Just recently, I read a startling story having to do with another company here in Las Vegas, Zappos. The online fashion retailer broke the record for longest customer call—a Zappos rep spent 10 hours and 43 minutes on the phone with a customer. Who knows what all they managed to jaw on about for that long—perhaps they were becoming friends, or falling in love, or maybe they were soulmates. All I know is the CEO of Zappos works from a company philosophy that does the rule “The customer’s always right” one better. Apparently, it’s “Let the customer speak for as long as they want to.”
Of course the customer-service best practices of B2C online retailers may not always align with the same approaches as B2B sales, however one thing remains consistent; in both circles of business, customer satisfaction is at the heart of what matters. We may not be on the phone for 10 hours with a customer talking about online shoe purchases and/or the meaning of life, but we are at our best in this profession when our fundamental objective is to help customers overcome their challenges, reach their goals and provide an excellent customer experience.
And sometimes, like that chatty Zappos customer, there are those clients who ramble into overtime during sales calls—touching on subjects such as sporting events and summer vacations, topics that are pretty far afield of the business transaction at hand. So how do you temper a talkative customer, get back down to business and preserve the rapport you’ve build with them? Below are some tips for diplomatically taking back your conversationally occupied sales call from Ms. or Mr. Chatterson.
Create and Stay on Your Agenda
With every call, set a clear agenda at the onset of the sales meeting. Be sure to ask for feedback on the agenda as well and let the customer know what’s in it for them to work through the agenda. That’s crucial for keeping the participants reined in and also gives them an opportunity to share any topics that are important to them; without that step, you run the risk of having the call take unanticipated wrong turns that you are not prepared for. Agendas also set expectations and help with time management. When attendees know the topics that are going to be covered, they tend to be more mindful of the time allotted for the various agenda items.
Take Control of the Conversation
It’s your sales call, so own it. Be the pilot, the driver, the ship captain—however you want to think about it—just make sure you’re steering the meeting. That includes getting it back on course if it should stray in strange directions. If the convo goes down a sidetrack that is business-related, give a nod to the customer’s thoughts and work through them as appropriate and related to the topics at hand. Think of that left turn as an opportunity—it may be something that’s on their mind and a priority to them. If you’re unprepared to tackle this additional line item immediately, suggest to discuss it in a follow-up call.
Be the Time Keeper
Part of your job as controller of the conversation is reminding attendees of the time. Do this tactfully. You might say, “So, Todd, sorry to interrupt, but we’ve got about 15 minutes left. Should we briefly touch on your concerns around spring-loaded shelf brackets before we have to break for today?” Also, be sure to establish the amount of time for the meeting as you share your agenda.
Your greatest asset as a sales rep is being a good listener. And some of our best advice to you is this: After the customer expresses their concerns, doubts, fears, wishes, etc., step in and summarize what they’ve just said are their challenges. This listening-talking model also applies when the customer is talking in circles, driving home the same point many times over. Keep your ears on the ball when that happens, because sometimes the repetition is actually revealing the nut meat of the customer’s crux; this is the thing they need help with, even if they may not be good at articulating it. Summarizing what they’ve said—though in fewer words than they might have used—will go a long way toward assuring the customer that you understand their problem, you are listening and are completely on board with what they’re saying. In summarizing, you’ll also be taking control of the call and steering the process past that particular stage and oh so much closer to the solution-building phase.
Make sense? OK, we’ll shut up now.