Module 10: The Sales Approach

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Choosing the Best Approach

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Choosing the Best Approach

Best Approach for the Situation
There’s more than one way to start a sales approach. The method you use will depend on the specific selling situation, the specific customer, and on you.

Plan an approach that best showcases your company or product, fits your style, and matches what you know about your prospect or customer. But when you make that first contact with the prospect, let flexibility be your guide. Be prepared to start with a referral and move straight into a question or customer benefit or to scrap your prepared approach altogether in favor of something else.

Overcoming Your Reluctance

In addition to mastering your attitude, here are a few empowering and practical things you can do to help build confidence (and get a higher rate of yes responses) going into a sales approach:

Be intentional about the language you use when you approach your prospect; don’t use apologetic language or language that conveys uncertainty. For instance, rather than saying “If you decide to make an appointment,” try a phrasing that conveys greater certainty: “When you make an appointment…” or “After we’ve set up your appointment.…” [12]

If you practice various selling scenarios enough times with a role-playing partner, you will learn what a confident approach sounds like, and you will feel more prepared to handle the real situation. [13] Don’t procrastinate. “The longer you procrastinate about something, the larger it becomes in your mind,” [14] so don’t put off a sales call because of nerves. Facing your fears is the best way to overcome them.

Make difficult calls when you have the most energy. This is usually the start of the business day. [15] Morning sales calls can also be a good time to reach busy prospects before the business day gets into full swing.

Before going into the call, visualize a successful outcome. Phil Glosserman says to “imagine what you want to feel” during the sales call; think of a situation in your life that made you feel that way and put yourself into that frame of mind. [16]

The Question Approach
When you are making small talk with an acquaintance and you want to show him that you are interested in getting to know him you ask questions.

A question approach is also an effective way to open a sales call because it shows the prospect that you are interested in listening to him, it begins a dialogue. [1] Ask questions that lead, questions that confirm, and questions that will allow you to test your hypothesis about the challenges your customer might be facing. Then, listen to what your customer has to say. [2]

Notice that the first question simply asks for permission.

This is a question you should ask no matter what sales approach you are using. Once you establish permission, you could ask a closed question (one with a yes or no answer) like “Are you happy with your current copy machines?” but then you risk ending the conversation quickly if the prospect says yes.

A line of questioning like this builds credibility because it demonstrates that you:

(a) have done your research and understand your customer’s problems
(b) are interested in finding a solution specific to your customer’s situation
(c) are competent and won’t waste your customer’s time. [3]

If you don’t have specific research to go on, you can still start the conversation by asking some directed, diagnostic questions to help build credibility. [4]

You are finding out the information you need to know to establish a collaborative selling relationship; and you are opening a dialogue on which to build the relationship.[5]

The Product Approach
Opening the sales call with a product demonstration can be an effective method of capturing a customer’s attention.

The product approach is especially appealing to people who are visual or hands-on learners because it allows them to look and touch. For instance, a textiles vendor might bring fabric samples to a sales call. After introducing herself and the purpose of her call, she might hand a sample to the buyer and say, “I think you might like this new fabric. It’s especially popular this season. Can you tell whether or not it’s silk?” [7]

When John Koss of Koss Corp. approaches prospects at the Consumer Electronics Show, he has his product booth, complete with visual displays and over forty headphone models, to catch their attention.

Koss takes advantage of the noisy, chaotic showroom floor to showcase his noise cancellation headphones: a large banner over his booth announces, “Welcome to the Quiet Zone,” and he invites buyers to sit down, try the headphones on, and experience the instant silence. [6]

The Referral Approach
You already know that establishing trust is a critical part of relationship selling.

What’s one way to instantly earn a new customer’s trust?

Mention someone your prospect already knows with whom you have an existing customer relationship.As trust already exists between you and your referral source and between your referral source and your prospect, so the referral allows you to use that mutual relationship as a bridge to build trust with your prospect.

