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When Talking to Strangers

By Jeff Mowatt |

Interesting to hear the response from managers when asked about what factors impact sales. Many will reference the economy, customer demographics, competition, and recent innovations. While those factors certainly play a role, I often find, when brought in to train sales and service teams, that employees inadvertently chase away new potential customers. It usually happens within the first 10 seconds of customer communication, and most employees have no idea that they are committing these offenses. See if this is true in your organization. Consider these three reasons potential customers may distrust you or your team members.

  1. Faking Familiarity
    Imagine that you are relaxing at home at the end of a long day. Supper's cleared away; at last it's time to relax with cookie, blankie, remote. The phone rings. You drag yourself off the sofa to answer. The voice at the other end replies, “Hello, is this Mr. or Ms. So-and-so?” “Yes,” you answer. The caller's next line, “And how are you this evening?” Thinking quickly you turn to your sweetheart, extending the phone, “Honey, it's for you!”

    The telemarketer made a common mistake—faking familiarity. It's true that customers want to be treated in a friendly manner, but managers and employees need to recognize that before you can foster friendly feelings, you need to create trust. The telemarketer lost trust in the first five seconds when they asked a stranger, “How are you?” The potential customer realizes that the caller had never met them, so really doesn't care how they are. One of the techniques I share in my training sessions for salespeople on cold calling methods is to never ask a stranger, “How are you?” Instead, salespeople get better results by opening with, “Hello, is this So-and-So? Hi, I'm So-and-So with ABC Company. We've never met. The reason I'm calling is…” In other words, you'll get better results by saying, “We've never met” (which proves that you are up front and honest) than by insincerely inquiring about the health of a total stranger.

    Today's consumer is more educated, streetwise, and, frankly, way more cynical about salespeople's motives than ever before. Consumers seem to be taking the advice that parents give their children: “Come straight home, and don't talk to strangers!” That means that beyond telling employees to be friendly with customers, managers need to quip their staff with tools for establishing trust.

  2. Evasive Answers
    Which person would you trust in this scenario: Picture yourself as a customer asking this simple question of two employees: “When can you deliver this?” Employee A's response: “This is the busy season for us and the plant is operating at about a two-week turnaround. That means it will be delivered by March 15th.” Employee B's response to the same question, “By March 15th. This is the busy season for us and the plant is operating at about a two- week turnaround. That means delivery by March 15th.”

    As the customer, you're likely to have more confidence and trust (there's that word again) in Employee B. That employee answered the question with a direct answer, then elaborated. Employee A sounded as though they were avoiding the question. That's also referred to as sounding like a politician. When trust is our primary objective, better to opt for instant honesty. In other words, answer the question directly, then explain. It's a subtle technique that's often overlooked.

    Speaking of up-front honesty, let's look at a third reason strangers may not be receptive to our ideas.

  3. Slight exaggeration
    I have spoken at conventions for three major real estate corporations who each claim that they are number one in the industry. While you and I know all three companies can't be first, when we read the fine print, we find that each is using different metrics to rank themselves at the top. My comment for those three organizations – so what! What does the client care if you happen to have the most sales, most realtors, or most offices in the country? At best, those are features - not benefits – that aren't particularly meaningful to the average customer. All they've done by claiming to be number one (when others are doing the same), is raise the skepticism of the customer. This use of slight exaggeration, or “puffery,” is the third reason customers distrust us.

    Customers have become so inured to organizations claiming to be the first, best, and biggest, that they often tune-out when they hear it from employees, advertisements, the media, or read it on websites. To influence the customers' buying decisions, we'd better provide more than just grandiose claims. Fortunately, there are three pieces of information that do help to sell ideas, products or services. Your message should convey: 1.What the benefit is. 2.How you are unique 3.The evidence. Together the benefit, uniqueness, and evidence are known in marketing circles as a Unique Selling Proposition or USP. Your USP helps to remove doubts and raise buying interest.

Bottom Line
There are plenty of reasons/excuses for sales not meeting expectations. Before blaming external factors, managers would do well to look at their customer communications to see if there's room for improvement in building trust.

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