Meeting the prospect at THEIR interest level

I’m just back from one of the trade shows we do every year. It’s a great opportunity for our salespeople to see their existing contacts and customers, but as marketing manager, I don’t have ‘existing contacts’. What I enjoy most is talking to people new to our company, or even our type of product.

You know the type … they blindly grab a piece of literature, usually a specialized piece that only the rarest of booth visitors may need. They stare for a full minute at your company’s logo on the booth. Some will look your demo unit up and down, others will be oblivious to its presence. They don’t make eye contact at all, and may even look right thru you.

What’s happening is the non-verbal part of their brain is working, trying to fit together a small puzzle:

  • Brand
  • Product
  • Purpose
  • Need
  • Importance

When they appear ready, I’ll ask something as basic as ‘any questions?’ Then they can start to verbalize about the part of the puzzle they need help with.

For the extrovert (i.e. salesperson), this can be an awkward point. They want to start asking the ‘mark’ questions about his company, his need, if he knows so-and-so, etc. Or they’ll try to impress the visitor by answering his inquiry with a story or a spiel.

Our guys are pretty-well disciplined, and don’t do this right away, but they may be itching to flip the control of the conversation … to move the visitor from a ‘mark’ to a ‘lead’ quickly. I’ll attribute their behavior to the fact that they are in unfamiliar territory. Their usual leads the rest of the year are already qualified, and are a bit rusty in engaging a complete n00b.

It seems a bit odd at first, but the puzzling booth visitor fully wants to talk about you, your company, and your products. But he also fully wants you to listen to his questions and body language. They are in control, even if they are meekly asking questions. The best thing you can do is ask clarifying questions, so they know you are listening, and that you’ll cooperate with them. They still haven’t decided if you are the right person or company to talk to and need some time and info to do so.

One of the even odder moments at a trade show booth is when a conversation gets passed from one booth-person to the other. But that is a good sign that the discussion is probably shifting from ‘puzzling’ to ‘familiar’.

It all starts when you meet the prospect at their level and pace. Websites are awesome for this because a visitor can linger until they decide to engage us. And it shields us from these awkward moments. But, done right, these awkward moments can be awesome opportunities to make new relationships, and hopefully, customers.


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