospect is a good credit risk.

These salespeople could increase their commissions while saving themselves lots of time and rejection if they could qualify sales leads effectively before the first call.

They can start by identifying as many common characteristics of their best current customers as possible, then trying to find more customers just like them. Business-to-business companies, for example, can develop a customer profile that includes data such as the number of employees; sales volume; geographic location; whether it is an independent company or a subsidiary, branch or franchise; the title of the person making purchasing decisions; the industry sector and competitors; and use of technology.

If customer targets are consumers, salespeople can structure profiles around data such as their age, income bracket and geographic region. Are they homeowners? If so, what is the value of their home? How long have they lived there? Do they have children? Pets? What are their hobbies or recreational interests? Do they order products over the Internet or mail order?

Once the salesperson develops a best-customer profile, the next step is to identify prospects who are as similar as possible. Most of this data are available through public information or where consumers voluntarily disclosed key bits of information about themselves.

Once the salesperson pinpoints likely prospects, it helps to know whether they can or will pay their bills. Salespeople can increase repeat sales and reduce their company's unrecoverable accounts receivable if they check the creditworthiness of the prospect ahead of time. There are many "sales" that companies gladly would do without: some that generate no profit because of extended collection efforts, and some that result in a loss when the company is unable to collect any payment. Credit rating services are one solution.

Once they home in on likely prospects, good salespeople work to learn more about them during sales calls. One of the most effective ways is to ask a few open-ended questions to uncover what is important to them. For example:

· I notice you use AAA Supply. How long has it been your vendor? What do you like most about the company?

· What are the most important issues for you? If you could change one aspect of your current arrangement, what would it be?

· Who is your main customer? How many of your products do you sell in an average month? Where have you had the most success?

A salesperson's most valuable commodity is time. The best salespeople save time by investing it and learning more about prospective customers and their needs. Similarly, their customers value that these salespeople don't waste their time.

Salesmanship is about relationships and building trust. Effective sellers have a head start on a trusting relationship when they can quickly show a prospect that they know something about their situation and their needs and are eager to learn more.

The more efficiently salespeople can identify the right customers and then learn more about their needs, the more quickly their sales figures will rise.


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