Recently, I advised Cheryl, an advisor looking to expand her client base, to use most of the time she spends with prospects asking questions rather than explaining her knowledge and abilities.

“In the past,” she said, “I spent as much time as I could telling them why I’d be a great fit for their needs.” Like many salespeople, Cheryl assumed that she already had adequate information to allow her to match what she was offering to what she believed her prospects wanted.

But your prospects are looking for something specific that doesn’t always come up in their requests for service. For that reason, leaping into the discussion of the benefits you offer — simply dumping it all out there without knowing what their specific needs are — is a huge mistake.

Ask more questions first. Find out what they’re already doing, who they’re doing it with, what’s working for them and what isn’t. Find out why they’ve booked the appointment. Then talk about what you can bring to them, directing what you say to the explicit needs you’ve uncovered.

Even if they lead with something such as “Tell me what you can do for me,” don’t answer without first trying to turn it around and ask them what they’re looking for. “You’ll tell them about your knowledge and ability,” I explained to Cheryl, “through the questions you ask.”

After a few appointments, Cheryl called to tell me how well it had gone. She told me how she was able to address the specific needs she had uncovered in her face-to-face conversations and tailor a discussion of her skills, and eventually, her offer.

Instead of telling prospects in a general way how she could help them, Cheryl was able to show how she could help them solve their specific problems. She has already doubled her contracts this month, all because she’s exercised a way of getting to know her prospects before trying to convert them into clients.

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Sandy Schussel is a speaker, business trainer and coach who helps sales teams develop systems to win clients. He is the author of The High Diving Board and Become a Client Magnet. For more information, go to www.sandyschussel.com.