Make Your First Impression Your Best Impression: Crafting a winning opening statement

By Colleen Francis

In my line of work, I tend to hear a lot of opening statements.

Some I listen to during training or coaching sessions with clients. Others come from unsuspecting sales people who call me at work or at home to sell me something.

Sadly, the vast majority of opening statements I hear seemed designed to create more resistance than they do relationships. In sales, your opening statement is absolutely critical to your success. So why do so many otherwise good sales people get it so wrong?

A critical part of your success

A great line will open doors and land you more business. A bad one will cause those doors to shut faster than you can say, "Hi, I'm Tim, and have I got a deal for you!"

I think the reason so many sales people use such disastrous opening statements is that we often spend very little time planning and preparing what we're going to say. Most sales experts say that we have between 4 to 30 seconds to create interest from the time the customer picks up the phone, yet many of my clients confess that they don't even begin to think about their opening line until they're actually dialing the phone!

More often than not, it's the little things that make all the difference between success and failure. A few awkward or stumbling words, a mispronounced name, an inappropriate question or just plain being under-prepared or too long-winded can create a bad first impression, and lose the sale. As I discussed in past articles, something as simple as removing "How are you?" from the beginning of your opener can yield as much as a 25% increase in your cold calling success.

So how can you go about crafting a winning opening statement? The best way to improve is to first recognize what's wrong with your existing opener, and then take the appropriate steps to correct it.

Get rid of the clunkers: pruning your sales vocabulary

Let's start with the following example. Say you finally get a decision maker on the phone (I know that's tough these days!) and you lead off with:

"Hi, this is _______ from _______. We're in the business of _______. Are you the person who handles that?"

UGH!

I think we can agree that this isn't exactly a killer opening. What makes it so bad?

Just consider a little Psychology 101. People would rather not talk to sales people they don't know. I bet even you, a professional sales person, avoid talking to sales people you don't know. This fact is as natural as it is unavoidable.

An opening statement like the one above announces your intention to try to sell something to the decision maker, triggering a defensive posture and moving them into a negative frame of mind - you know, the one that says, "Darn, it's a sales person, how do I get them off the phone?"

Tactically, you should find out who's the right person to talk to before you pick up the phone. Start by reviewing the corporate website, getting a referral or calling other departments (Sales, HR or the Help Desk) within the organization to determine who the decision maker is.

After all, if you call the wrong person, they'll let you know soon enough without you having to ask. And if you are talking to the right person, avoiding the awkward clunker above means you won't jeopardize the relationship you're attempting to build. Remember, your job on your first call is to peak interest and get a dialogue going - NOT to sell something.

Get specific

OK, so what should you do? When the decision maker answers, go directly into something like:

"Hi Chris, this is _____­­__ from _______. Our manufacturing clients tell us that we help them _______ by _______. How are you currently _______?"

OR:

"Hi Chris, this is _______ with _______. We work with (CEOs, IT Directors, etc) to help them _______. I understand that you maybe _______ and there's a possibility we may be able to help you _______. Does it make sense for me to ask you a few questions now to see if we should talk further?"

Of course, these statements are very generic. I suggest that you tailor or customize your opening with information you collect before the call through conversations with other people in the company or by reviewing their website or quarterly 10Q SEC reports (if their firm is publicly traded on a US stock exchange).

Touch on results they'll have interest in. I'd also recommend scouring the local and national newspapers for stories that might include or affect your prospects, so you can use that news in your opening. By showing that you know just a little bit about them when you call, your prospects will be much more likely to engage in a meaningful conversation.

Remember: potential customers will always be much more impressed with how much you know about them than with how much you know about your product. Here are a few more specific examples of successful opening lines:

"Hi Chris, this is Colleen from ABC Staffing. We work with VP's of HR to help them find the right talent for their organizations quickly while guaranteeing the right skill match. I understand you're expanding your Toronto organization and there may be a possibility that we can help you with your recruiting. Does it make sense for me to ask you a few questions now to see if we should talk in more detail later?"

"Hi Chris. This is Colleen with ABC fencing. Our manufacturing clients tell us that we save them money each year in lost and damaged goods by implementing secure perimeter fencing at their factory sites. How are you planning to secure the new plant you're building in Baltimore?"

One last note: if you're a new rep taking over a patch of existing clients in a territory, don't call and say, "Hi this is _______. I'm the new rep. Can we meet?"

Instead, study the file, create two to three specific questions about the customer that shows you're genuinely interested in them, and then start your call with:

"Hi, this is _______ from _______. I was reviewing your file, and I had a couple questions about _______. Is now a good time to go over these with you, or should we schedule another time in the future to talk?"

Telling customers that you're new puts your interests first. The statement above puts their interests first, which are always going to be more important (and more interesting) to them then yours.

Give the customer a chance to ask who you are. If they care, they will ask, giving you a chance to satisfy their curiosity with an answer they requested.

Yes, it's a subtle change. And it will make a huge difference in how many positive relationships you build - and how successful you become.

Liked this article? Connect with me on Connect with Colleen on LinkedIn!LinkedIn!

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Nonstop Sales Boom by Colleen Francis Make sure you check out Colleen's latest book, Nonstop Sales Boom for powerful strategies to drive consistent sales growth quarter after quarter, year after year.

Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions (www.EngageSelling.com). Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.

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