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What's on the Prospect's Mind?

What do you do when meeting with a prospect and you can't tell what he's thinking? He either hasn't said anything to reveal his thoughts, or what he's said doesn't offer you any indication as to what's on his mind. Or, even worse, his body language doesn't give you any feedback either.

How do you know where you stand? How do you know if he's interested in what you have to say? How do you know when and how to tweak your presentation?

Not receiving any feedback is frustrating, confusing and downright annoying; it also makes getting the sale that much harder. But even if your prospect has a poker face, it doesn't mean you can't find out what's on his mind, and it certainly doesn't mean you can't close the sale. You will just have to work a little harder for it.

First, it's important to find out why your prospect either can't or won't provide any feedback. Consider the following:

What's Really Going On?

When dealing with a tight-lipped or indifferent prospect, review the situation, analyze the prospect and determine if he's really disinterested; perhaps something else is at play. For example:

Problem: He's Short on Time. Maybe your prospect is having a hectic day and simply doesn't have time to talk with you. When he agreed to the meeting, he didn't know that he'd have be to putting out fires all day.

Now that you're here, he doesn't want to be rude and reschedule. His hesitancy to ask questions or comment might be his attempt to keep the meeting as short as possible so he can get back to his responsibilities.

Solution: If you think the prospect might be harried, ask him if he wants to reschedule the appointment. Tell him that you understand he's very busy and you don't want him to feel rushed or neglect his duties. Stress that you're not inconvenienced and are happy to work around his schedule.

Problem: He Has No Authority. It's possible that this prospect is not the true decision maker. This doesn't mean your research was flawed or that you're with the wrong person. He's probably the right contact, but he may know that it's ultimately his boss who makes the call. Since your prospect doesn't have authority, he doesn't really care.

Solution: Once you've found out that you're meeting with a proxy for the real decision maker, appeal to his ego. Stress that this is a chance to showcase his skills for his boss. Explain that if he demonstrates an ability to make decisions that are good for the company, his boss will find him more valuable.

Problem: The Decision's Been Made. Perhaps between the time when you scheduled the appointment and the actual meeting time, your prospect made the decision to work with someone else. He might feel it's a done deal and is only going through the motions with you to be polite. But, unless he has signed a contract, it's not too late for you.

Solution: If it seems that your prospect may have other providers in mind, ask if he's talking to competitors and where things stand. Ask what they are offering him and then try to meet or beat it. Ask what he finds attractive about other offers and show him how well your product or service meets or exceeds those needs.

Coping Strategies

Many times you won't be able to determine the underlying cause of the prospect's indifference. In these cases, there are some general tools and techniques you can use to get a read on any prospect.

Two cardinal rules: First, resist the temptation to keep talking to fill the uncomfortable silence. Second, don't assume that no news is good news. If the prospect hasn't said "no," don't assume that he will say "yes." Following are some other tips:

Talk

Engage your prospect in a dialog about something ... anything. Maybe he's simply shy or uncomfortable meeting new people. If you can engage him in a conversation about something non-work related, it may grease the wheels and make him more comfortable. Once the conversation is flowing a bit you can ease into work conversation.

Let Him Control the Conversation

If your prospect is poker-faced, ask what he wants to talk about. It's easy to be negative about something when you don't have any investment or involvement in it. Asking the prospect what he wants to talk about forces him to have a stake in the conversation; once he has a stake in it, he will less likely be negative or indifferent.

Ask

Ask a question and stop talking. If you're uncomfortable with the silence he may be, too. If he's uncomfortable he might start talking, just to fill the silence. When he does, listen for clues that indicate how he feels about you and your service.

Maintain a conversational atmosphere. You are on a fact-finding mission, but it doesn't have to be an interrogation. If you want the prospect to be at ease and offer you the information you need, he must feel comfortable.

When dealing with a hard to read prospect there's only one way to find out exactly what he's thinking: He has to tell you. You can investigate, deduce and analyze, and you may come up with the right answer or you may not.

The only way to be certain you know where he stands is for him to tell you, and if he doesn't offer the information unsolicited, you will need to prompt him. Ask, and ask again in different ways, until you get an answer.

Then you know what you're up against and how best to rise to the occasion.

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