"You can never judge a book by its cover” is never truer than in the sales industry. We’ve all done it; judged a person by the sandals they were wearing, their designer handbag, their quiet, reserved or shy demeanour, the city they live in, the phone they own, etc.
We are predominantly visual, we can’t help it. The visual area at the back of our brains makes up 30% of our cortex, so it’s no surprise that we create an impression of a person in our own minds almost immediately. The question we should be asking is… “is this helping us or hurting us as sales-people?”.
When you’ve been in sales for a while, you may find that you start pre-judging and succumbing to old, and seemingly accurate stereotypes, convincing yourself that certain individuals never buy. These typecasts are simply products of our own personal biases which are misguided at best. Any salesperson would say and attest to the fact that pigeon-holing your clients in your own preconceived categories will likely have a negative impact on your sales performance as a whole.
The fact is, that most of the people you come into contact with could be sold to and in fact have been sold to by someone at some point in their lives. These people are in possession of many purchases they have made; some could be impulse purchases, like a dress that cost way too much, others could be well-thought out purchases that settled a specific need, like a property or a car.
These purchases would have been the ones which required the aid of a professional salesperson. Some would say from experience, that it is usually the people you least expect to buy, that flash you the gold Amex card at the end of the conversation.
J.Douglas Edwards was a world-famous sale trainer in the 1950s. He told a story about a salesperson who had just completed initial sales-training with a paper-supply company. He was given a task at the end of his training, which was seen by the company to be a big challenge. The task was to speak to a client, who was notoriously difficult to sell to. He was advised by the President of the company, that the client will give the salesperson a hard time. However, if he persists and deals with the conversation effectively it will end with the client making an order.
At the end of the day, he returns with a very large order, and returns to the President’s office to report on the outcome of his task. The salesman says “You were right. The man proved to be very challenging and did indeed give me a hard time, but I hung in there and dealt with every one of his objections, answered each of his questions, and guess what? he did give me a very large order. In fact bigger than the company has ever received.” The President, impressed, looks at the order, and says, “You went to the wrong place. This guy is only next door to the man we actually sent you to. In twenty years we have never been able to do business with this man. In fact, we had long written him off.”
The belief of many sales people, is that the sale is made in the mind of the client they are presenting to. Nothing could be further from the truth. The sale is actually made in the mind of the sales person, and whether or not they believe that the client will buy. If the preliminary belief of the salesperson is, that the client is a potential buyer, this will have a more positive impact on the overall outcome of the conversation, than if the salesperson is prematurely deterred by clients’ appearance, objections, or perceived attitude.
So how do you decide whether you should spend our precious time, with someone who we may not be able to do business with anyway?
The proof is in the pudding. Rather than pre-judging, we need to start pre-qualifying.
When you prejudge someone, you are making assumptions about them before you ask any questions or uncover any facts. When you pre-qualify someone, you’re asking questions to uncover their unique and specific needs, so that you can determine very quickly if there is in fact, an authentic fit worth pursuing.
Pre-qualifying involves you questioning your prospects, and really listening to them. This contributes to the relationship that you develop with the client and it also answers the key questions to get the information you need, in order to decide whether to do business with the individual.
In doing so you know in advance, whether there is a need; whether you can offer something that the client will consider unique; what influence on the decision-making process does the client have; whether there is room within the client’s budget; and whether it is the right time. It also contributes to dispel your own preconceived notions of the client which were inevitably made up in your own mind prior to actually having this conversation.
In a nutshell: Prejudging is all about YOU. Pre-qualifying is all about the client AND you.
Taking the few minutes you need to pre-qualify can unfold the most lucrative sales prospects of your career. The power is in recognising that our brain is wired to pre-judge and knowing how to get over it.
Author: Rachel Russell, Business Trainer