Ring, ring, ring!

I answered the phone, and the voice on the other end said, "Hi, Ms. Siebold, this is Danielle Catizone, I'm calling to find out a little bit about your business. Tell me, what does your business do?"

Now, normally these kinds of calls never reach me at the office--they are headed off at the pass and rarely get past our staff. But, since I'm also in the cold-calling sales business...just for fun (and research), I went along with this overly-nice, bubbly, high-pitched, excited, very telemarketer-sounding voice on the other end of my phone.

I explained to Danielle that our company is in the communication business, and that we are writers, speakers, trainers and consultants for Fortune 500 companies and independent direct sales companies--

And she jumped in with a series of question about the company. "How many employees do you have? What hours do you work? Who does your payroll? Who makes buying decisions?..." and on and on. By the third question, I was already so irritated, I had to tell her that I didn't have time to answer all of her questions--

But no, she just kept going. Unbelievable! It was perhaps the worst cold call I'd ever received. Finally I succeeded in telling her I was not interested, wished her luck, and got off the phone. I never even found out what she was selling. Who knows, her product might have been something our business really needed; it could have been just the thing I was looking for. I'll never know. I was so turned off by the call that I decided right then that I didn't want to do business with her or her company.

We all know that you have to ask questions, listen, take notes, and get the prospect talking so that you can identify the wants and needs of your potential customers. The truth is, unless a person wants to listen to you and wants to hear you, you're wasting your time, your prospect's time, and setting a bad example for your downline.

So how do you identify your prospect's needs and wants without sounding salesy? Here are four simple ways you can relate to your prospects, find the information you need, and begin building a unique, long-term relationship--without sounding like a pushy salesperson.

Give Your Prospect Your Total Attention

Tune out everything else. Your full attention is on your prospect and his or her world. Often we go on sales appointments still thinking about ourselves. Transfer the focus off of yourself and re-direct it onto your prospects: notice their mannerisms, their gestures, their clothes, their environment, the way they sit, talk, look at you, use their hands. Be curious.

I no longer worry about being a brilliant conversationalist; I simply try to be a good listener. Good listeners are welcome wherever they go.

Put Your Prospect At Ease

Focus on making your prospects feel important. How? By seeing them as important! Gather material. Study the prospect for the way they sit, talk, gestures, clothes, and habits. The worst thing you could do is to walk in and immediately begin your sales presentation. Take the time to watch and listen, so that later you have material you can positively comment on.

Share a Personal Story

Ironically, one of the quickest ways you can get a client to talk about herself is to talk about yourself first. Once you open up, others begin to trust you and to open up themselves.

Now, this does not mean "dominate the conversation"! Don't abandon the power of listening. This means, simply share a short story about your life that relates to the products you're selling.

"I used to have pictures in every closet, under tables in boxes--and even sitting left in the camera! Until I began working with this scrap-book product I was completely

unorganized with my family pictures." "I used to be over 200 pounds, before I began working with this weight loss program." "I had tremendous back pain until I discovered these products." You get the idea. It's amazing how much more open people become after you've shared your personal experience with them.

Get Them Talking About Themselves

The best way I know to get people to talk about themselves is to ask non-threatening questions about their environment. Not off-the-wall questions, but real questions, thought-provoking questions about their needs and interests. People love to talk about their own interests and don't feel threatened by this type of conversation.

And while they're talking about themselves, listen for what they're really looking for.

Remember: the more open-ended your questions, the better chance you have of building rapport and finding out what your prospects want or need. As Frank Bettger wrote in his classic, How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Selling, "The most important secret of salesmanship is finding out what people want and helping them get it."

Once you've heard the prospects wants and needs, review with them so both of you are clear. Never begin selling, telling or demonstrating until you have successfully developed rapport and have a clear understanding of your prospect's wants and needs.

Follow these four steps and you'll be on your way to building a successful sales base for your business. More importantly, you'll be setting the example for your entire organization. n

Dawn Siebold is co-founder of the Gove-Siebold Group (www.gove-siebold.com), a training organization that helps networkers develop world-class communication skills.