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A sales skills primer, part 3

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To be truly successful at getting new clients, your passion for your work must be accompanied by three essential skills:

  1. The ability to ask provocative questions.
  2. The ability to listen with total focus on your client.
  3. The ability to relate compelling stories and metaphors.

In this article, I’ll focus on the last of these skills:

The ability to tell compelling stories. Testimonials about your service help you get clients, because human beings are hardwired to love stories. Even before people developed a written language, they told stories with cave paintings. Much later, humans still gathered around the campfire to hear stories of great exploits. Sure, you may lack a campfire around which to gather your prospects so that you can weave tales of the great service you provide. But you can still tap into human beings’ deep-rooted love of stories and turn wary prospects into ready clients.

My client Michael, a financial professional, is a master of sales stories. Here’s how one of his most effective stories goes: “Joe, your situation is very similar to that of another client I’m helping. He approached me a few years ago, also having lost money in the recession. What his last advisor had done to him was almost identical to what yours did to you. He too was struggling with whether or not to get back into the market. But after we talked, he decided he couldn’t let a past mishap get in the way of his planning for retirement. We’ve been working together successfully ever since!” It’s a rare instance when a prospective client isn’t swayed by one of Michael’s stories.

Michael also uses metaphors in his stories. One of his clients had a small retirement fund and asked whether he thought she could handle it without an advisor. “Sure you could,” Michael told her, “but you’d be like a leaf on a rushing stream. With no rudder and no one to steer, you’d be rushing toward whatever result fate had in store for you.” Michael delivered the excellent “steering” service he promised, and the woman remained a loyal client.

Another client of mine, Larry, explains a Roth IRA to his clients using a farming metaphor: “If you were a farmer and you had to pay taxes, would you rather pay taxes on the seed or on the crop you harvest?” “The seed, of course” is the prospect’s usual reply. “Why is that?” Larry asks. “Well, the tax on a huge crop is probably a lot more than on the seed.” “That’s why I want you to make this investment. You’ll have already paid taxes on the seed and have the crop tax-free!”

Larry is successful in his business, because he manages to put all three sales skills to work in presentations to his prospects. He asks provocative questions, listens with focus to their answers and communicates effectively by employing metaphors that help his clients understand how he can help them.

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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