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The Simplicity of Selling: Ask Basic Questions, Then Listen, Listen, Listen!

The Simplicity of Selling: Ask Basic Questions, Then Listen, Listen, Listen!

By Ken Lizotte

No business development strategy can possibly be successful if effective sales measures are not consistently practiced and implemented. When you walk into a prospect's office, how do you handle this critical piece? Do you move the process along skillfully, or do you assume that your prospect is already sold? The truth is that when it comes to selling, you can never be certain that the deal is done until the ink on both your signatures is dry.

One key issue is whether you perceive yourself as a salesperson at all. Many actuarial consultants do not, preferring to just "do the work." Being in business for themselves, this is frequently their undoing. "Well, I'm just not a salesman," they explain.

The hard truth though is that potential customers will come your way one way or another throughout the life of your business, and when they do you must capitalize on such opportunities. Even when your services are critical to your prospect, on some level you still have to sell yourself. There's just no getting around it.

So what do you do when consumed with that feeling that by nature you're simply not a salesperson? Can this be changed? Can selling prowess be learned? There are three answers to this: yes, yes... and yes!

Even better, it all doesn't have to be hard. When you sit down with your prospect, for example, start by simply asking basic sales questions, so you can identify what your prospect actually needs. Begin with the most basic question of them all: "What can I do for you?" Then pipe down and listen, listen, listen to what your prospect has to say.

After your prospect responds, ask more questions until you've acquired a full and deep understanding of what made your prospect bring you in. At some point, you'll have gathered enough information. That's when you can explain those aspects of your services that can best help the prospect. Never mind listing all your credentials or laying out a 10–color brochure about EVERYTHING you can offer. All that matters is the situation at hand.

By employing this method, you will be saving both of you much time and wasted breath. If you ask questions and then listen... a lot, you can take this "sales conversation" to a higher level than either you or your prospect ever expected. Take this opportunity to point out possible needs that the prospect hadn't considered, fueled by implications you see in the prospect's description of her current troubles. This should be easy now that you have listened so well to your prospect's perceived needs. Soon she will begin believing that she would be a complete fool not to hire you. Get a prospect to this point and the next step involves a mere ironing out of the details.

I don't know how many times qualified prospects have thanked me for taking a lengthy amount of time with them on the phone—perhaps an hour or more—or in person so that all their questions could be answered and my opinions could be rendered in depth. But in addition to information they receive form me, prospects typically express how much they sincerely appreciate "my simply taking the time." Apparently, this strikes them as unusual. When was the last time a potential vendor took so much time and attention just to inform them of how that vendor might help? A very long time is the sense I get, quite often.

We clearly do not expect this to happen, for service providers to attempt to "serve" us even before they are hired. So when it does happen, the generous professional service provider rises dramatically in stature and trust in the prospect's eyes. Asking basic questions, then listening and listening and listening, then offering something back is 90 percent of making the sale. There's no arm–twisting, no tricky closing techniques. Master this simple equation and you'll no longer own the right—nor harbor the interest—to proclaim, "I'm just not a salesman!"

Ken Lizotte, CMC, is author of the new book The Expert's Edge: Become the Go–To Authority that People Turn to Every Time (McGraw Hill), which shows professional service providers how to position themselves as thought leaders so they can "separate themselves from the competitive pack." Chief imaginative officer (CIO) of emerson consulting group inc. (Concord MA), Lizotte speaks at conferences and other business events on such topics as becoming a thoughtleader, getting published, reative thinking and work/family balance. Visit his Web site at