Any worthwhile selling situation requires a level playing field. Inexperienced salespeople often view the buyer as having a superior position.
This is a very common mistake. The buyer and seller have needs equal in value. The salesperson needs to bring in the revenue a sale will generate and the buyer needs the product or service the salesperson is selling to run his or her business — in order to maintain operations, thereby revenue.
An up-front contract is a powerful sales tool that keeps the playing field level and the scales balanced for both a salesperson and the prospect. It essentially sets the ground rules for any new business appointment.
We're not talking about a written agreement that a salesperson whips out for the prospect to sign at the first meeting. What we are talking about is a series of intelligent questions a salesperson should ask a prospect to establish mutual respect for each other's time and the value that each brings to the table. Both the prospect and salesperson have an agenda and each one needs to be ferreted out in an honest way.
As the four basic questions of an up-front contract are logically posed by the salesperson, he'll know where he stands in relation to the prospect's time and priority. The prospect will realize he is dealing with a respectful fellow professional and will usually gain more respect for him or her. The up-front contract is most effective when the questions are well timed and posed conversationally. They go like this:
1. When the prospect first greets you, ask: "How much time have you set aside for our meeting?" The message here is that successful people are busy and we need to respect that fact.
2. The next question helps uncover at least part of the prospect's agenda: "What do you want to talk about today?" Often the prospect will answer with words to the effect of; I want to know what you can do for me and how much will it cost. This helps the prospect feel valued and understood by the salesperson.
3. The next question helps disarm the prospect from dominating the meeting. It is: "Would it be all right if I ask you some questions so I can understand exactly what kind of solution I can offer you?" This sets the basis for having a conversation rather than the salesperson having to give a presentation.
4. The last Up-Front Contract question is in two parts and creates a very powerful agreement. It goes like this: "If after we have this discussion and you feel there just isn't a good fit here, will you please tell me that? OK then, if you are comfortable with the fit, from your perspective, what happens next?" The prospect's answers will reveal a lot about what can happen next. Be particularly careful here to listen to what those next steps can be.
At this point in the conversation, the salesperson can disarm the prospect by letting him know that it's perfectly OK to say, "No, this isn't what we're looking for." This will eliminate the wasted time of following up a prospect who's not really interested and who will continually stall the salesperson in the future. On the positive side, if there is agreement on a good fit for both sides, the salesperson can get beyond the "think it over" situation and on to a clear future — a positive next step toward the sale or, even better, make the sale then and there.
By setting up clear up-front contracts, great salespeople eliminate the "think it over" response, get decisions faster, and spend less time chasing unqualified prospects.
Kevin Hallenbeck is the principal of Sandler Training, in Manchester. He has worked with thousands of salespeople and their organizations to increase sales effectiveness. On the Web at www.bestsalespeople.com. Telephone: (603) 232-1520