You’ve kept trying, and the prospect has finally agreed to talk to you. But she made it clear that she can only spare five or 10 minutes in her busy schedule. So you try to tell her as quickly as you can about all the glories of your company and your products. In other words, you bury her in a data dump, as hundreds of salespeople have done before. And when you leave, she’ll never want to lay eyes on you again.

Until you have asked good questions, you don’t know how to present your product.

Salespeople commit a fatal mistake when they jump directly into a product pitch. Why? Because they’re shooting in the dark, with no idea of the prospect’s unique needs or desires. When you do that, your products and services become undifferentiated commodities that sound like the same ones dozens of other salespeople are pushing.

The only way to differentiate your offerings in today’s market is first to differentiate yourself. That is, you, the salesperson, must first be seen as a unique part of the solution you’re selling. Prospects will only turn into customers if they see you as a consultant with a purpose—the purpose being to gain a commitment once you and the client understand how you can serve their most important needs. When you assume you already know what those needs are, you are leaving the customer out of this important process.

If you have just a few minutes of a prospect’s time, don’t use them to talk about yourself. Use them to ask about the prospect. In the Action Selling ® system, Acts 2 and 3 are all about establishing rapport and Asking the Best Questions to uncover the prospect’s key needs and concerns. Not until Act 7 should you ever present your product.

The reason is simple: Until you have asked the Best Questions, you don’t know how to present your product to this prospect as anything other than a generic commodity. You can say you’re selling “solutions” instead of “stuff,” but you can’t do it. Not until you have uncovered specific problems to solve.

Got a minute? Good. Use it to act like a consultant with a purpose. Ask, don’t tell. You may discover that prospects have more time for you than they thought.

Action Selling ® In Action

Salespeople in the pharmaceutical industry work hard to get even a few minutes of face time with doctors. One rookie sales rep for Schering Plough considered himself lucky when a doctor agreed to give him five minutes, and five minutes only, to “give me your spiel.”

Delivering a spiel is exactly what the rep ordinarily would have done. But this salesperson had just become Action Selling ® Certified. Instead of pitching products, the rep asked questions about the doctor’s practice. He didn’t act like a guy trying to sell something. He acted like a consultant who was genuinely interested in learning whether the doctor had any problems that he could help solve.

The five-minute conversation stretched to 15. And it ended with the doctor agreeing to a lunch appointment—which had been the salesperson’s commitment objective for the meeting all along. ”During the lunch appointment we wrapped up a substantial sale,” said the rep. “This wouldn’t have occurred without the certified skills of Action Selling ®.”