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existing account, or to gain interest when making cold calls. Customers frequently challenge
salespeople by demanding, "Why should I see you?" or "How can you help my business?" or "I'm too
busy, call me in three months." Sound familiar? When on the telephone the challenge is to get the
customer's attention quickly and sell the appointment. Features rarely get attention quickly, but by
stating a benefit right up front you may bait the prospect enough to stimulate mild curiosity. The
question is, what benefits do you use to stimulate interest? My advice is to use the benefits that have
proven popular with current customers. Do some research. Know the benefits of your product or service
that are consistently accepted by your customer base. Alternatively, offer a benefit that you know will
directly impact your customer's business. Remember, it is the customer who validates your benefit so
don't be shocked if they reject your initial attempt at inverse bridging. If they do, simply acknowledge
their indifference and suggest other benefits that may be more relevant. The objective with inverse
bridging is not to sell them, but to gain access. The following illustration shows inverse bridging.




Every salesperson at some point in time has experienced the frustration of trying to make
appointments. One approach that has proven effective is to suggest to the potential customer during the
initial telephone conversation that you may not have anything to sell him or her. If they ask, "What are
you going to sell me?" simply respond with, "At this point, I'm not sure”maybe nothing. However, what
I would like is 15 minutes of your time to explore the possibility of our companies doing business." The
very suggestion that you are not trying to sell them something will get the customer's attention. They
will feel more relaxed about granting you an appointment. The use of inverse bridging and the "maybe
nothing" statement is a potent combination that will increase your success with first-time appointments.
Participants at my seminars agree that this approach is unconventional but they recognize how it can
be immensely effective.
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Avoid the Penalty Box
The penalty box is a very crowded, impoverished place where sales representatives frequently find
themselves. However, a visit to the penalty box can easily go undetected. The problem is twofold: Sales
representatives not only don't realize they're there; or worse, they don't know why they were sent there.
A visit to the penalty box occurs when the salesperson has relinquished control of the sales call by
immediately answering the customer's question. Salespeople tend to answer questions too quickly,
failing to determine why the question was asked in the first place. Have you ever stopped to wonder why
a customer is asking you a question? If you remove your assumptions, the answer is, "I don't know why
he asked that." You run the danger of committing to an answer prior to understanding the customer's
reason for asking it. Eagerly answering all his questions immediately can have dire consequences to
the outcome of a sales call.
You can maintain control of the sales call by answering high-impact questions with a question.
Customers usually have a good reason for asking a question, so it's in your best interest to find out
why. What might be in the back of their minds? What's the motivation behind the question? Jumping on
the question with a quick, clever answer simply gives up control. You are totally at the mercy of the
customer's interpretation of your answer. A visit to the penalty box is one of the biggest reasons
salespeople lose sales.

The problem stems from the process we were taught in our educational system. We were conditioned
by our teachers and parents to, "Just answer the question." In class we were taught to raise our hand
and spit out an answer. When answered correctly, it fueled self-esteem and heightened our confidence,
especially in the presence of our classmates and our teachers. Sales entrepreneurs have learned to
resist the temptation to immediately respond to questions, but rather to inquire about the reason for
asking. I offer this five-step strategy to help you safeguard yourself against unproductive time spent in
the penalty box.
1. Identify the question as either high impact or low impact. Ask, "What impact will
my answer have on the buying decision?" A high-impact question means your answer
will either negatively or positively impact the customer's decision to buy from you. You
must listen carefully to the question, put it in the context of the conversation, and
decide on your answer's impact. If high impact, go to Step 2. If low impact, simply
answer the question.
2. Compliment their question”make them feel good. Thank them for asking you a
good question, one that perhaps you haven't heard before. It may have been asked
because of its importance or relevancy to the situation but you won't know until you
ask. In any case, be sure to acknowledge the question as a good one.
3. Identify the agenda. Why is the customer asking the question? At this point, only the
customer knows. Politely probe the reason for asking. You need to be delicate with this
because you don't want to appear confrontational by blurting out, "Why do you ask?"
Your response should sound like this: "That's a good question, I've never been asked
that before. Would you share with me your reason for asking?" Articulate your response
to the question using your own words, your own style. The customer will usually share
some thoughts, helping you pinpoint exact concerns.
Echoing can also be an effective method to reveal your customer's hidden agenda. When the
customer finishes asking a question, simply repeat or echo a couple of key words from the
question. For example, a customer says, "Your delivery schedule seems to be too long!"
Your respond with, "Too long?" Your echo will stimulate a response.
4. Bridge. Now that you understand the customer's reason for asking, bridge the
appropriate feature to the benefit. For example, if he were curious or uncertain about
delivery and Step 3 revealed that he wants rush deliveries when required, you can scroll
your features menu and pick one that best satisfies that particular need, then bridge it
as a benefit.
5. Verify. Ask the customer, "Have I answered your question? Have I addressed your
concern?" Do not press forward with the sales call until you have satisfied his concern.
Earning the right to advance means leaving behind no unresolved questions, concerns,
or objections.

