Sales Step # 1 – Establish Rapport…

Time to revisit Uncle Daryl’s “Seven Steps of Selling” and to expand upon them.

Yes, I know — you want to be a consultant — a revered oracle — not a peddler. Sharing all your wisdom, and being paid handsomely for it.

All you need to do is hang out your shingle, right?

Wrong, of course. You need customers. Paying customers. And enough paying customers to pay the bills. Because consulting is a BUSINESS, and business means SELLING.

As a wise mentor once said, “If you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business…”

So first you market. You create the necessary visibility and credibility for your services in the market place. You strategize. You define your markets. You generate leads. (Check here for twenty ideas on leads.) But you are still not selling.

Sooner or later you will need to actually TALK to a prospective client. That is when the sales process begins! And often the fear — usually the fear of the unknown.

But selling is simply a process you can learn. Like riding a bike, or playing the piano. Don’t expect to be an immediate expert, but with practice you can hold your own. And you will get better with time — I promise.

It all begins with establishing rapport. Here are some thoughts:

  • Relax, and smile. Even if you are on the phone. It will calm you.
  • Ask about their problem. Think like a doctor when he/she says, “What brings you in today?”
  • Listen carefully, and ask for more details. “Can you fill me in? How does the problem manifest itself? How long has this been going on? What else is going on?”
  • After you have enough preliminary details, simply say “That sounds like something we might help with.”

Assuming, of course, you CAN help. If not, you may want to refer the person to someone else. Don’t worry – they will appreciate you candor and will likely call you again based on the trust you just created.

Before proceeding further, ask how they heard about you. That give you some insight into the trust level.

If a referral, the trust level is already high. Ditto an article or talk. If simply a web search, additional reassurance may be needed.

Such as, “We’ve solve similar problems for others.” But don’t share specific client details, lest you raise concerns about protecting their confidentiality.

Next, ask if they have worked with a consultant before. This gives you some insight into their experience with consultants. If YES, simply proceed. If NO, more reassurance may be needed.

In either case, potential clients often have two fears:

  • Can you help them? Done right, you have already initially reassured them.
  • Can you work together? This is why a pleasant demeanor is so important. As the old saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Note that Step #1 takes but a few minutes. The focus is on asking questions.

This is NOT time to go into a sales pitch, or to talk about how smart and capable you are. Rather, it is all about the client. Think like a doctor, not a used car salesman.

At this point, you are ready for Sales Step #2 – Qualifying. This is where you dig deeper, to see if you truly can help, and to see if they can buy your services. To be covered in a subsequent post.

P.S. Like many of you, I once feared selling.  But after I jumped in (first as a Sales Engineer, and later as a consultant) I came to enjoy the process.

The best part is that as a consultant, you are usually talking to friendly colleagues in the first place – and helping them solve their problems and/or improve their lives.

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