Before any sale can be made, a relationship must be opened. And if multiple sales are to be made to the same customer, that relationship must be maintained and maximized through continually opening new opportunities and, sometimes, new relationships that will enhance the buyer/seller partnership.
Many sellers focus too much of their time and attention to closing sales. By doing so, they lose alignment with the buyer’s process.

Professional sellers focus more on opening sales than they do on closing sales. They know that racing ahead to a close is a sure way to lose sales. They also know that opening sales effectively will lead to long and productive relationships with customers.

Developing the skills related to opening the sale can set a professional seller apart from other salespersons. While most sellers open by introducing their product or by asking for the buyer’s time, professional sellers understand that it is essential to open on value. They make a solid first impression because they position what matters to the buyer right at the beginning of their conversation. They communicate about the value of spending time with them before ever asking for an appointment. They see that the primary goal of their initial contact should be to convey how they can offer something of real value to their prospect.

To communicate this value efficiently and effectively, professional sellers master three skill sets:

  1. Professional sellers prospect strategically to ensure they are calling on the best prospects, those who have a need that the seller is able to meet.
  2. Professional sellers plan their calls in advance. They research their prospects to understand what will be of high value to each one and to personalize the initial conversations.
  3. Professional sellers construct strong opening statements that get the buyer’s attention, demonstrate the value of time spent with the seller, and result in an appointment.

What professional sellers do not do in the initial call is sell their product! They sell themselves and the value of time spent with them. They work to align their actions with where the buyer is in the buying process, usually at the stages of gaining awareness and interest.

By staying in alignment and focusing on value, the professional seller builds on that strong first impression. This is so different from the approach taken by most other salespeople that it immediately creates a competitive differentiation. Rather than tuning out and/or trying to quickly end the sales call, a buyer will be interested and engaged and willing to set an appointment.  As a result, more sales opportunities will be opened and more sales will be closed. More importantly, the company’s brand will be well-represented and longer-lasting relationships between buyers and sellers will be formed. The buyer will see the seller as a partner and resource, not as a nuisance.

To fully understand the impact of this differentiation, just think of the stereotypical “used car salesman.” What causes us to have a negative perception of this salesperson is their initial approach – they swoop in as soon as a prospect drives onto their lot, they talk about their products and the features of their products rather than talking about the buyer’s unique needs, and they race ahead to try and close a sale before they have even opened a relationship. Because of their approach, buyers dread the interaction with them and dodge their follow-up calls. This isn’t how professional sellers want to be perceived.

Instead, professional sellers deliberately set out to create and maintain the impression that they are customer-focused. The only way to do this at the start of a relationship is by understanding what is of value to the buyer. Pre-call research will give some indicators about what matters to a company. Take a look at their web site, any press releases they’ve issued, news stories that have been written about them, and how they present themselves in marketing materials.

Next, consider the individual you’ll be contacting. The job title will give you some preliminary insight into what might be important. A Quality Assurance Manager, for example, cares about different things than a Human Resources Manager does. In addition to job title, you can take a look at LinkedIn or other social networking sites to glean information about your contact’s background and interests. Within just a few moments, you can tailor an opening that is captivating and appreciated because it is personalized.

Just one word of caution as you get started – this pre-call research is only useful as a starting point. You don’t want to draw conclusions or make assumptions that are absolute. You have found enough information to be credible and engaging in the opening, but not enough information to develop complete recommendations. Your strong first impression will get you in the door, but the questions you ask to check your assumptions and deepen your knowledge are essential for keeping that door open.


Deb Calvert

Deb Calvert, President of People First Productivity Solutions, is a Top 50 Sales Influencer who’s championing the movement to Step Selling & Start Leading. Deb provides consulting, training and coaching for companies aiming to improve their sales, leadership and team connections.