Timing your call and encouraging your customers to state their views both are means of persuasion.

1. Consider facts that should influence the timing of your call.

Bad timing can create hazards in a sales situation. One salesperson in California found that out when he changed his regular weekly call on a particular customer to another day. Usually he had come by each Friday, but that meant he had to backtrack about 100 miles and arrive home late at night. He announced the change to the customer, who immediately started to give the salesperson orders that were a small percentage of those he had been given before.

The salesperson quickly realized he had made an error. He switched back to his old schedule of Friday calls. A few weeks later, he posed his problem to the buyer, prefacing it with the advantages that would accrue to the buyer if he made his calls on Wednesdays. The customer agreed to the change. Later, he subtly let the salesperson know that he, the buyer would always be willing to change if he were told in advance and given valid reasons. Lesson: The customer's convenience must be given priority over the salesperson's.

Salespeople often feel restricted by a heavy schedule of calls that makes it difficult, even impossible, to call on every customer on the day or hour that would be most convenient. In such cases, an explanation should be made to the customer and every effort made to accommodate him. If the salesperson can only come by late in the week and the customer would prefer an early-in-the-week visit, the salesperson can offer to call the customer early each week to make certain he has not encountered problems on which the salesperson's help is needed. More often than not, the customer will say this is not necessary but the salesperson has made a good impression.

Timing is not limited to the day and hour a salesperson calls on a customer. It also comes into play directly at the point of sale. For example, during last week's sales call your customer made statements that he thought represented facts; and now you have information that will prove to him that he was in error. But when you call on him this week, there are other people in his office. Is this the time to provide him with information that will convince him he was wrong? If you have no choice except to do it now, are there methods by which to provide him with the facts without causing him to lose face in front of others from his company?

One major error in timing occurs because salespeople often have a tendency to try to correct a situation at once, especially if the customer is mad. For example, if the customer thinks he has received poor service from your company and is being very emotional and angry in stating so, is this the time to present him with unassailable facts that will force him to say the hardest words that come to the tongue of man, "I was wrong?"

It is difficult to sit quietly by when a customer is in the middle of an unjustified tirade, but a salesperson has little choice. It is very poor tactics to interrupt him. The salesperson must give him the facts, but in a way that does not cause him to lose face.

When the customer has finished airing his complaint, the salesperson may have the chance to say, "I can understand why you are angry, but I think you will be as relieved as you were angry when I give you some facts that must not have been available to you, the lack of which, understandably, caused you to be furious." This approach gets the customer the facts and provides him with an escape hatch.

The professional salesperson will always ask himself, "Is this situation one that will not be exacerbated if I postpone action until everyone has simmered down and I have had time to provide a face-saver for anyone involved?"

2. Encourage the customer to state his or her views.

There's a widespread belief that success in selling requires an ability to talk, talk, talk. On the contrary, the most successful salespeople are those who have learned how to listen. Listening consists of far more than simply hearing. It means hearing and understanding. It means seeking the reasons behind the opinions the customer expresses. It means wanting to listen!

Every sale differs; but as a general rule, a salesperson should begin to ask questions of the customer as early in the sale as possible. Questions will force the customer to talk. Since the favorite subject of most individuals will be themselves, that's always a good place to start. It also leads to valuable background information. It is important for a salesperson to learn as much as possible about the customer as a person. And that applies even after years of calls on a particular customer; recent experiences may have some effect upon his attitude today.

Listening is a continuous process. Once beyond the first phase of the sale where knowledge of the customer as an individual is gathered, the salesperson then needs to seek the customer's views on the product or service he hopes to sell, One way to do that is to stop often during the presentation of the proposal to give the customer a chance to talk. He may want to ask questions or express disagreement, and that should be encouraged.

Some inexperienced salespeople seem to fear letting the customer get a word in edgewise. They go into high gear so he cannot interrupt! But if the customer harbors a dislike of any part of the proposal, it will not vanish simply because he was given no chance to voice it. When allowed no opportunity to interrupt or disagree, he will simply stop listening entirely, and the sale may be lost. Step by step, throughout the selling situation, the salesperson should carefully watch the expressions and body language of the customer.