To illustrate the five steps, let's look at a fairly typical scenario. A relatively new salesperson is calling
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on a potential A account who is doing business with the salesperson's biggest competitor. Midway
through the sales call, the customer asks:
C How long have you been in the industry?
(high-impact question)
S That's a good question that I'm often asked
and I'll be happy to answer it. Is experience
something you are looking for in a
salesperson?
C Yes it is. I want someone with no fewer than
10 to 12 years of industry experience. Our
business is unique and we rely on our
suppliers to keep us current with industry
trends and new technologies.
S Although I've only been in the business for
two years, I have a wealth of knowledge and
support at the office. In fact our group
represents over 100 man-years of
experience. The benefit to you is that as
your salesperson, I can put that experience
to work for you.
C True enough. I didn't consider things from
that angle.
S Have I addressed your concern?
C Yes, that makes sense.
You have now earned the right to continue. The response was both honest and right. These five steps
should only serve as a guideline to managing the sales dialogue. The concept of answering a question
with a question is not new, it's been around for decades. However, I am simply packaging the process
in a professional, manageable format. The objective is to foster appreciation and respect for your
customer's question; take a moment to pause, and consider why it is being asked. Even when you
provide an honest answer, it may not be the right one. Of course all of your answers will be honest, but
are they the best answers? There is a big difference. Our answers must align themselves with the
customer's agenda. I'm not suggesting that avoiding the penalty box is a new sales gimmick or a
manipulative maneuver, it's not. It's simply an effective tactic to synchronize the call. Now take a
moment and imagine the consequences of just blurting out an honest answer.
C How long have you been in the industry?
S Two years. I started just after we moved into
our new building.
C Really.
S Yeah, so let me just finish up what I was
talking to you about.

Although the answer of "two years" is honest, it was the wrong one. The customer now tells you, "Well,
thanks for coming by. I've got your brochures and pricing, we'll keep you on file." You just got sent to
the penalty box, and chances are you have no idea why. Customers interpret your answers based on
their biases and perceptions. In this case, the customer hears the answer "two years" and interprets
that as having no experience. It was honest, but wrong. Honesty and right must work together, you can't
have one without the other; otherwise you're in the penalty box. If nothing else, this concept will
heighten your awareness of how important it is to pay attention to customers' questions and avoid the
penalty box.
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Communication Skills
Effective communication is essential for a successful sale but is probably one of the most overlooked,
underdeveloped skills in professional selling. We cannot take communication for granted simply
because we are fluent in the English language”but we do. The cornerstone of effective communication
is sensitivity to the needs of others. It begins with an understanding of the communication process.
Encoding occurs when a sender translates thoughts into a message. The receiver must decode the
message and try to understand what the sender intended to communicate. Communication is effective
only when the receiver accurately understands what the sender intended to transmit. It's not uncommon
to hear someone say, "Yeah, but that's not what I meant" or "I thought you said this ..."

Communication in selling involves more than presenting your product or service; it involves an active,
two-way exchange of ideas and thoughts. However, research suggests that in most calls salespeople
do up to 60% of the talking. [1] Wrong thing to do. Remember PEZ, Please Excuse my Zealousness.
We often think of ourselves as good communicators because we have the gift of the gab. I know of
several people who were encouraged to pursue a career in sales because they were great talkers. We
equate speaking with control and power, assuming the spotlight is focused on the talkers rather than
the listeners. Our society recognizes and rewards great orators, actors, singers, public speakers, and
news commentators who excel at one-way communication. There are lots of books and seminars on
developing public speaking skills but when did you ever hear of a seminar on public listening skills?
They don't exist. Unfortunately, listening is not the sexy part of the communication model. I would
suggest that the biggest violation of the communication model is poor listening skills.
Customer Based Research Conducted by Spectrum Training Solutions Inc.
[1]
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Why We Are Poor Listeners
Lazy listening is enormously costly to our success. Most of us think we are good listeners, but that
overconfidence may be the reason for our downfall. Nothing puts a sales call in jeopardy faster than
poor, inattentive listening. Customers don't take long to get a sense of your listening commitment,
especially given the fact that 90% of communication is nonverbal. [2] That's right, 90%. About 55% is
through obvious body language and 35% is by how you say it. [3] Given these overwhelming statistics,
it's pretty tough to convince the customer that you are listening if in fact you're not.

We listen at about 25% of our potential. We miss, ignore, forget, distort, or misunderstand 75% of what
we hear [4]. Hard to believe perhaps, but true. Given these statistics, we can see why communication
breaks down so quickly. The receiver is responding to only 25% of the sender's message. [5] That's why
during my seminars I suggest that, "In most cases, communication is not part of the conversation."
Such lazy listening habits are very costly, to both your business and your personal success.

