Sales strategies: How to overcome common sales obstacles
By Art Sobczak
If you've been in sales for any length of time, chances are you've encountered many different kinds of obstacles to making the sale. In my position, I've heard of just about every sales obstacle imaginable. Following are some questions from readers that typify the obstacles faced by many sales professionals today - especially those who sell and prospect primarily over the phone - and my suggestions for overcoming them.
Q. I keep hearing that I should "control the telephone sales call" but, at the same time, I should be mostly listening, not talking. How is control established?
A. It does seem unusual that you can control the call by listening, but that is exactly how you do it. To be more precise, you establish control through the use of effective questions.
Prior to the call, you should have your questioning plan well-prepared. You should know exactly what information you will need from each prospect and what questions you will pose to gather that information. Most importantly, you also must know how you will react to each answer, regardless of the response.
Through this questioning-and-listening process, you identify the prospect's needs and engineer the direction of the conversation at the same time. Prospects may try to seize control by objecting or getting off on a tangent, but you should be able to redirect the presentation with more questions. Furthermore, it's to your benefit to control the call by listening because prospects then feel you are truly concerned about their needs. Nothing bores them more than a salesperson droning on about irrelevant features.
Q. On many calls, I can't pinpoint a real objection. The prospects manage to get me off the phone without buying, although they claim some interest. How can I fix this?
A. It sounds as if prospects are brushing you off with fuzzy phrases such as "We'll consider it," and "There's a possibility." What you need to do is clear up their vague language and define specifically what they mean. For example, if they say they will "look it over," ask them, "What exactly will you be looking at?" Sometimes it's best to come right out and ask them, "And what does that mean in specific terms?" If prospects really are just suspects, it's best to find that out before you waste several calls on them. If they do indeed have interest, pinpoint where that interest lies so you can concentrate on filling needs in that area.
Q. What should a telephone salesperson do when the prospect answers on a speakerphone?
A. If you know you are selling to a group of people at the other end of the line, using the speakerphone function is fine. But trying to sell to individuals who are using the speaker-phone function isn't the alternative of choice. Normally, it's an indication they are engaged in some other activity. If so, obviously they aren't devoting total attention to what you are saying and asking. Therefore, you need to tactfully ask them to take you off the speakerphone function. Here's an idea that works:
"Mr. Prospect, we seem to have a terrible connection with the speakerphone. I really don't want to miss anything you have to say. Would it be a problem to use the handset?"
Q. In our business, we often use free trials and send invoices on approval. However, lately we've been finding that more people return the order, and some say they didn't order anything. What are some ideas to reverse the trend?
A. First, as you probably know, any time you "sell" trials, you're going to have a certain number of people who will claim they never spoke with you. But when it comes to the legitimate customers, a sudden trend of higher returns is a function of what a company's employees say on the phone. Typically, it's a sign that the sales reps have gotten "softer" on their offer, meaning they are selling the trial harder than they are the benefits of the product. That's why, in some cases, customers are surprised they received an invoice.
To strengthen the sale, be sure that customers know they are indeed buying something. They simply have the right to return it within the trial period if they feel it doesn't meet their needs. Emphasize to the reps that, at the end of the call, they should reiterate that the prospect will receive an invoice, and that they should state the amount of the purchase.
Art Sobczak is president of Business By Phone, a telephone sales training and consulting firm, and the publisher of Telephone Selling Report.