Contributed by Alan Melton
As Founder and President of Small Business Coach since 2002, Alan Melton has established a reputation as a nationally known author with his book, Small Business Solutions, as well as a speaker and business leader, having started ten companies and acquired five more.
The key purpose of business owners and salespeople is to solve problems for their customers. The better that you and your staff are at understanding a prospect’s needs and crafting solutions for them, the more you will win clients.
1. Focus on Your Prospect’s Needs First
Many salespeople start by “spouting off” the vast array of features and benefits their products and services offer. It’s a common mistake. What will most likely get (and ultimately keep) business is to deeply understand your prospect’s needs. Think of how foolish a doctor would be to prescribe a medication to a patient before making an examination.
Serve your prospect like a doctor serves a patient. Ask good questions, diagnose the condition, and only then prescribe the best remedies to treat the “illness.”
2. Set Your Prospect at Ease
Remember, the reason a prospect is meeting with you is because they have a need to solve a problem. However, like a patient who is asked to disrobe, your prospect may be uncomfortable or embarrassed to expose the broken or troubled condition of their business.
It is your job to set a potential client at ease. Be quick to admit a fault or mistake of your own or even one of an anonymous client; that will help your client to realize that no business owner does everything perfectly.
3. Pay Sincere Compliments
It is also helpful to find things to praise about your client’s business. Ask them neutral questions about their products and services, size of their business, length of time in business, staffing and employees, etc. Congratulate them on their successes.
Next, ask them what they like most about their business, why they started their business, or what advice would they give to a new business owner. This discussion makes them feel more comfortable knowing that you are interested in and appreciate their knowledge, value, and vision.
4. Identify the Problems
In the same way that a doctor must first examine a new patient, you must draw out your prospect’s “pain points” or business problems. Work to identify their top three. Using that information, you can demonstrate your value in providing solutions.
5. Start with Broad Questions
Tailor your interview questions to a solution that your products or services can provide.
For example, a business coach might ask:
- Has it been hard to find good employees?
- Have you had difficulty in landing or keeping customers?
- What are your top three frustrations in business?
- Do you (like most business owners) have problems with cash flow, working too many hours, and not spending enough time with family or friends?
6. Move Into Specific Pain Questions
Once you have developed a list of at least three general pain points, seek a deeper understanding of the issues. Do not gloss over this! This process will help your prospect get a full view of what’s not working well and how much the problems are costing them.
Ask the following questions about each pain point:
- Tell me more about _____.
- How long have you been experiencing this issue?
- What attempts have you made to solve the problem?
- Do you have a ballpark figure on how much this is costing you per month?
Repeat back or rephrase the answers to demonstrate that you understand and empathize. If your prospect becomes a bit emotional during this exercise, you’ve done a good job of helping them grasp the reality and depth of their problems! Let them know you understand how this can feel, but that it’s necessary to get it solved.
7. Recap Your Prospect’s Pain Points
Recap each problem and the estimated cost to their bottom line, reputation, and future business. Add the costs up to determine the savings that your solutions could achieve.
You can ask about your prospect’s budget for your services or product. However, many small business owners don’t have budgets. For this reason, it’s probably best to demonstrate how much your remedy is going to save them as opposed to the cost of your product or service.
8. Prescribe the Remedy
After meeting and interviewing your potential new client, put together a simple proposal with your solutions to your prospect’s needs.
A few more questions will help you focus on your prospect’s needs and refine your proposal:
- What are the top three things you want out of a service provider? (Examples include affordability, professionalism, a good reputation, experience, more structure through documentation and organization, more knowledge about budgeting, etc.)
- What do you want to change in your business? (Examples could include more income, fewer expenses, more professional employee behavior, new customers, or improvement in work execution.)
- Are you working toward a deadline?
- On a scale of 1-10, how important is it for you to get these problems solved?
- How often would you like to meet or talk on the phone each month with your service provider?
List each pain point along with your solution and the dollar savings potential for each. If you’ve done a good job with this, the cost for your product or service will be insignificant compared to the benefits your prospect and their business will experience.
When you focus on your prospect’s needs and on providing solutions rather than just promoting your offerings, they will see that you understand and care about their situation. Once you become proficient at this approach, you will win more customers… and become a better service provider.