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How are you changing your sales dialogues to encourage customers to open up to you and tell you about the impact the economy is having on their businesses and how that has changed their priorities? Customers won't really open up unless they trust you, and gaining and keeping trust is not easy in light of what most customers are going through. Preparation

Trust is earned over time. One way to establish and reinforce trust is to demonstrate extraordinary preparation. There has been a shakeout in salesforces and salespeople across industries are facing tougher competitive situations. Customers have raised the bar for what they expect from salespeople and many are cynical. "Normal" preparation just won't do it. One Sales Manager provides his salesforce with daily up-to-date data. For example, a competitor advertiser just lost 18% of its readership - a fact that will help his salesforce take budget from that competitor. He also requires that salespeople on his team bring in an article or information to share with the team weekly to raise their game. Extraordinary preparation is what it takes. You can do it and customers notice and reward it.

There is so much more for you as a salesperson to know today. Fortunately, the information you need is at your finger tips with a simple click. For example, you can learn more about customers as individuals and make connections with resources such as LinkedIn and Facebook. You can scope out your competitors' messages and products to figure out how to position against them. The phrase "I know my customer" simply no longer exists without continuous dialogue and research.

Just how have you changed the level of your preparation?

- What kind of research/homework are you doing before every call? Do you reference your preparation to leverage it during the call to gain trust and credibility?

- What questions do you prepare?

- What ideas are you generating?

- How do you justify the investment in terms of savings or revenue generation and the customer's new priorities?

The more you understand about customers and their needs, their businesses and industries before your sales calls the more likely you will be able to engage in meaningful change conversation to understand and satisfy new priorities.

Engaging in the Change Conversation

There is a lot of fear out there and the change question is not one you can ask head on. I have never been a proponent of the question, "What keeps you up a night?" I find that question intrusive, presumptive, and over used. But you can broach the subject by asking about the kinds of things that are concerning your customers in this economy. To get at what is worrying them. Start your questions indirectly. Ask how the economy has impacted their customers. Based on the response you get, ask the worry question directly if you have a good relationship and if not, take one step back and ask how your customer's priorities have shifted and listen and probe.

Customers' needs have changed and so has their level of trust. Talk about your preparation for the meeting. Showing you are thinking about them helps build and reinforce trust. The old solutions you have relied on in the past most likely won't fit. It is time to be more creative in the solutions you provide. It is time to generate ideas and carefully justify price in terms of savings, productivity, or revenue generation, and be prepared to provide pricing alternatives - for example, one salesperson got two non-competing companies to share a resource and split the cost. It's critical to be out there with your customers listening to them and bringing ideas to show you care what happens to them.

It is an understatement to say closing sales is tougher today. The changes your customers are experiencing demand changes, not tweaking, on how you approach them - your preparation, your dialogue, and your follow-up. When things are slow, spend your time talking to your customers to get them to talk to you. Where there is trust, there is business to be won.

Linda Richardson is a New York Time Best Selling Author and founder of the Richardson Company, a leading Sales Training company.

Author:.

Linda Richardson is the Founder and Executive Chairwoman of Richardson, a global sales training and performance improvement company. As a recognized leader in the industry, she has won the coveted Stevie Award for Lifetime Achievement in Sales Excellence and she was identified by Training Industry, Inc. as one of the “Top 20 Most Influential Training Professionals.” Ms. Richardson is credited with the movement to Consultative Selling and is the author of ten books on selling and sal...

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