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When it comes to selling, I’m figuring out that I have to think like a detective and not a typical salesperson. Do you have any suggestions on how to best do that?

THOUGHTS OF THE DAY: Decide on who is your best customer, then go get more of them. Work through a list of best customer suspects. Figure out where your targets hang out. Find out if you really are talking to qualified suspects. Have a way to circle back to the suspects who don’t seem to fit initially. Get prospects to turn themselves into clients.

Finding your next great client is like working your way through a detective’s story. You have to have a mind for inquiry — open, questioning, evaluating and fitting puzzle pieces together.

Go through the clients of recent years and pull out the ones that seem to be the very best customers. What’s common about them? What differentiates them from all others?

Look for the common threads. Are your best customers the most profitable? That’s usually a good place to start! Are they the easiest to handle? Do they respect what your company offers and listen to your advice? When they need something, are they realistic in their demands? Do they care about what happens to your business? Are they willing to pay a reasonable fee and pay extra for extras?

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Make a list of criteria that describe your best customers. Use this list to qualify other prospects. Move people or companies in or out of your top suspect list based on how well they do, or don’t, seem to fit the best customer criteria.

Take a look at where your current best customers hang out. Get to know more about where your current customers go to learn, network and do business. Often, like attracts like. The places your current customers gravitate to may also draw in similar folks who you’re not yet talking to.

Once you come across suspects, develop a dialog with them. Listen, don’t do much talking. Have a list of open-ended questions that you can insert into the conversation, whenever you feel the need to say something. Try these questions:

“Tell me about your business.”
“What makes you successful?”
“How do you go about getting and servicing your customers?”
“Who do you rely on for help?”
“How do you add people or firms to your roster of supporters?”
“What criteria do you use when determining if something is going to succeed?”
Just because someone isn’t a right fit initially, don’t completely discard them. It may be a timing issue. Have a way to circle back and stay in front of them as you wait for circumstances to change.

Getting ready to handle a surge in sales

Find out what kinds of information they like to receive and periodically send them something they’ll find useful. Invite them to forums where you know some of your best customers will be in attendance. Add value to their world by doing something they’ll consider useful. Keep costs to a minimum until you know they’re serious. Build trust by being constant and reliable — say what you’re going to do and then do it.

When you know you’re in front of someone who fits your best customer criteria, focus on them. Ask yourself if you know enough about what they need, how they make decisions, what their options are, how they choose between options and why now is the right time for them to act? If you’re not sure of the answers to those questions, ask the prospect to clarify, don’t guess at the answers.

If you need to present a proposal, test out pieces of it before sending in the whole thing. Get the prospect to work with you to solve any problems. Keep at it until you can cite three reasons why every decision-maker and decision-influencer would say “yes” to your company’s solutions.

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Looking for a good book? Try “The Very Little but Very Powerful Book on Closing: Ask the Right Questions, Transfer the Value, Create the Urgency and Win the Sale” by Jeffrey Gitomer.