5.4 How to Start Off on the Right Foot

During a sales approach there are certain opening lines to avoid—and others that will be more successful. The following section offers some pointers (and reminders) that will give you the power to start the selling relationship off on the right foot.

During Every Sales Approach

Always Get the Customer’s Name Right

There’s nothing more off-putting in a sales approach than a salesperson misspelling or mispronouncing your name. If the salesperson can’t be bothered to learn something as basic as your name, it sends the message that they do not care about you as a person, and it certainly gets the relationship off to a bad start. In e-mails, double check that the customer’s name isn’t misspelled or mistyped. For telephone or in-person approaches make sure you’ve figured out how to pronounce the prospect’s name during your preapproach research.

Always Listen

Jim Collins, the renowned business consultant passes on a lesson he learned from his mentor, “Don’t be interesting; be interested.” (Belludi, 2017). In other words, don’t try to impress your customer by spending a lot of time talking about your qualifications or how wonderful your company or product is; instead, show your prospect that you are genuinely interested in getting to know them and in understanding their needs. The only way you can do this is to listen. The only way to show that you are interested is to actually be interested—pay attention, ask good questions, and ask follow-up questions based on what you just heard (Belludi, 2017).

Be Ready with Your Elevator Pitch

Have you ever heard the term “elevator pitch”? It is a concise description of a product or service that should take no longer than an average elevator ride (Pincus, 2007). Every salesperson has an elevator pitch for the product or service they are selling. That way, they can tell people about their product in under sixty seconds, and it is a perfect way to start a conversation or phone call and helps to make a good first impression. In fact, everyone from a CEO to an entrepreneur has an elevator pitch about their company to tell potential investors, shareholders, and other stakeholders. Most listeners don’t have the time to hear all the details about a product or service in the first minutes of a conversation so the elevator pitch provides just enough information so the audience knows what they are talking about and want to know more. An elevator pitch is a great tool to have mastered before any networking session.

telephoneApproaching by Telephone

Establishing rapport can be a challenging task when you make your approach by phone because you cannot read your customer’s body language or other visual cues, and they cannot read yours. For telephone approaches, it’s best to be brief and direct and to save small talk for your in-person meeting

  • Do give your name and the purpose of your call.  Your prospect will probably decide whether or not they are interested in what you have to say within the first twenty seconds of the call, so it’s best to be direct and get this essential information across early on. Practice and have a script for the phone—sorry, you cannot wing an elevator pitch.
  • Do prepare a script for your opening statement – because you want to get your prospect’s attention in the first twenty seconds, it’s important not to stumble over your words or sound like you are rambling. After you have given your name and the purpose of your call, offer a reference point based on your preapproach research. For example, “I read that your start-up has recently opened a new downtown location.” This will personalize your approach and help establish your credibility. Next, lead into a general benefit statement (Morgan, 2009) that will address your prospect’s “what’s in it for me?” question.
  • Do ask “Is this a good time?” – Keep in mind that asking for permission helps build trust and allows the customer to feel like they are in control of the call (Morgan, 2009). However, it is important to think about the way you phrase your question. It is always easier for people to say yes to a question than to say no, so when you open with something like “Did I catch you at a bad time?” all your customer has to do is agree with you (“Yes, this is a bad time.”), and the call is effectively over. Your customer is only likely to say no if this really is a bad time, and if that happens, you are well positioned to say “I understand. Would Monday at 10:30 be a better time to talk?” (McGaulley, 2010).
  • Don’t start off by asking, “How are you today?” This common greeting is one you probably use without thinking twice about it. But opening a sales call this way over the phone (when you are contacting a busy stranger who doesn’t know why you have called) is a false way to build rapport and it is just better to get right to the point in a cold call by phone (Stop asking how I’m doing, 2020). More powerful opening lines would be “Thanks for taking my call” or “The reason for my call today” or even “Can you help me?” (JB Sales, 2020).
  • Don’t launch into prolonged explanations – as sales coach Sharon Drew Morgan (2009) says, “Your prospect is obviously not sitting by the phone waiting for a call from you.” You want to be personable when you call, but you also want to keep in mind that for busy decision makers, phone calls are interruptions, so the more business oriented the interruption, the better (McGaulley, 2010).

