Finding out what a client needs is the way to make a sale, says Philip Hesketh.
Turning relationships into profitable long-term partnerships is what will ensure the survival of a small business or its failure. However, not every small business owner is a natural salesperson but there is a way. It's about becoming good at showing customers you understand and care about their situation.
Building business relationships can be a long drawn-out process - are there ways to make this process quicker?
Securing relationships is about engagement, empathy and listening. We've all been in situations when the person we are meeting isn't listening. The fact is most people, most of the time, are just interested in themselves, their pleasures or their problems.
So the key is to ask what I call "Killer Questions" that help you get engaged and get the other person talking about those three things.
Let's say a sales person from a small business is trying to persuade a client to buy its product - what can be done to persuade her to do this?
People don't care about how much you know, until they know how much you care. So don't tell them all about the product's features and benefits until you know what the other person really wants, and when you understand this, you can talk about it. It will always be about what the product can do for a person and its value to that person, rather than just the price, as well as managing expectations.
What are these 'Killer Questions'?
They include questions like "what is the most important thing to you about ..." followed by whatever is relevant such as "the service we provide", "the product being launched", "the team supporting you". Another question is: "What is the most frustrating thing about ... etc." After each of these questions always ask "Why is that?" Here's another: "Is there any aspect of our service we could improve?"
Can these be used any time or do you have advice about timing?
Effective timing brings better results. The best time is when the other person is relaxed - I call this a Colombo moment.
Colombo was a TV detective who would relax suspects by talking about anything but the crime. The suspect would think they've got away with it and then just before leaving he would ask a killer question and the suspect would spill the beans.
Meetings are the same. At the beginning there is preamble followed by an hour or so of business, then comes conclusions and actions, and then some more chat. Just before leaving, ask a killer question.
Why are these questions so important?
They are important because they help you engage with the other person and their needs, and asking them shows you care about the person and their business. This puts you and them in a cabal and if you can work in unison, with understanding, there is more chance for you both to grow.
What is the most important thing to you about running a small business?
Ask your customers more questions; truly care about your customers' needs; do what you say you are going to do and aim to exceed expectations every day. It took many years and many mistakes to figure this out!
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Philip Hesketh is an international speaker on the psychology of persuasion and influence, and author of Amazon bestseller, How to Persuade and Influence People. His business career includes building an $80 million British company.