Selling to the Cautious: 7 Steps to Persuasion

by Mark Goulston, M.D.

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Your success is determined by how effectively you persuade a customer to do something. The process is that simple. The formula for success is not. Often times, the barriers to effective selling are unseen. They may be cloaked in a potential customer's past experiences, in some aspect of your behavior, or simply in the barrage of sales pitches consumers face every day. To cut through the noise, consider these seven steps to persuasion:

First, pre-qualify your customer. Determine if your customer or client is ready, willing and able to be persuaded. Ready means that they are at the point of making the decision to purchase a product; yours or anyone else's. Willing means they are not resistant to taking action. Able means they have ample resources available to them to purchase your product or service. Bear in mind that time spent on a customer that is not prepared to make a purchase can always be put to better use, so move on.

Once you qualify a customer, you're next step is to agitate him or her. This doesn't mean annoy them, but often, sales people try to be like friends to their prospects. If you are too calming, you lessen people's need to buy anything other than what they already have. To trigger action you need to mobilize people from a state of no need to one of urgency. One of the most effective agitators of people is hunger. Offer people much more of what they want, much sooner and you'll mobilize them. But under deliver what you promise and you'll have to deal with the repercussions of having misled them. Another effective agitator is fear. Beware, however, that too much fear creates panic. This may get you the sale, but your customer is likely to feel regret when they come back to their senses.

Next, you want to engender trust. Most people have been taken advantage of in their lifetimes, or at least disappointed. They need to know that you won't hurt them. The most effective way to gain their trust is through empathy. Make your customer understand that you know how awful it feels to be let down. This step carries the obvious responsibility of delivering on your promises. If you gain someone's trust in this manner and then betray him or her, they won't rest until they tell everyone they know about their experience with you.

Effective persuasion requires you to inspire confidence, your next step. To accomplish this, people need to know in simple, straight forward language that you know what they want and that your product or service is the best way to get it to them. Beyond demonstrating this expertise, don't toot your horn too much. You will turn people off. Instead gather a list of satisfied present and former customers to give you plaudits and answer your potential customer's concerns.

Every sale ever made had to overcome hesitation. Understand that in this next step to persuasion, your customer often doubts himself or herself. He or she has made decisions that were sure things in the past that turned sour. This doubting their own judgment causes their hesitation. Rather than hard selling them when they're feeling self-doubt, convey to your customer that you understand how important it is to them to make the right decision and to avoid making a wrong one. Then assure them that they are entering a relationship with you, not simply purchasing a product. This immediately leads to your next step.

Confirm satisfaction. Ask anyone who has fired someone their biggest regret and they will usually tell you they are sorry they hadn't done it sooner. You want your customer to feel that they wish they'd purchased your product or service sooner. Check in after every sale and continue to do so until your customers are certain they made the right choice. Find out whether your customer's level of satisfaction has increased or not. If so, take careful notes on why and add them to your satisfied customer list. make sure you can have potential customers talk to them. If they are not satisfied, find out how to fix the problem. The cost of making things right for a dissatisfied customer will be more than compensated for when they sing your praises for treating them so well. A satisfied and happy customer will tell two of his or her friends, while a dissatisfied and unhappy customer will tell 10.

Your final step is to gain commitment. This stage is completed when your customer says in a calm, clear voice: "To whom do I make the check out and for how much?" If you have followed the previous six steps and have stayed on track with your customer, you will find it much easier to ask for the sale. This is because in your heart you know that you covered all the bases to turn your customer from cautious to comfortable.

2/28/98

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Dr. Goulston is a UCLA psychiatrist, management consultant specializing in psychological ergonomics, author of Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior 1996, available in the Amazing Bookstore Catalog. Contact Dr. Goulston: 1150 Yale St., #3; Santa Monica, CA 90403; Tel: 310.998.1150, fax: 310.998.1988.

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