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Socially Unacceptable Questions

It's always a little hard getting Independent Professionals to listen to ideas about selling. Selling is generally viewed as a despicable act worthy only of the lowest of the low. Am I exaggerating? I don't think so.

Over the years, when giving talks, I've asked this question to thousands of people: "If you think of the stereotypical sales- person, what product do they sell?" The first answer is always "cars or used cars." Not sometimes, but always. No exceptions.

In other words, selling equates to selling used cars. And you know how you feel about used car salespeople! So when the topic of selling comes up, most of us think, "He's going to teach me how to sell like a used car salesperson!!" Not a pleasant thought. And so you turn off.

Let's be very clear; selling your professional services has nothing to do with selling used cars. There is virtually no similarity. Selling your services is all about solving problems and finding solutions. (Now, if used car salespeople took this approach they'd probably sell a lot more cars and offend a whole lot less people, but that's another story.)

Do You Know It All?

The next thing that prevents people from learning more about selling is that they think they know it all already. They know that if they sit down in front qualified prospects, they will succeed in selling those prospects. Unfortunately what they have left out is they will succeed only if the prospects are presold. They wouldn't even meet with you if they weren't.

But most Independent Professionals will agree with me on this: If they targeted a potential client who could benefit from their services, they would have absolutely no idea how to get in front of them and sell them their services. It's as if the prospect is hidden behind a closed door with five locks.

The bulk of what I teach has to do with getting visibility and communicating value, so that you are able to presell prospects who will want to explore doing business with you. But if you leave out the selling equation, you will only sell to prospects who were ready to buy anyway. You'll miss some of the biggest and most profitable projects.

Smart Independent Professionals learn to integrate marketing activities with selling activities. When they gain attention and interest for their services, they don't just wait, they devise ways to turn that interest into new business. That's the aim of true selling. It's not forcing people to buy (you can't do that anyway), it's entering into a conversation where you seriously explore how you can work together.

In my experience of working with thousands of Independent Professionals, perhaps only 5% have any real idea how to do that consistently and successfully. Most just wait for the call to come in. Others who make the calls (not necessarily cold calls but follow-up calls from marketing activities), are inept at initiating that conversation so that it leads anywhere but "call me back in six months."

Asking the Tough Questions

Last week while coaching a client on this very topic, we covered many of the things to do and the things to avoid in the selling conversation. Like him, I'm sure you've heard of the importance of asking questions and listening. But what he was missing was asking the really tough questions -- the questions that might be termed "socially unacceptable."

Go on reading: Top right

You see, if the conversation stays very polite and within the bounds of usual socially acceptable conversation, you're not going to get very far. You need to ask things that are going to make your prospect a little uncomfortable. Any you may be a little uncomfortable asking them.

But if you don't get to that uncomfortable place, you're just skimming the surface. Your job is to uncover the 3 Ps of selling - Problems, Pains, and Predicaments. If you don't learn these, you have nothing to offer your prospect. You need to diagnose before you prescribe.

Ask yourself this question before you call a prospect: "What must I learn about my prospect's situation and their desired outcomes in order to know whether I can help them or not?"

The questions you ask my not be comfortable or what most consider socially acceptable, but the answers you get will give you what you need to turn that prospect into a client.

* Learn a lot about your prospect. If someone called you and knew a lot about your business, wouldn't you be more predis- posed to speaking with them than with someone who knew nothing? It's obvious, but not enough of us do our homework.

* Find out what your prospect earns. A major motivation for prospects is to increase their income or to advance in their company. You need to know their situation and their personal goals. If you know your client makes 80K and that the successful implementations of your project could mean a promotion and a hefty raise of 10K, what you're really selling is a 10K raise.

* Question into. Don't let an answer slip by and then go on to another questions. Ask fewer but more essential questions, and then dig deep with several follow-up questions. "Why is that? How does that work? What are the implications?" You need to get to the heart of the matter.

* Ask your prospect what the single most important thing to achieve would be if you worked together. Often we are too indirect about things like this and assume what success would look like. Find out and get them to be specific.

* Don't apologize. Asking sensitive questions takes some experience and tact but you'll get a better response if you're very forthright. If you hesitate and couch everything to soften the blow, you'll only annoy your prospects.

by Robert Middleton 2002 All rights reserved. You are free to use material from the More Clients eZine in whole or in part, as long as you include complete attribution, including live web site link and email address. Please also notify me where the material will appear.

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More useful links: Marketing ScoreCard - Find out how you're doing with your marketing 5Ps of Professional Service Business Marketing - Plan and clarify your marketing direction

Email Robert here

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