Opening the Sale – Because You’ll Never ‘Close’ Without Opening Well

By Richard Dickerson, The Brooks Group

In working with and coaching salespeople, particularly new or untrained ones, I have noticed many struggling with how to initiate sales calls. Whether “cold” or scheduled appointments, salespeople often have difficulty deciding how to open the sales call. Why not simply be honest and express your intentions?

When salespeople arrive, call, or e-mail, prospects likely have several fears or concerns they want alleviated, and we have to alleviate them within the first few minutes.

They are:

Who are you?

Who do you represent?

What do you want?

What’s in it for me?

These anxieties must be addressed quickly and completely or you will have difficulty moving the sale forward. By taking the heat off the prospect, he or she will be less resistant, less tense, less anxious and more likely to listen.

Your prospect or customer knows you are a salesperson. He or she is not stupid or naive. Being honest about yourself and your reason for meeting, calling, or e-mailing will position you much more favorably.

Issue a Statement of Intention by saying, “Hello. My name is Richard Dickerson and I am with The Brooks Group. The purpose of our meeting is to get to know you better, share information about our [whatever product/service you sell] and talk about anything you wish to discuss with me.”  Or you could begin, “Hello, I am Richard Dickerson and I am with The Brooks Group.  What I would like to accomplish today is to meet you, get to know you better, share information about our [whatever product/service you sell] and discuss anything you wish to discuss with me.”

By starting this way, you have clearly stated a reason for being there and, most importantly, invited dialogue. Remember, prospects know you are a salesperson. They are more comfortable if they feel no pressure from you. The phrase “and anything you would like to discuss with me” takes the pressure off them and you. It discloses your wish for dialogue — a conversation, not a data dump by you, the salesperson. Prospects feel threatened by monologue. It’s inconsiderate and self-focused. We, as professional salespeople, have to focus on the prospect, and the prospect has to feel that focus to help develop trust with us.

Also, this is not a script; it is a language or methodology for gaining attention and building trust and rapport. Use your own words that exemplify the principle. And remember to keep it simple. Use the fewest amount of words, and speak with conviction and confidence to clearly and sincerely convey interest in your customer’s most pressing concern. It is an invitation for the prospect to express what’s on his or her mind, which, for most prospects, is a refreshing change from the all-too-typical sales monologue.

Another mutual benefit for the prospect (as well as the salesperson) in using the Statement of Intention is that it provides a means of minimizing unsolicited “small talk”, those so-called “ice breakers” we all remember from traditional, old school sales training. The concept of ice breakers was to reduce tension, anxiety, and aggravation from buyers. The practice of using ice breakers often led to a social conversation because salespeople couldn’t move the conversation back to sales talk. It was “safe” for the salesperson and the prospect. Thus, the so-called sales call developed into a social visit that created MORE post-visit anxiety for everyone…wasted time, lost opportunities, no sale, frustration, etc.

Of course, if the prospect wishes to engage in small talk, let him or her, but participate carefully. Remember, this is a sales visit and we must move the dialogue toward a sales discussion with the buyer’s participation.  All the more reason to develop rapport quickly.

Sales professionals understand that prospects and customers are more comfortable buying from salespeople they perceive to be most like themselves. Accordingly, top salespeople focus on mirroring the style of their buyer. This reduces tension, enhances trust, and creates a more positive perception of the salesperson. The Statement of Intention, spoken in a manner in the style of the buyer, becomes even more powerful and effective. The Statement of Intention has clarified:

Who are you

Who do you represent

What do you want

However, you must still answer the critical question remaining in the mind of the buyer.

What’s in it for me?

It’s important to think of the Statement of Intention as a method to initiate the sales conversation, encourage dialogue, build trust and rapport quickly, and begin the sales process. Remember the simple Statement of Intention: “Hello, I am Richard Dickerson and I am with the Brooks Group. The purpose of our meeting is to get to know you better, talk about The Brooks Group’s offerings, and anything else you wish to discuss with me.” And then BE QUIET and listen. Most of the time you will hear “OK.”

DO NOT begin your sales presentation at this moment unless the buyer invites you to. Try this instead:

“You know, [Mr./Ms. Buyer], I have learned that when people get exactly what they are looking for, they’re happier, more excited and things work out best for everyone. Do you mind if I ask you some questions to see if we can provide that for you?” This very simple question confirms what the buyer wants to discuss, which is “What’s in it for me?” What is in it for the buyer is what he or she wants to tell you and what he or she wants you to provide. If the buyer answers “yes” you have his or her undivided attention! If he or she doesn’t have time for questions, ask when there will be time.

This is the time for a Bonding Statement. Clearly stating that you understand the need to bring value and involve, listen and focus on the buyer BEFORE you can recommend a solution solidifies trust, builds rapport and creates value for the buyer. Most importantly, it distinguishes you as a professional salesperson, valued resource and strategic partner. The Bonding Statement can be as simple as the above example or as sophisticated as referencing characteristics of a specific position in an organization. Either way, its purpose is to appeal to the style of the buyer and demonstrate understanding of the buyer’s role.

For example, suppose the buyer is an entrepreneurial CEO. An effective bonding statement would be:

“[Mr./Ms. CEO], understanding how important it is to maintain your autonomy, provide strategic direction and create long-term value, do you mind if I ask you some questions to see if can help you achieve this?” Again, the purpose is to demonstrate an understanding of the buyer’s role and goals. This enhances the value YOU bring to the prospect. Obviously, this requires preparation, understanding, empathy and self-awareness on the part of the salesperson. All of this positions YOU much more strongly than your competitors. It enhances a prospect’s perception of you, as well as your offering, thereby positioning you as a “least risk” provider.

People listen to those they believe have something important to say, and will support ideas which they help create for themselves. Using the Statement of Intention and the Bonding Statement will allow both the salesperson and the prospect to satisfy what each want to accomplish. It “opens” the sale in a positive, beneficial way; helps build trust and rapport quickly; sets the sales process in motion; creates value in the mind of the buyer; and distinguishes you as a true sales professional.