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Tips for entrepreneurs to stoke your customer’s appetite

Are you hungry?

Patrick Tinney, a Lakefield, Ont.-based consultant, says that in today's fast-moving world, you need to be perpetually hungry to be successful. That's particularly true for sales professionals and entrepreneurs, since we moved around the turn of the century from a seller's market to a buyer's market. Companies aren't spending money these days unless they have to and it's harder to sell your services.

"You have to be hungry for the next opportunity, as nothing is delivered to anybody these days. Being good isn't good enough. You have to be superior," he said in an interview.

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That doesn't mean getting fancy. It means returning to the basics: How do you convince prospects that they need you?

With cost cutting the norm, people hold back from purchases. Mr. Tinney might want a new car but his 10-year-old vehicle suffices and it's hard for car vendors to convince him he needs their product.

When selling, you have to demonstrate real need – without much risk. Business clients are looking for a return on their investment and you have to show you can meet that goal.

Value is important, but it's related to price. Price is important but yes, it's related to value. And the value-price equation can change with the potential buyer or the circumstances. If the furnace goes out in January, value and price are evaluated differently than in July.

Too often, salespeople don't check up on their customers after the sale is completed to ensure they're happy and the value promised was realized. That's a big mistake. It helps to know exactly how the sale changed their lives. It also can lead to recommendations and testimonials that will help you gain new prospects who view you as low risk because somebody has certified your effectiveness. You don't want to sell just once to a customer. And you want to sell to their family and friends. That's why checking back is crucial.

Selling requires building bridges to prospects, overcoming the gaps that initially exist between you. Good questions can help to build bridges of understanding. His favourite: "What opportunity do you see in your business that is vitally important to your growth that you are unable to reach with your current knowledge and resources?"

A second bridge is building a strong relationship. The key is to display low self-interest, not an easy task.

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"If you have superhigh self-interest, it shows. People know when they are being used," he notes.

Finally, he emphasizes "promise bridges" – from the moment they meet you, prospects are determining potential promises you might be offering, and you must turn that into a bridge toward the sale. It starts with your grooming, clothes and manner. But also how you solve problems and, of course, your integrity. "We as salespeople are walking promises," he writes in his book, Perpetual Hunger.

But the value you bring to the table is also an important part of the bridge you build along with your company's brand promise.

He feels new customers buy salespeople first, value second and brand third. You need to think through all the potential bridges to build a long-term collaborative relationship with the prospect.

He believes 10 traits are essential for prospecting success: Hunger, inquisitiveness, tactical thinking, analytical approach, emotional intelligence, creative agility, discipline, storytelling, persistence and a killer instinct. He singles out creative agility first when asked which are the most important.

"Customers buy ideas. You need agility to move with the customer if they want something else from what you thought initially," he explains. Also critical: An analytical mind and emotional intelligence.

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But ultimately, the most important traits are those that work with that particular customer at that particular time.

If you're weak on some traits, it's helpful to try to improve or compensate. But don't obsess about those weaknesses. "If you can throw a baseball 107 miles per hour, does it matter if you can catch? Start with what you're good at," he says.

Most salespeople know they need to emphasize benefits rather than features for their products. He urges you to provide "benefits on steroids," sharply translating the data about your product into language that entices and engages the customer.

"Explain how you will make their life smarter, faster, better, safer or grow the top line," he says.

"But don't overpromise. Promise with greater clarity. Be clear and bold."

It's not just to make the sale but to help the customer feel better afterward about what has been purchased.

It's a tough world. These tips – and a perpetual hunger – can help you succeed.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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