There's nothing to lose by punctuating the presentation with questions such as, "Do you have any questions so far?" or, "Do you see any problems so far that we should talk about?" If customers do have objections, it's advisable to discuss them as soon as possible.

When a customer does mention a problem, it may be effective to say, "Yes, I see what you mean. Do you have any suggestions as to how that could be overcome?" If the customer does have a cure for the objections he has raised, he will feel the problem has been solved, and by him. If he does not have an answer, then the salesperson is in a position to show that he, too, has thought about the problem and has a solution. The customer will then really listen to the solution, if only because when asked for one he had none himself. Now he will be interested to see how the salesperson will overcome the legitimate problem that has been raised.

In retailing, they say, "A piece of merchandise in the customer's hand is worth two on the shelf. "When the salesperson gets customers involved, he is, in effect, getting the merchandise into their hands. Make sure it happens as soon as possible.

3. Seek reasons why the customer holds the views he or she does.

Probe carefully. To succeed in their attempts to persuade, salespeople must, obviously, know the nature of the opinion (or resistance) put forth by the customer. Even more essential, salespeople must understand the reasons the customer holds the views he does. Until they understand the reasons, they are in no position to determine the strategy and tactics to employ to change his views.

One reason for a customer's opinion may be that she lacks facts or has faulty information. Or, she may hold illusions that have no basis ("plastics are inferior"; "small companies can't supply my needs," etc.). The customer may have had experiences in the past which he misinterpreted. The reasons for the opinion can be endless, but you must identify them. If salespeople fail to diagnose the basic reasons, they may confront the customer with some excellent arguments that fail miserably because they don't address the true cause of the customer's objection.

How do salespeople identify the reasons? Naturally, the approach will vary with the circumstances. But usually a straightforward question will serve well. Example: "I understand your position. I wonder if you'd help me by letting me know why you feel as you do about (the subject that is under discussion)?"

Continued next month.

A salesperson often must change others' views.

1. Consider facts that should influence the timing of your call.

2. Encourage the customer to state his or her views.

3. Seek reasons why the customer holds the views he does. Probe carefully.

4. Identify the customer's primary psychic need (to be rich, to be powerful, to be famous, to have life easier, to feel secure.)

5. Identify the customer's product or service need and/or problems.

6. Seek and find a point of mutual agreement.

7. Isolate areas of disagreement.

8. Avoid and eliminate semantic traps.

9. Clarify the customer's stand by restating it. Listen to his or her reaction.

10. Rephrase and overstate the customer's objections.

11. Concede minor points; let the customer be partly right.

12. Obtain minor agreements to produce a good climate.

13. Narrow down the areas where the customer's opinion and yours diverge.

14. Avoid anything that will appear as a challenge.

15. Show respect for the customer's views. Don't attack motives.

16. Avoid "red flag" words, people and/or subjects.

17. Get the customer to agree on a premise.

18. Think before agreeing to a premise the customer presents. What will it imply?

19. Be sure of your facts. Don't ever bluff!

20. Don't counter the customer's emotion with reason. It won't work.

21. Don't become emotional. Anger blows out the lamp of the mind.

22. When you are wrong on a point, admit it without equivocation.

23. Don't demand immediate agreement. Give the customer time to think.

24. Avoid a defensive position; shift the burden of proof.

25. Restate and modify your position to reflect your concessions.

26. Never interrupt a customer. Wait!

27. Listen-really listen. And listen with your eyes, too!

28. Don't debate. If you win a debate, you could lose the order.

29. Reinforce your points. Recap and summarize.

30. Give customers who were in error an escape hatch.

31. Make your idea the customer's idea. Don't insist on getting credit.

32. Ask for the order. Get a commitment.

33. Quit while you are ahead. Express thanks and leave.