Making Initial Contact: The Second Step in the Selling Cycle

By Tom Hopkins

The second step in the selling cycle is making that first contact. You’ve found the right people as potential buyers. Now you actually get to meet them. To persuade another person to give you her valuable time, you need to offer something of value in return.

For instance: To gain entrance to someone’s home, you may need to offer a free estimate or gift in exchange for her opinion on the demonstration of your product.

With a business-to-business appointment, getting an appointment may be a bit easier because you often work with a purchasing agent whose job it is to meet with and gather information from people like you. Depending on your product, you may also need to meet with a financial officer or owner of the business. When you meet via phone or online using Skype or a Google+ Hangout, treat the appointment the same way you treat an in-person meeting.

Your goal is to make agreeing to spend time with you as easy as possible. Give your potential client two options with regard to dates and times. Say something like, “I have an appointment opening on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m., or would Wednesday at 3 p.m. be better for you?” This makes the other person look at her calendar and consider the open blocks of time in her schedule. Whereas, if you just say, “When can we get together?” she’s likely to look at how busy she is and hesitate to commit at all.

When you get a commitment, confirm all the details such as where and how the meeting will take place — and get directions if it’s an in-person meeting and you haven’t been there before. Sure, you may be able to get directions from an online map site or by using a GPS device, but only the people who drive there every day will think to tell you if the street in front of their home or building is under construction and you have to take an unusual route.

Besides, when a potential client provides this information it gives you an opportunity thank her, and your expression of gratitude makes her feel good, which is the first step in helping her like you.

Also, get a commitment as to who will be present. If you sell products to consumers and know you need to have the agreement of both spouses, you need to confirm that they’ll both be present. If you’re talking with a young, single person, she may decide to have a parent or other adult present to help her make a decision. In business situations, there may be a committee designated to consider and approve all purchases.

When you visit with a potential client, be sure to appear at ease so your prospect is comfortable with you. After all, the number-one need of people is the need to be comfortable. If you’re uncomfortable, chances are good that unless you’re a really good actor, your discomfort shows — and it may make your prospect uncomfortable, too.

Any tension at this point in the selling cycle will take a bit of doing on both sides to overcome. If you don’t get past the tension, you can end up turning a potential win-win into a lose-lose situation. You won’t make the sale, and the potential client will miss out on benefiting from your talents and fantastic product.

So what can you do to avoid or break any tension? Consider the following guidelines:

  • First and foremost, consider what you look like to your prospect. You know the old saying “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” When in doubt about what to wear to an appointment, err on the side of conservatism. Your goal is to be dressed like someone your potential client turns to for advice.

    So if you’re selling farm equipment, skip the business suit; jeans or khaki slacks and boots may be perfectly appropriate. On the other hand, if you’re selling to a corporation, you’ll want to choose a more formal style of clothing.

    You want to look your best. But also remember to be comfortable. If your new shoes are too tight or they squeak, you’ll be conscious of that fact and you won’t be able to put all your concentration into the meeting.

    In a prospective client’s mind, any shabbiness in your appearance translates into shabbiness in work habits or a lesser quality product or service.

  • Think twice before you wear your favorite cologne or perfume. Subtlety is the motto here. You never know if you’ll meet someone who is allergic to your added scents. If the potential client opens the window, goes into a sneezing frenzy, or just keels over, you went a bit heavy on the fragrance — and you probably lost the sale.

  • A special concern for women is jewelry. If it’s attractive, that’s great. But if it could be considered distracting, like a diamond tiara, that’s bad. You don’t want to be remembered as “that woman we talked with who had those humongous earrings.” You want them to remember your competence and professionalism.

  • Because this is a business situation, be prepared to shake hands, make eye contact, and build rapport. Building rapport is the getting-to-know-you stage that comes with any new contact. You must immediately begin building trust. People buy from people they like and trust. They must feel your trustworthiness as early as possible in the contact you make.