I was talking recently with a friend of mine who is an expert interviewer, having done it professionally for Hollywood studios. My 34 year career, on the other hand, has included sales and marketing, management, small business ownership and eight years as a consultant. I realized our professions overlap.
This led me to thinking about how interviewing skills can improve your sales. These techniques are the same ones a professional interviewer uses. I use them as a small business consultant too.
Getting Prospects to Know, Like and Trust You
Except for the simplest transactions, like selling groceries, the salespeople must help prospects come to know, like and trust them. Sometimes salespeople get lucky because their prospects already have some loyalty to their brand.
Then, the salesperson can either capitalize on that brand preference or blow the initial relationship by destroying what trust was developed. I wrote about that in “What I Learned as a Customer about How to Avoid Blowing Your Sale.”
Ultimately, though, especially in business-to-business sales, salespeople must create a relationship with their prospects. Those relationships can form quickly or can take weeks or months or, on rare occasion, years.
That is because getting to know, like and trust someone happens in stages. We like a little, know a little, and trust a little. After that works well, we risk a little bit more.
Jay Leno’s Example
Look at how Jay Leno succeeds so well with interviewing.
First, he gets some research about his guests. He uses this background information to open a conversation with them. He might talk about their marriages, their families, their current project, their past projects, or their plans for the future. As his guests start talking about themselves, they relax. Once they are comfortable, the conversation opens up and becomes more interesting. Jay keeps it all about the guest. His personal comments keep a dialogue going rather than an interrogation. But he always focuses back on his guest.
On sales calls, I have had relationships from warm friendships to pleasant business relationships. But all successful sales calls required my prospects coming to ‘know, like and trust’ me. It is also important to use the right tool in improving sales like software for sales management.
I Had to Sincerely Care
Regardless of the type of relationship we developed, it started with asking questions and listening to their answers. Here’s the kicker: I had to be sincere and genuinely interested.
So, how did I convey sincere interest? Like in any social situation, I asked follow up questions to show I was listening. I admit this took time to learn. Like many young salespeople I have observed, I used to ask a question to be polite. In reality, I was waiting for my opportunity to tell my story. It took experience, practice and discipline for me to focus on the other person. When I learned to truly listen and respond with questions to understand better, I developed stronger relationships and better sales.
Social Conversation Example
Look at this typical conversation between two people.
Did you see the movie Avatar? You did? Was it the 3D version or the regular? What did you think about it? What was your favorite part? What did you think about those floating islands? My stomach was in my throat when he leaped to the first one. What about you?
Although I left off the other person’s role in this conversation, I hope you noticed how this person engaged in a conversation that revealed he (or she) had seen the movie too. This is how a salesperson would use expertise or background research to ask intelligent questions. The above speaker applied that knowledge to engage in a much more interesting conversation which revealed, like a good interviewer, more depth about the other person’s views.
How can interviewing improve your sales? I found they form better relationships with prospects, which in turn lead to more sales. We all want someone to listen to us. If you try to sell too soon, you will usually lose the sale. On the other hand, if you focus on asking questions and listening, your prospect will finally be ready to listen to you and what you can do to help solve their problem. Best of all, you will have future sales instead of a onetime sale only.