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magic buttons, little closes, and other keys to a deal

Getting to know the customer starts with finding a "magic button" you can push to make a personal connection. That button is the one thing that ignites the guy's interest. Maybe it's kids. Or travel. Or sports. Something you...


Getting to know the customer starts with finding a “magic button” you can push to make a personal connection. That button is the one thing that ignites the guy’s interest. Maybe it’s kids. Or travel. Or sports. Something you both feel passionately about (it’s probably not freight) that can jump-start a conversation instead of a sales pitch.

I recently called on a prospect I’d never met before. Through Facebook and LinkedIn I found out he coaches a youth hockey team that won a regional tournament last season. When I met him I was able to say, “I read about your hockey team. Way to go. I know coaching takes a lot of time and dedication, but I tell you, it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”

 Magic button.

 We talked hockey, kids, and coaching for the next 15 minutes and then comfortably eased into the business side of the meeting. Before I left, he asked how I knew about his team. And I told him, “When there’s someone I want to meet, I make an effort to get to know as much about him as I can.”

A Series of Little Closes

Still, whatever shared interest you have won’t be enough to close the deal. It’s just the start.

One of the big mistakes you can make is trying to force a sale when it’s not there. It’s easy to resort to discounts in order to make the sale happen, a strategy you’ll pay for many times over. From that point on, everything else you have to sell-everything that makes your company great-won’t matter. To your customer, you’re the low-price carrier, the one he calls when he needs a cheap rate.

In my experience, no customer worth having will give you all of his business on the first call. The best relationships start with a series of little closes-smaller deals that are more like solid singles and doubles than home runs. This takes the focus off price, or the pressure on the customer to make a big commitment. Picking up a load here or a lane there, and doing a great job, keeps the rally alive and sets the table for a big inning when your competitor drops the ball.

Like a batter in baseball, you want to come to the plate with a plan. What are you trying to accomplish on the sales call? Sure, you want the prospect’s business-every load, every lane. A grand slam. But if you think that’s realistic, you’re going to have big trouble making this a profitable, sustainable account.

Narrow it down. On every call, your goal should be a commitment to the next step in the sales process. It doesn’t have to be about business. Your goal could be to get the prospect to your terminal for a tour.

 What are some next-action options?

 * More Information: Can you send more information about a particular service? Ask what format works best-email, regular mail, a paper copy sent FedEx? Close by agreeing on what you’re going to send, when you’re going to send it, where to send it, and what you’re going to do to follow up.

* Another Meeting: Your best “next step” may be to simply keep the conversation going. Agree on a follow-up meeting, a lunch, a round of golf-whatever works. Get the date and time on the calendar before you leave.

* Incremental Business: Your goal may be to pick up a small piece of your customer’s business so you can start to prove yourself as a dependable carrier. Does the customer have a plan in place if his primary carrier can’t do a job or goes out of business? Is there a lane you can take on? If you agree to send a quote, explain when you’ll send it and then book a time to follow up.

In any case, don’t leave things to chance. Bare minimum, your next action should be to agree on the date and time of your next meeting. Remember, it doesn’t have to be about business (what’s his “magic button”?). If you walk away with nothing more than a confirmed appointment to get together again, you’re still on the basepaths. And that’s a far better place than on the bench.


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