You’re on your way to a sales call and everything you know about this lead looks promising. It’s an older home and the owners say they need new windows. Or … they’re planning to sell and need to get the house re-sided if for no other reason than curb appeal. The roof is shot, with water stains appearing on the ceiling, and they want the roof replaced this year, at the latest.
Your lucky day, eh?
But what if, once you’re in the home quizzing the owners about their needs, their cell phone goes off every five minutes and every one of those calls is a call he has to take? Or what if—it being an evening appointment—she needs to get the kids to bed? She says it should only take five minutes, but five minutes becomes 30, and meanwhile he switches on the TV. What if they have a small dog—it’s always a small dog—that regards your arrival as an intrusion and decides it will do whatever it can to make your presence uncomfortable, starting with leg humping and progressing to loud barks from its perch on the sofa right behind your ear?
A Fight for Control
Interruptions in the course of a sales presentation can be nerve-wracking. Interruptions throw any process that requires concentration right off course. Mainly, experts say, because they induce error. There is an interdisciplinary science called “interruption science”—a branch of human factors psychology—that's concerned with how interruptions affect human performance.
But if you’ve ever experienced serious interruptions during a sales call, you don’t need to study the scientific literature. You already know that interruptions can suddenly derail even the most promising appointment by throwing the salesperson off his stride, foment distractions, and easily prevent the sales call from continuing or from coming to a definite conclusion—ever. And while these types of interruptions may appear to be accidental, unavoidable, or even sometimes necessary—an emergency involving someone’s health, for instance—in fact, they are most often a way to prevent you from controlling the sales conversation. This kind of behavior says: We aren't taking you seriously; at least not seriously enough to drop what we’re doing and pay attention or to put the dog outside.
Blogger Dan Tyre offers “4 Tactics to Crush Sales Interruptions and Revive Stalled Deals,” which, though aimed at B-to-B sales, may prove useful to the home improvement salesperson as well. For instance, since interruptions—whether instigated or merely tolerated—are a means of stalling a decision, possibly forever, one good technique to reestablish the point of the conversation and get it on track once more is to reiterate its purpose. “In the course of your discovery and qualification calls, you should have uncovered what your prospect’s pain is—and when they need it fixed by,” Tyre points out. “So if a deal starts to stall, refocus your prospect by asking them, ‘Wait, didn’t you say you needed a solution to [pain point] by [date]?’ Sometimes the end goal gets buried in the minutiae of a sales process, and rehashing deadlines can help.” Reminding prospects that there’s a point to the conversation can help get you back on track. So, for instance, you could ask: When were you hoping to have the house sold? Or: Do you really think that the roof can survive another fall of storms and hard rain?
There are other techniques to get a callback on track, and yourself in control. For instance:
• Listen. Really listen. If it seems like you’re only half listening to what the prospect(s) are saying, that’s an opening for interruptions of some sort. If your tone, words, and body language communicate a thoroughly casual attitude about the project, expect more or less the same from your prospects. That said, your fullest attention to the words and body language of your prospect enables you to form “an interruption-resistant bubble” around that conversation, says Dr. Joey Faucette at website SalesGravy.com.
* Do as I do. Isn’t it annoying when a prospect not only won’t shut their cell phone off but also insists on reading and responding to texts? Of course it is. But indicating annoyance or irritation won’t change the behavior, it will, instead, change the vibe of the conversation in a negative way. You don’t want that. Instead, if you truly believe that there is nothing more important than the sales call you’re on, make a point of extracting that smartphone from your pocket, as you sit down, and say something along the lines of: “I’m going to power down my cell phone now so we can have an uninterrupted conversation.” Do that, and put the phone on the table. Now ask: “Would it be possible for you to do the same?”
* Get to the point and say what you mean. You don’t need to apologize for being there, and neither should your tone nor manner indicate apology. If you want the dog out of the room, or outside, politely ask that the propsects remove it so that you can continue the conversation. Ideally, you want to be in charge of the conversation without seeming to be. Remember that you’re there not even to sell them, but to present a solution to their problem. As Stephen Key points out in Entrepreneur “present with confidence, not arrogance, and set the stage early that you know your product can solve their problems.”
That’s not to say that people don’t have legitimate emergencies that make it impossible to move the sales call from introduction to product presentation to close. Things happen. Sometimes it’s not their fault, and sometimes it’s beyond their control. And if something does happen—say some kind of emergency—stay focused, and keep your cool. If, for some reason, it becomes impossible to continue the conversation, but the situation remains promising in spite of the interruption/disruption, arrange for a return visit. And be as specific about that as you can or as time allows. Don’t allow the prospect to end the conversation with some nebulous promise about “being in touch.” Set a time and date for the follow-up appointment. “Far too many salespeople end their previous call badly (or without a defined outcome),” writes Andy Preston at website EyesOnSales.com. "What kind of impact do you think that has on the potential success of their next call? That’s right, a negative one!”
Interruptions to a sales call may be nowhere near as frequent as objections in the course of one, but when it comes to both, the same principle applies: You’re far more likely to control, or determine, the outcome if you know exactly what to do, that is, are mentally scripted, and can act with deliberation whatever the situation. “The key to controlling interruptions,” says management website MindTools.com, is to know what they are and whether they are necessary, and to plan for them in your daily schedule.”