I remember my first sales call like it was yesterday.
As someone with an HR background who later became involved in operations management, I had no experience making sales calls. But when I decided to forge my own path and launch a business, I knew that sales calls were something I needed to get used to.
My first prospective appointment was both exciting and nauseating. Once I saw the email notification that told me I’d be taking my first sales call in a few days, I became frantic.
What would I say to this person? Like, how would I convince them to sign up and give me their business?
I jumped over to Google and read everything I could find about sale conversations.
I was clueless.
I found a script everyone was raving about on a forum, downloaded the PDF and jotted down some notes so I would sound more “natural.”
The day of the call came, and after a few trips to the restroom, it was time to speak to my very first prospect.
And I spoke and spoke and spoke.
It went terribly. I didn’t get the contract, and the prospect never answered any of my follow-up emails. To say I was deflated and disappointed would be an understatement.
Why my sales call went horribly wrong
Here’s what I did wrong.
I followed the script like an untrained telemarketer, never asking the right questions or giving the prospect control over the conversation. I asked and answered yes/no questions, talked too much, lead with the price (via email no less) and filled the silence with justifications and general lame attempts at being persuasive.
It was an epic fail, but it taught me a lot about myself and showed me what I needed to become if I wanted to be an entrepreneur.
The turning point for me was when I was struck with a brilliant question: “How do I like being sold to?” That is to say, what makes me choose one service provider over another? What sort of sales tactics do I dislike?
Being a person who finds high-pressure sales distasteful, I started there. But what else? I didn’t like it when the salesperson spoke too much. I didn’t like when they tried too hard. I didn’t like it when salespeople tried to tell me why their product was the best without me asking the right questions.
What I really liked were salespeople who were personable, light-hearted and smart, who asked probing questions, engaged my imagination and really got me excited about the purchase even before I knew the price.
I adapted my sales method to my personal preferences and not the way some “guru” said it should be done. Here is my approach. It’s super simple and easy breezy.
1. It’s not a sales call
It’s a way to get to know someone, create a connection, serve and create goodwill. Ask the same questions you’d ask someone you’ve just met — but keep it professional. No personal chatter or questions. Instead, thank them for connecting and ask what prompted them to schedule the call.
2. Let them talk and share
Ask questions that will help you create the bigger picture which you’ll use to offer solutions. What do they need? What have they tried? What’s their goal? What excites them most about the topic? Do they have a deadline? Ask probing questions and invite them to get excited about the prospects of completing the project.
Offer solutions and treat the prospect as if they’re already a paying customer. Get away from the typical scarcity mindset and serve them because even if they don’t do business with you, they may be a source of referrals or future contacts.
3. Don’t offer a price until asked
If they haven’t asked for a price, they’ve not made a decision to work with you yet. Ask them if the advice or plan you shared sounds good and whether they need any further help. If they don’t ask you for the price, don’t give it. Someone who is interested in buying will ask for the price. Ask more project-specific questions, if time allows, and share more guidance or information.
If by the end of the call the prospect hasn’t asked for the price, ask them if they’ve made a decision, how they’d like to proceed, or if they’d like more information.
4. Keep the conversation casual
Drop the high-pressure tactics and keep the long-term relationship in mind. If they don’t become a customer, follow up soon via email. Then add them to your calendar as someone you’ll reach out to once a month with fresh content or other valuable information.
This is how I have cultivated dozens of mutually beneficial business relationships that have lasted for many years.
As a service-based business owner, you cannot afford — nor do you want — to alienate a prospect just because they’re not buying today. Business evolves, as do budgets, and when the opportunity presents itself again they’ll contact you because you offered value and served without compromising your integrity.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Sam Picarello is a Business Strategist and coach for online entrepreneurs and high-performers. With a long corporate career in project management and almost a decade of online entrepreneurship, Sam uses her expertise and can-do approach to help online business owners create marketing and productivity systems to streamline their businesses and increase profits. Through her one-on-one coaching sessions, online programs, and business booster masterminds, she brings a corporate flavor to small business owners where systems and frameworks help entrepreneurs save time, create more freedom, and get results while maintaining their sanity. Learn more at SamPicarello.com or connect with @SamPicarello on Twitter.