Improvement begins with an understanding of why people have a natural tendency to be poor listeners.
Rather than have you put this book down and promise aloud, "I will be a better listener," I offer you the
four reasons why we are poor listeners.
1. Our predominant thoughts focus on ourselves and sex. We think of ourselves 24
hours a day”how we look, feel, our personal problems and successes, work, and so
on. Even while we sleep. Did you ever have a dream where you weren't in it? Probably
not. We see ourselves as the most important element of our lives, followed by a natural
attraction to sex. Psychologists agree that on average we think of sex consciously or
unconsciously every two and a half minutes. We were put on this planet to reproduce,
so thank goodness He made it fun. Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory reinforces this
concept, along with our overwhelming need to be loved and accepted. People will go to
great lengths to satisfy those needs. It's no wonder we are poor listeners when sitting
with our customers. Our agendas usually take precedence over theirs.
2. Our minds wander. Our minds think approximately eight times faster than we talk.
We normally speak at approximately 130 words per minute, we listen and understand
at up to 400 words per minute, and we can think at 1,000 words per minute.
Unbelievable but true. Here's the dilemma: our customers talk to us at 130 words per
minute and we think at 1,000 words per minute. Mental drift is too easy and often
results in minimal communication during a conversation. Clearly, it takes tremendous
discipline to stay focused on the customer's message. By the way, your customers
also experience mental drift at a speed of 1,000 words per minute. Chances are good
that during a feature dump their minds will wander off somewhere else, perhaps Jamaica
or Barbados.
3. We can't wait to reply. Our unbridled enthusiasm to reply sabotages the
communication model. We often listen with the sole intent to reply. At the expense of
effective listening we formulate a response, at a speed of 1,000 words per minute,
before the sender has completed commenting. The second they finish speaking we
jump in with what we think is a valid, appropriate response. Our quick response is
further fueled by our perceptions and biases as we attempt to decode their message.
When you jump in with your quick response, it clearly communicates to the sender that
you were not listening, that you were more concerned with your reply rather than
understanding the message. It can be very frustrating and irritating when you know the
listener is not paying attention and is preoccupied with formulating a response.
Listening is a lot easier when you like the person and agree with the message. The most
difficult time to listen is when you disagree with what you're seeing or hearing. Under those
conditions, many listeners aren't listening at all”they're preoccupied with drafting a rebuttal.
The challenge is to put personal feelings aside and focus on the message. As with effective
negotiation, deal with the issues, not the personalities.
A suggestion to help overcome your tendency to offer an immediate reply is to wait two to
three seconds before you reply. Let the sender finish her comments, look her in the eye,
acknowledge her input with a nod or a verbal sign, then reply. The big plus is that if you wait
a moment your customer may start talking again and yes, that's a good thing.
We interrupt”a lot. Everybody has an opinion and loves to get his two cents' worth in.
4.
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Even if we aren't asked, we willingly lend our views and comments, thinking that we are
making a significant contribution. Over the years we have been conditioned to interrupt,
or we may not get a chance to share our views, which of course are critical if the
conversation is going to have any substance. What fuels our need to interrupt is that we
are always thinking of self or sex and we can do it at 1,000 words per minute. With this
lethal combination it's no wonder we are poor listeners.

Effective listening means more than refraining from the bad habit of interrupting. Good listening means
being satisfied to listen to the entire message rather than waiting impatiently to jump in with your
response.
My informal research suggests that a conversation won't last longer than 20 to 30 seconds before an
interruption occurs”someone jumping in with a story, another view. However, in a sales call it can be
advantageous to interrupt with questions that clarify your understanding of the situation. I refer to this as
productive interruption. Customers are tolerant of clarification questions because the focus remains on
them and you are showing interest.

To further demonstrate your commitment to the customer and to improve your listening skills, be sure to
take notes during the sales call. There is no way you will remember all the details and issues you
discussed. In regard to note-taking protocol, be sure to ask permission to take notes when you are in
the customer's office. It's polite, respectful, and your nonverbal message is, "This meeting is important
so I need to take some notes." If you are in the neutral territory of a boardroom or a meeting room, you
do not need permission. However, ask anyway. If the customer is getting ahead of you and your
note-taking, simply interrupt the customer by saying, "That's a great point, let me make a note of that."
The customer will be happy to give you a few seconds to complete your notes. At the end of the
meeting you might consider summarizing the important points. You can preface this with, "As I
understand it . . ."

When you improve your listening skills, you hold a competitive edge. Lucky for you, listening gets scant
recognition by your competitors. As we know, listening is not strongly identified in selling and you are
not likely to be "out-listened" by the competition. They're too busy trying to get the customer to listen.
Dugger, Jim. Learn to Listen. Page 14. 1992. National Press Publications.
[2]


Dugger, Jim. Learn to Listen. Page 14. 1992. National Press Publications.

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