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By Charlie Cook

Have you ever passed by a bakery display case without feeling the urge to buy at least one cookie, dessert or cinnamon bun? Have you ever taken a child into a candy store and not had them ask to buy at least one of their favorite sweets?

The smell of fresh baked goods and the memory of the taste of a candy bar makes us want to buy more. The owners of bakeries and candy stores don’t have to spend a lot of time extolling the merits of their goods or the length of time they’ve been in business; they can concentrate on helping us satisfy our appetites.

Wouldn’t you like to be in a similar situation with your marketing? How would you like to have prospects who were so eager to buy that you didn’t have to sell, but could focus instead on taking more orders?

If you are like most small business owners you’d like to increase your sales but you don’t enjoy selling. You don’t want to be seen as a pushy person, whether it is on the phone, in person or in your marketing materials. The problem is that you don’t sell baked goods or candy - instead you may sell accounting, design, engineering, or informational products and services.

What can you do to increase your sales and spend less time selling?

Stop Selling
Stop worrying about closing the sale. Focus instead on understanding what your prospect wants, and open the door to a mutually profitable relationship. When a prospect thinks that all you care about is getting their money, they’ll view the relationship negatively and this can easily kill the sale.

Start Helping
Once a prospect is at your web site or on the phone with you, they’ve demonstrated an interest in finding a solution to one of their problems or concerns. Take the next step and demonstrate your interest in them. Use your conversation or your site to ask them questions that will identify what they want to accomplish and how you can help them.

Help them clarify the problem they are trying to solve. Even our prosperous bakery owner has questions to ask. Is the hungry customer looking for bread for lunch, or a dessert for a celebration? How many people are they feeding? Once you have all the details, you confirm it by repeating the information back to them. “You are planning a party for five couples and want a chocolate cake with mocha frosting. Is that right?”

When your customer says yes, you’ve got your order. You just used a series of questions to get your prospect to tell you what they wanted. You didn’t have to sell anything: they sold themselves. You helped them get what they wanted. Isn’t that what you’d prefer to be doing?

Obviously, the questions you use to “sell” are going to be unique to the products and services you provide. Remember that when people come to you, they are hungry for a solution. The questions you ask can help them define exactly what they need and, more importantly, what they want. Then you can take their order.

Does this approach apply to selling less tangible and less immediately satisfying services and products?

Imagine you’re a financial advisor and you’re having an initial conversation with a prospect. You could launch into an explanation of your services and the seven ways you help clients grow assets using a strategic mix of stocks, bonds, currency and commodities. If you did this you’d be likely to miss connecting with them. Or you could ask them a couple of questions to identify what they want.

Most people have a common set of concerns related to managing their assets. Use these to formulate your questions. Ask them:

- Do they have an investment strategy?
- What is it?
- What have the results been over the last five years?
- How risky or safe do they feel their strategy is?
- Are they happy with the investment return of their portfolio?
- Do they want to know how to get better returns without additional risk?

You could use a similar set of questions to ask them about their taxes, investments, and whether their individual financial strategies complement or conflict with each other.
Whether you sell cakes and cookies or services and informational products, you can use questions to move your prospects to become clients and customers.

Ask the right questions and you’ll establish your credibility while you help your prospects clarify what they need and help them determine the value of your products and services. Focus on helping instead of selling and your prospects will thank you by increasing your sales.
2005 © In Mind Communications, LLC. All rights reserved. The author, Charlie Cook, helps service professionals, small business owners and marketing professionals attract more clients and be more successful. Sign up to receive the Free Marketing Plan eBook, '7 Steps to get more clients and grow your business' at

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