The Big Picture

In today's challenging economy, selling is a difficult job, right? Well, not always.  Sometimes prospects signal that they're ready to buy — right now — and if you're not listening carefully, you might easily miss the opportunity.

Such events generally happen right at the beginning of the sales cycle, when you're having your first conversation with a prospective customer. The prospect says something like:

  • "We've been looking to buy something like this."
  • "I was thinking of contacting your firm about this."
  • "Oh, yeah, we definitely need to talk."


These are clear signals that the prospect has already decided to buy. Unfortunately, they're signals that are easy to miss if you aren't listening carefully.


The problem comes from assuming that every sales opportunity will follow a similar or identical process. For example, suppose your sales process looks something like this:


  1. Initial contact
  2. Assess needs
  3. Suggest solution
  4. Provide demonstration
  5. Ask for the business
  6. Negotiate terms


If you're not really listening during the first step, you might not hear that signal that the prospect has already assessed needs, has a solution in mind (yours), and is ready to negotiate terms.


Instead, it's all too easy to let the momentum of your sales process carry you from step to step, even though those steps might give the prospect a reason NOT to buy.


For example, suppose you're selling an inventory control system. If you're not careful, the initial conversation might go something like this:


  • Prospect: Jim here.
  • You: I'm John Doe from Acme Inventory. Did I catch you at an okay time?
  • Prospect: Acme? In fact, I was thinking of contacting you.
  • You: Jim, I'm sure you're busy and I want to respect your time, so I'll be brief. The reason for my call is this. We just saved Universal Transport an additional $12 million in shipping costs, so I thought it was important enough to let you know, since every company has an obligation to their customers and shareholders to reduce expenses.
  • Prospect: But...
  • You: Now, you may be wondering if we can do this for you, too. Well, depending on what you're currently doing, I don't know if you have a need for our services. But with your permission, let's talk for a few minutes to determine if there is anything we're doing that you could benefit from.
  • Prospect: But...
  • You: Have you been considering the impact of globalization on your supply chain?
  • Prospect: No, not really...
  • You: Well, our research has shown...


See what happened. All of a sudden, you're bringing up issues that might raise more questions in the buyer's mind and actually make the buying decision MORE difficult. It's throwing away a golden opportunity.


While the conversation above sounds a bit cartoonish, I guarantee you this kind of thing happens all the time. In fact, it's the single most common sales error according to Thomas Ray Crowel, author of the book Simple Selling.


I even experienced this situation myself a few years ago. When my dishwasher broke, I called a locally-owned appliance dealer with whom I'd had good experiences in the past. I was actually holding my credit card in my hand, ready to buy. Here's my memory of the conversation:


  • Me: I want to buy a new dishwasher.
  • Sales guy: If you come down to the store I can show you some models.
  • Me: No, I just want one that's black and inexpensive. What have you got?
  • Sales guy: You'll have to come down to the store.
  • Me: No, I want to order one right now.
  • Sales guy: Go on the Internet, find a model that you'd like, call back, and I'll see if we can match the price.
  • Me: Okay. Bye.


The sales guy was so focused on his process (which was based upon in-store upselling) that he missed the cue that he had already made the sale. Anyway, I followed his advice, got online and ordered a dishwasher — from Home Depot.


That's why it's so incredibly important to listen — really listen — to prospects. If you don't, you end up losing the sales that were low-hanging fruit.