As John Carroll, CEO of Unlimited Performance, says, “Tapping into strong, existing relationships” accelerates your ability to build new customer relationships. [8] A referral approach [9] might go something like this: When using the referral approach, just be sure that you ask your referral source before mentioning her name to your prospect.

The Customer Benefit Approach
If you are in a sales situation where you have carefully researched your prospect and you already have a good sense of his needs before your first meeting, you might open your sales call with a customer benefit approach.

The benefit approach goes beyond the general benefit statement to focus on a specific product benefit. This opening is only effective if the benefit you describe is of real interest to your prospect. [10]

By quickly identifying the benefits of your product, you are letting your customer know what he has to gain from doing business with you.

This will not only capture his interest, but it will also establish credibility because it shows that you have taken the trouble to prepare and learn about his specific concerns.

The Survey Approach
The survey approach also works in sales where the solution is often specifically tailored to customer needs, and the approach ranges in levels of formality depending on the selling situation.


For instance, if you go to an upscale spa to have a facial, you might be given a brief, informal survey about your specific skin-care needs before you discuss service packages with the aesthetician.

Or if you are in the market for a new home, the real estate agent will most likely ask you questions about your preferences and lifestyle before she even begins to show you listings: How many bedrooms are you looking for? Which neighborhood do you want to live in? Is outdoor space important to you? How many cars do you have?


On the other hand, in B2B situations or in otherwise more complex B2C sales, the survey process might be more formalized. If you want to purchase an insurance plan, the agent may guide you through a, computer-based survey to find out about your medical or driving history, or other details that are specific to you as an individual customer.

In another B2B situation, the salesperson might give you a questionnaire that will identify your specific needs and ask you to complete it before scheduling a sales presentation.


The survey approach has the advantage of being a non-threatening way to establish your initial contact with the prospect, as you are only asking for information and not discussing services or costs.

It allows you to gather information and create a sales presentation that will address the customer’s specific needs and be prepared with the appropriate information. In addition, the survey helps your customer feel like she is receiving special treatment.[11]

The Agenda Approach
You already know the goals of your sales call and the points you will address before going into a meeting.

So why not share this information with your customer? The agenda approach, in which you lead off the sales call by giving your customer an overview of your meeting agenda, is particularly appealing to busy executives. It gets straight down to business and lets your customer know you won’t be wasting her time.

The agenda approach outlines your meeting objectives and lets the customer know how long the meeting will last.

If you know your customer is someone who likes to get right down to business, leading with an agenda approach is often a good idea

The Premium Approach
The premium approach, in which you offer your prospects free product samples or other giveaway items, helps build enthusiasm about your brand or products, attracting customers who might not otherwise express interest.

Once you’ve gotten your prospect’s attention with the giveaway, he will be more inclined to listen to a sales presentation.The premium approach is common in retail situations such as cosmetics, wine or specialty food stores where sampling a product can often influence a customer’s decision to buy.

For instance, if you were working at a booksellers’ convention, your publishing house might be giving away bookmarks or even free copies of a new best-selling novel.

You could use the premium as a way to talk to someone who comes to your booth using the following approach: . The premium approach gives you the opportunity to engage your prospect, learn about her business and her customers’ needs.

The Combination Approach
Effective relationship selling is adaptive. Even if you prepare a script beforehand, you won’t follow it word for word; instead, you will modify it based on the feedback you get from the customer during your interaction.

So what approach should you use in your selling situation? Plan one that best showcases your company or product, that fits your style, and that matches what you know about your prospect. When you make that first contact with the prospect, let flexibility be your guide. Be prepared to start with a referral and move straight into a question or customer benefit or to scrap your prepared approach altogether for something else.

Real-world, adaptive selling rarely fits neatly into textbook models. Often, an experienced salesperson will shift fluidly from one type of sales approach to another.

For instance, he might start off by offering a product demonstration and mentioning a customer benefit almost simultaneously:


The question approach involves leading off with questions to learn about your prospect and engage him in dialogue.

