Crack the prospect code

Why do so many meetings with prospects fizzle out and go nowhere? Is it just the way it is, so we should just accept it? Or, is it possible that our “This is what went wrong” explanations are merely excuses?

As sure as Friday is pizza night, salespeople are drawn to prospects. No argument. But what about the other way around? How much thought do salespeople give as to whether or not prospects are drawn to them? Is it possible that the drive to make the sale blinds them to the possibility that prospects may reject them?

The key to getting prospects to buy what you’re selling starts with getting them to buy you. It requires cracking the prospect code.

Abandon the urge to impress. Sure, you want prospects to like you, but efforts to impress them can make the wrong impression. It sends the message you are overly impressed with yourself.

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All this occurs when salespeople use confusing terminology, dominate the conversation, speak too fast and make prospects feel inadequate.

Set the stage for success. Productive sales calls don’t just happen. They are carefully choreographed to give the salesperson an edge in getting the order. The task is to figure out and focus on what customers want, what they are looking for, and what satisfies them.

Issue a challenge. It may sound odd or strange, but this is what it takes for prospects to clarify their thinking and commitment to making a prudent purchasing decision – and avoid experiencing buyer’s regret.

It’s time to ask what some may consider a risky question. “Are you sure this is what you want to do?” This is how trust develops and what it means to be a sales consultant.

Stay with them. No one wants to feel ignored, abandoned or rejected. Yet, this happens when a salesperson makes an “exit” after deciding a prospect isn’t going to buy. It’s easy to avoid. Let them know you appreciate the opportunity to help them, but you also recognize it doesn’t always work out. Do it correctly and there’s a good chance should they leave, they will be back or refer others.

Second-guess yourself. It’s tough to recover when you’re put on the defensive while making a sales presentation.

The way to avoid getting caught by the unexpected is to second-guess yourself. Lay out possible objections and anticipate possible responses and disagreements that could undermine your proposal. Show their deficiencies and why your position is the best solution.

Focus on why, not what. Salespeople like to talk about what customers get when making a purchase – long-lasting, the latest, solid, fashionable, popular, convenient and so on. But that’s changing. Today, it’s the why that motivates customers.

Ask the right questions. Salespeople don’t set out to alienate prospects. To avoid making a misstep that can turn prospects off, it helps to have them talk about what customer satisfaction means to them and what they expect from a salesperson.

It can also help to ask what’s bothersome about salespeople. The more a salesperson knows, the better.

Don’t leave feedback to chance. “We need your feedback” or the various versions of these overworked words are tacked on countless marketing messages. Some call it the electronic “complaint box.” But feedback is too valuable to be left to chance.

Nothing is more important than making sure you and your prospects are on the same page, that there’s no misunderstanding.

Rise to the occasion. Even salespeople, who take pride in being “always up,” get bored. But that’s the challenge. The test is our ability to push aside the “dark stuff” and meet the expectations of others.

John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales strategy consultant and business writer. Contact him at or