emailApproaching by E-mail

While an e-mail approach is less personal than an in-person or telephone approach, it might be your best method, depending on the type of sale in which you are engaging. For instance, Internet marketing coach Sean Mize says of his business, “I generate 2,000 subscribers via the Internet every single month, so to try to contact all those individuals by phone, unless I have a huge telemarketing room, would be absolutely impossible.” (Mize, 2009). Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Do Write a Number of E-mails in Different Styles and Tones – Create a few email templates and then pick and choose when you are sending out or replying to an email but try and make the email as personal as possible.
  • Do Send a Well-Written E-mail – Keep in mind that an e-mailed sales approach is still a first impression, even though the communication doesn’t involve any immediate contact. While the e-mail should be personal, it should be more formal than the personal e-mails you send to friends. You want to sound knowledgeable and credible, which means paying close attention to your word choice and style. Give the e-mail the same attention you would give to a business letter. Check for spelling and grammar mistakes.
  • Do Follow Up Persistently – Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get a response to the first or second e-mail you send. If your prospect doesn’t respond right away, it doesn’t mean that they are not interested in what you have to offer—just assume that they may be a busy person with plenty of other distractions that come across their desk every day.
  • Don’t Send E-mails That Look Like Templates- Again, the goal is to make your e-mails as personal as you can. Include your prospect’s name in the e-mail. This will set your message apart from the average, impersonal “junk” e-mail that people get regularly.

Social networksApproaching through Online Social Networks

In some cases you will be able to leverage your online social network to approach a prospect as 84% of consumers will buy from a brand they follow on social media over a competitor (Barnhart, 2020). For instance, if you are a web site designer and you attend a webinar on increasing Internet traffic to business’s homepages, the other webinar participants are potential prospects, and you might decide to contact them and ask to be added to their LinkedIn networks.

  • Do ask to make a connection- Follow the prospect and then send a message introducing yourself and thank them for the connection (Hingley, 2016). The point is that you want to give your approach a personal touch. If you just go out and friend all your prospects without making the effort to engage with them, they might not accept your friend request in the first place. Ask if they are going to a conference or trade show you are going to –ask for a meeting (Hingley, 2016). You can think of the networking tool as a facilitator, something that gives you the opportunity to connect, but it is still up to you to do the work of socially interacting and leveraging your connections.
  • Do Aim for Quality over Quantity- There are so many new and interesting social media programs available that it can be tempting to join multiple sites; but if you are a member of more than two or three social networks at one time, you will probably find your efforts spread too thin. To start, focus on the social networks where you know your customers are—most likely LindedIn, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter (Balinas, 2020).
  • Do Contribute to the Community- In social networking situations, just as in face-to-face interactions, you want to build a good rapport by earning the trust and respect of your customers and colleagues. This means considering ways you can participate in and contribute to the online community, rather than simply using the social networking sites to promote yourself or your product.
  • Don’t Let Your Language Get Sloppy- As with e-mail approaches, pay attention to your language. Prep your social media in a document or spreadsheet and spell check and whatever you do, don’t use ALL CAPS (Balinas, 2020). No one wants to be screamed at.
  • Don’t Make a Sales Pitch- Even though a social-network approach looks different from an in-person or over-the-phone approach, the purpose is the same—establishing rapport, building trust, and helping your customer discover needs and opportunities—so avoid making your sales pitch during your initial contact. You want to appear human by answering questions people ask, doing more than just retweeting or liking other people’s content (Honigman, 2020). Being human is a big one on social media. If you come off as a faceless with no personality, people will not want to get to know you (Barnhart, 2023). Show photos, use humour, and add value to create the much needed connection.
  • Do Help More than You Sell- Keep in mind the 80/20 rule. 80 percent of the content you post or share should be entertaining or informative while no more than 20 percent should directly relate to the good or services you provide. Match the content to the network and the prospects’ interest (Balinas, 2022).
  • Don’t Post Any Inappropriate Language, Photos, or Videos on Your Personal Social Networking Pages- It’s a good idea to remove any inappropriate information as employers, prospects, and customers can see your personal brand 24/7.


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