Help Them Tell You What They Want


If you handle incoming telephone inquiries or follow-up on mail-in or web business leads by phone, keep one thing in mind about these people: Even though they took the initiative to contact you, they might not know what they want, or even which questions to ask you.

It’s frustrating when an inquirer tells me, "Uhh, we’re just interested in training," and can’t be more specific. They called me, for gosh sakes! I guess that during my hectic business day, I expect someone who calls me to tell me exactly what they’re looking for.

What a mistake on my part!

I need to realize that sometimes these people don’t know precisely what they want, and likely aren’t even aware of what’s available.

It’s like when I take my car in for a repair;I’m mechanically inept, and they usually realize that when I mumble something about how "it makes a noise in there somewhere." I usually have no clue about specifically what I need, and therefore, I’m a prime candidate for recommendations. (I am more picky about where I go though–one guy told me the muffler fluid was low. $50 isn’t too much for muffler fluid, is it?)

What to Do
Be careful here. For lack of something better to say, these folks often start with, "Well, just tell me what you have." You don’t want to shift into data-dump mode, spewing in laundry-list fashion everything you sell. Since that is nothing more than a generic verbal brochure, it’s likely they won’t find anything of interest.

Instead, when you realize you have a prospect who can’t articulate what they’re looking for, be prepared with questions that get them to open up. Try to first determine the reason for the call:

"Tell me, what was it that prompted your call?"

"What ion the site caught your eye and persuaded you to contact us?"

"How did you happen to decide to call us?"

Just think about the great information you could get here. It could be like unlocking the dam of information they have inside.

Or you could get, "Uh, I dunno. Just saw the ad and thought I’d call."

OK. Then we need to focus the microscope a bit more, and uncover the real reason for the call…which would be the problem, the irritation, the annoying pebble in their shoe–not the solution; that’s what they’re looking for from you. Begin questioning with the big picture, then narrow it down.
Ask about the past:

"What has happened in your department that helped you determine you needed to look at additional training?"

"What have you done before that didn’t work as well as you would have liked? What were those results?"

Ask about the present:

"What are you doing in this area right now?"

"What results are you getting?"

Or, "What do you anticipate?"

When you finally touch a tender area, then it’s time to embellish their answers even further with additional questions:

"How is that affecting you/the department/the organization?"

"And then what happened/happens?"

"What is that costing you?"

Then ask about the future. This should help you determine specifically what you should recommend:

"What results would you ideally like to see?"

Of course within this framework you’ll also ask your typical qualifying questions regarding budget, authority, and time frame. After getting all of this great information, then you’re in a prime position to tell them what you can do for them, and recommend your next action, whether it be a sale, appointment, or simply sending them information by mail or fax.

People who call you often don’t know exactly what they need. Your questions help them tell you. And that helps them sell themselves.

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