Prospects Are People, Too


Article by C.J. HaydenYou’d be surprised how often my clients and students ask me to help them find a surefire sales letter or phone script that they can copy to use for their own selling. Or maybe you wouldn’t. Perhaps you, too, have been misled into thinking that there is such a thing.

It’s tempting to believe that there really is a magic sequence of words that will make people buy from you every time. If something like that did exist, it would make selling so easy. You could just call someone up and read your script, or even better, just send the person an email, and presto — you’d have a new client.

But persuading other human beings to do what you want them to is not quite so simple as that. Think of the last time you tried to persuade your spouse or teenager to do things your way and you’ll see what I mean.

No, the real problem with trying to sell like a robot is that you aren’t selling to robots; you’re selling to people. It can be easy to forget that important fact when you are staring at a list of phone numbers and addresses that says “prospects” at the top.

Selling can be a confronting process. You may unconsciously be trying to protect yourself from rejection by dehumanizing the people you sell to. So you try to stay detached and “smile and dial,” script in hand, or churn out another form letter.

But what you ought to be doing is exactly the reverse. Your prospects are people, just like you, me, and your best friend. Instead of hiding behind some anonymous words, you need to treat your prospects like human beings and reveal yourself as human, too.

We human beings are unique individuals. What convinces Mary to buy is not what will convince Sam. What works for Bob as a salesperson is not what will work best for Jane. So instead of putting your prospects in a box and taking your selling from a can, consider instead — what key elements might help two unlike people come to a mutual agreement? For example:

Affinity – If you just met your prospects five minutes ago, or have never spoken with them live, they won’t feel much of a connection to you. There is no guaranteed formula for immediate rapport; you can’t make someone instantly like you. Either you must get to know prospects better over time, or be introduced to them by someone else who has already done so. Focus on building a relationship before you start trying to close the sale.

Mutual Respect – You need to demonstrate respect for their time and opinions; they need to appreciate your knowledge and expertise. Reading a phone script to busy prospects who you just interrupted is not very respectful. Sending a boilerplate letter asking for their business will not build their trust in your capabilities. Ask them what they need and demonstrate what you can do. An obvious match between their needs and your capabilities will be more persuasive than any sales copy could be.

Shared Goals – If your goal is to make money from selling them something, and their goal is to solve a problem for themselves or their organization, you don’t have much in common. Your focus should be on helping your prospects find the right solution, whatever it is. When your product or service is the best solution for their problem, you’ll have a sale. If it isn’t, you’re wasting your time and theirs trying to get them to buy.

To introduce these elements into your selling, start treating your prospects more like people. Instead of relying on the anonymous delivery of killer copy, focus on personal exchanges of useful and targeted information. Take the time to get to know them better before you presume to tell them what they need. Share ideas, advice, and examples that demonstrate how you can be of service. Respect their time, opinions, and ability to choose what’s best for their own situation.

Successful selling is not a power struggle between two opposing sides; it’s a friendly conversation between peers. The next time you begin to call or write your prospects, visualize the unique human beings on the other end. Who are they? What’s going on in their world? What do they need most from you today? The answers to those questions will tell you much more about how to communicate with them effectively than any script or letter you can get off the shelf.

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