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How to Start a Successful Sales Lead Conversation

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How to Start a Successful Sales Lead Conversation

First, determine your prospect's pains and needs. 


One of my sales rep clients, Jill, called the other day and said, "I get calls from prospects once or twice a week saying they are interested in learning more about my services. The problem is that I tend to freeze up on these calls, because I don’t always know which direction to take."

"I either start giving an overview of my services or I jump into asking the prospect questions about their interests, timeline and specs," she continued. "Unfortunately, sometimes neither tactic works. The prospect either gets impatient with my questions or bored with what I have to say. How can I get a better handle on these conversations so that they lead to sales?"

I told Jill that I had faced a similar dilemma a number of years ago when I was a novice sales professional. I was working for a company bogged down with too many potential sales leads and not enough time to handle the high volume of inbound calls assigned to me.

To solve this dilemma, I developed a one-question technique that would help me quickly cut through (in less than 30 seconds) the static. When a customer or prospect called with a general inquiry, I would ask them:

"So that I can be attentive to what’s important to you, what is prompting your call?"

I still, to this very day, encourage my sales training clients to use this vital one-single-question technique when beginning a sales lead conversation. 

But before I started asking this question, I was like Jill. I would start calls with prospects by asking questions like:

1.What is your timeline?

2.What are the specifications?

3.What kind of company do you work for?

4.What is your position?

5.Who is your current vendor?

6.What quantity are you buying?

7.What is your budget?

I usually got about four questions in before I realized that the prospect was getting annoyed. Yikes! Don’t get me wrong—it's important to ask questions. But I asked them too soon. My mistake was that I overwhelmed the prospect. I was "fishing" with my questions in an attempt to figure out if the prospect was worth talking to.

These self-serving questions did nothing to motivate my prospects.

An open-ended question, like, "What is prompting your interest?" gets right to the heart of the issues. Asking this question will instantly let you identify your prospect’s frustrations, goals, problems and hopes for the future.

It's also important not to start your "sales talk" too soon. When prospects ask about your products or services, avoid a lengthy speech about what you offer. 

The truth of the matter is, prospects do not want to hear about your products and services—not at this stage, anyway. They want you to connect with them, determine what type of business pain they are experiencing and offer advice on how you can help alleviate that pain.

By simply asking your customer or prospect what prompts his or her interest in you, you will learn whether or not there is a real sales opportunity and gain a vital look at your customer’s motivations, frustrations and pains. It allows you to quickly and easily understand where the customer is coming from and to isolate the issue that is causing them to reach out to you, their trusted salesperson—their strategic partner!

Paul Cherry is president of Performance Based Results and is the leading authority on customer engagement strategies. He has more than 23 years of experience in sales training, leadership development, sales performance coaching and management coaching. He is also the author of Questions that Sell: The Powerful Process for Discovering What Your Customer Really Wants and Questions that Get Results: Innovative Ideas Managers Can Use to Improve Their Team’s Performance. He can be reached at 302-478-4443, or

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