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How well do you really know your prospect’s needs?

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How well do you really know your prospects’ needs? Are you doing enough to surface and address your prospects’ concerns during the sales process? In Win Loss sales process debrief interviews, prospects frequently cite that salespeople fail to truly understand their unique needs. In these Win Loss interviews, prospects rate the winning salesperson an average of 52% higher than the losing salesperson in the area of “consultative approach”.

Your new business close rate will increase dramatically if you incorporate four key action items into your sales process: Ask, Listen, Customize, Consult.  By gathering specific insights into what your prospect is seeking (preferably in advance), you will naturally be able to seamlessly customize your sales process and presentation specifically to your prospect’s needs.

Here are some steps you can take to learn each prospect’s unique needs and better customize your presentations and sales approach:

Get each prospect talking. It is absolutely critical to get a prospect talking at the beginning of your discussion. By learning the prospect’s areas of focus and concern upfront, you will be able to address them later on. One opening option is to start by saying, “Ms. Prospect, we have put together an agenda of what we would like to cover in today’s meeting.

However, before I start, can you take a few minutes to fill me in on what’s important to you and what’s going on with your current provider/product/service. This will help me clarify and better tailor my remarks as we go through the meeting.”  By giving the prospect an opportunity to talk and sending a signal that you are prepared to listen, the prospect will feel important.

Develop a list of great open-ended sales questions to ask each prospect. Every salesperson should have a list of sales questions that focus on the prospect, the prospect’s organization, and the prospect’s business needs. For example, one great question to ask a prospect is, “How did you get into the business?” This question allows you to learn about the prospect as an individual and build rapport by establishing common ground.

If you want to get a sense of any potential challenges the prospect’s company is facing, you could ask, “How’s business?” Lastly, when you want or need competitive intelligence or more detail about a specific product or service need, try asking, “What kinds of concerns do you have about product X/service Y/vendor Z? What is working? What is not working?” Be ready to listen; answers to these questions will help you truly grasp your prospect’s needs, concerns, and potential objections.

Always restate or paraphrase each prospect’s unique needs before you present your solution. Now that you have the prospect talking and sharing, it is time to prove that you listened and understand. Take the time to make sure – in the moment – that what you heard is what your prospect has shared. In the event you are off in any areas, this recap will invite the prospect to correct you or perhaps to even share additional information.

Customize your pitch. Once you have correctly and thoroughly assessed your prospect’s key decision-making criteria, apply this knowledge to your presentation. Do not leave a need or concern unaddressed; on the flip side, do not cover areas that are far outside the prospect’s areas of focus. Gathering details upfront enables you to customize the agenda to your prospect’s needs…not your needs. Do not worry if your sales materials do not reflect this customization; just try to show the prospect that you understand what she is looking for and address each of the areas of interest.

Be consultative. Once the prospect has opened up about his true needs, you should use your product expertise to be consultative in your sales approach. When you position yourself as a consultant or expert (and not just as a salesperson), you will get much further with prospects, but you have to know what they are looking for before you can do this, and you have to be an expert in your product, service, and industry.

Honesty is an important trait — if your product or service is not a good fit for the prospect, point them in the right direction (the right vendor) to fulfill their needs. Don’t try to force your company on them. This simple act will actually increase your credibility. Prospects are always thankful for a salesperson who is trying to do right by them as opposed to someone who is just in it for a quick sale.

Just as a salesperson should never try to close a sale before presenting a solution, a sales rep should never try to make a presentation before understanding the prospect’s needs. When you ask, listen, customize, and consult during the sales process, you will be in a much better position to close the deal.

By, Richard Schroder is president of Anova Consulting Group, a leading market research firm focused on Win Loss Analysis and Customer Satisfaction Research.