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Oh, the problems ... Featured

9:41am EDT July 22, 2002

I sell a product to industrial accounts which they must use. But many of them already purchase it from somebody else, which means I have to steal them away from my competition to get the business. However, when I call prospects and ask if they are having problems with their current supplier, they always tell me no. How can I get in to see these people?

If you were to ask 20 prospects whether they have “any problems” in the area in which you can help, 19 will tell you “no.” They do have problems, they just won’t admit it to you.

At the very least, they can’t articulate these problems in a meaningful way without your help. You need to develop a set of “hot buttons” to start a conversation.

Hot buttons are the needs and concerns of the people you call on that will get a conversation started. Your goal: to find your prospect’s pain. Hot buttons aren’t always easy to identify, but they are critical. You’ll use them when making cold calls, working tradeshows, describing yourself in a networking setting and in the initial stages of a face-to-face sales meeting.

In essence, they are the problems and frustrations you solve for your clients. From a different angle, they are the potential gains you can help them realize.

The purpose is to jog your prospects’ memories and get them talking so that you can ascertain whether you can help them. Do they have a problem you can fix or do they even qualify as prospects? Without these hot buttons, you can’t start the pain-gathering process that will lead prospects to buy, except in those rare circumstances in which they come to you. Therefore, this is where you need to start.

Imagine your best customer before he met you. It’s the end of the day, and he is having a cup of coffee or a beer with his best friend who does the same thing he does in another part of the company. They are discussing the challenges and frustrations they face in relation to the products and services you sell. One says to the other, “I wish I could find a way to solve (list the problem here). How are you handling it?” Or, “I’m frustrated by (list problem here). Have you ever looked at this before?”

What are they saying within the blank? If you can’t answer, ask your existing customers why they were receptive to talking with you about your products or services in the first place. What was the catalyst that caused them to look for the solution you provided? The answers are your hot buttons.

When you call next time, instead of asking prospects if they have any problems, incorporate your hot buttons into a statement such as: “Mr. Prospect, I don’t know if you share any of these concerns, but typically when I talk with company presidents like yourself in successful companies like yours, they tell me that, despite their success, they are frustrated or concerned about: hot button No. 1, hot button No. 2 or hot button No. 3. I don’t suppose you share any of those concerns?”

If you’ve done your research, the prospects will say they do.

Now you can simply sit back and ask them to talk about these issues to the point where you can ask this question: “The things you are telling me are issues we deal with all the time. Would it make sense for you to invite me in to talk about it in further detail?”

Now when you show up, you can arrive with the confidence of knowing that you were actually invited in with a pre-established agenda.

Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm specializing in sales development and training. Send him your comments and questions via fax at (724) 933-9224 or e-mail him at LTLewis@totaldevelopment.com. Reach him by phone at (724) 933-9110.