Helping small business owners develop extraordinary businesses that really work for their customers, their employees, themselves and their families

Critical early steps in a sales conversation

When meeting a prospective client, patient or customer (I’ll use “customer” for all three), the new salesperson or service provider is eager to lead the conversation with a “sales pitch” about the features and benefits of the product or service they represent.

It’s usually too early to share that information. You don’t know yet what is an appropriate product or service for this person. The prospective customer doesn’t know whether you’re a person that they trust and are comfortable working with. You have one mouth and two ears. Get the prospective customer talking and listen at least twice as much as you talk. (When the prospective customer tells you they are already ready to purchase, complete the order first to avoid irritating the customer. Then make an effort to gather information about the customer for your records by following these steps. This might lead to an upsell or add-on sale opportunity.)

An early step to include in the sales conversation is building rapport. Ask questions to learn about this person. What are their interests? Do they have a hobby? Are they a sports fan? Do they travel for pleasure? What is their background? Do they have a family? Where do they come from? Where did they go to school? How did they get started in their business? (If it fits, this is a great rapport-builder. Most people love to tell their story.) Look for things you have in common. Take an interest in them as a person. Do have some self-disclosure to establish things you have in common, but the conversation should focus on the customer.

Then ask qualifying questions to find out whether what you have to offer is appropriate for them. Why are they meeting with you? Is this purchase for themselves or a gift? What problems are they dealing with? What good experience are they seeking? What end result are they hoping for? When do they want or need it? If applicable, do they have a favorite color? Is this purchase replacing another one? What do they like about what they use now? What would they alter or improve? How did they find out about you and/or your company?

This conversation shouldn’t be an interrogation, but a natural exchange of information and expression of your interest in being of service to the customer.

After this introduction, you should know whether what you offer is appropriate for this prospective customer. Then you can decide the next step, which could be a presentation and/or demonstration of what you offer, a referral to someone else who can help them, a request for referrals, getting contact information for later communication, and/or thanking them for meeting with you.

Selling is a service. Relax and do your best to be a helpful assistant buyer, which means helping the prospective customer make a decision that is good for them, while establishing a positive long-term relationship.

If you would like coaching to help you sell more effectively, please contact me at to schedule an initial consultation at no charge or obligation.

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Helping small business owners develop extraordinary businesses that really work for their customers, their employees, themselves and their families