In a product approach, the salesperson opens the call with a product demonstration or display.

The referral approach is an effective way to quickly establish trust with a prospect because it involves starting the call off by mentioning a mutual connection who is willing to vouch for you.

The customer benefit approach requires research beforehand so that you can open your call by mentioning customer-specific benefits.

Sales that involve very specific solutions to customer problems sometimes begin with a survey approach.

The agenda approach is a straightforward approach that gets right down to business. It appeals to highly organized people because it involves outlining the meeting agenda at the start of the sales call.

A premium approach is one in which the salesperson offers product samples or giveaway items to attract a prospect and establish goodwill.


Identify two situations in which you might use the premium approach. Why would that approach be effective in these situations?

Visit a retail store that sells big-ticket products such as electronics, appliances, fine jewelry, or cars. What type of approach did the salesperson use? Was it effective? Why or why not? Which approach, if any, do you think would have been more effective?


[1] Charles D. Brennan, Sales Questions That Close the Sale (New York: AMACOM, 1994), 49.

[2] Michel Neray, “How to Establish Credibility,” MarketingProfs, February 15, 2005,http://www.marketingprofs.com/5/neray3.asp?part=2 (accessed August 2, 2009).

[3] Jeff Thull, “How to Establish Sales Credibility: It’s Not the Stories You Tell, It’s the Questions You Ask,” MarketingProfs, February 6, 2007,http://www.marketingprofs.com/7/thull15.asp (accessed May 16, 2010).

[4] Freese, Secrets of Question Based Selling (Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2003), 122

[5] Freese, Secrets of Question Based Selling (Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2003), 124-25.

6] Susan Greco, “Marketing: Selling the Superstores,” Inc., July, 1995,http://www.inc.com/magazine/19950701/2331.html (accessed May 16, 2010).
[7] Barton A. Weitz, Stephen Byron Castleberry, and John F. Tanner, Selling: Building Partnerships, 5th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003), 245.

[8] John Carroll, “Referrals: The Sale’s Professional’s Best Friend,” Unlimited Performance, Inc., 1999, http://www.uperform.com/articles/art-referrals.htm (accessed May 16, 2010).

[9] Michael McGaulley, “Sales Hot Buttons for Capturing the Prospect’s Attention Early in Your First Phone Contact,” How-to-Sell-Your-Better-Mousetrap, 2009,http://ezinearticles.com/?Sales-Hot-Buttons-For-Capturing-the-Prospects-Attention-Early-in-Your-First-Phone-Contact&id=4477676 (accessed August 2, 2009).

[10] Barton A. Weitz, Stephen Byron Castleberry, and John F. Tanner, Selling: Building Partnerships, 5th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003), 245.

[11] Gerald L. Manning and Barry L. Reece, Selling Today: Creating Customer Value, 9th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2004), 218.
[12] Laura Laaman, “Assumptions, Sales Practice Help Fight Fear of Rejection,” Pittsburgh Business Times, February 18, 2005,http://www.bizjournals.com/pittsburgh/stories/2005/02/21/smallb2.html (accessed August 3, 2009).

[13] Laura Laaman, “Assumptions, Sales Practice Help Fight Fear of Rejection,” Pittsburgh Business Times, February 18, 2005,http://www.bizjournals.com/pittsburgh/stories/2005/02/21/smallb2.html (accessed August 3, 2009).

[14] BNET Reference Publications, “Facing the Fear of Rejection-Emotional Problem that Can be Devastating to the Success of Sales Representatives,” BNET,http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1272/is_n2623_v125/ai_19313504 (accessed August 3, 2009).

[15] “Tips for Successful Cold Calling,” AllBusiness,http://www.AllBusiness.com/sales/selling-techniques-telesales/1355-1.html (accessed August 3, 2009).

[16] Phil Glosserman, “The Fear of Rejection,” video, Selling Power,http://www.sellingpower.com/content/video/?date=7/9/2009 (accessed March 16, 2010).