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Industry Commentary

Building a Relationship With the Lead Prospect

The right questions can help achieve more closings

April 26, 2004


Selling over the phone is very difficult -- especially if you are not very familiar with the prospect. When the prospect calls you, he or she is typically giving you the question that represents their most obvious desire, such as, What is your price or rate?

But chances are their needs are not very well described by this question. For example, if the person is considering a major purchase such as a home, the person is probably more interested in:

  • Achieving the lowest possible payment… or
  • Conserving their capital… or
  • Building up equity…. or
  • Purchasing the most expensive home possible… or
  • Getting a pre-approval in order to get an offer accepted… or
  • Rapid action to support a quick settlement.

It is the sales person's job to go deeper than the original question and uncover the more immediate and important needs of the prospect. Obviously, we know the question they ask is related to their needs (for example the rate on a mortgage loan is certainly related to the payment), but at the same time the customer may not fully appreciate all the variables involved -- such as the lower payment of an interest-only loan versus a fully amortizing loan.

The same would be true with regard to cut-rate listing services. The owner of a home is typically interested in how much money they will net from the transaction, but is focused on the commission rate.

Getting to the need may be very difficult indeed -- especially if the prospect does not have a relationship with or trust the sales person. Saying things such as, I charge more, but I can help you get a better price on your house, is fine if they trust you and know your credentials. If they don't, you must make a fairly rapid transition from stranger to advisor.

In telephone sales we have very little time to gain the confidence of the caller. And asking many of the questions we need to gain a better understanding of their needs will only serve to move us further away from our goals because they tend to make them defensive. Questions such as, What is your credit like? may make them "close-up." The questions must be designed to get them to be comfortable and "open-up." That is why we refer to these as open-ended questions.

An example of a closed-ended question; How much cash do you have?

An example of an open-ended question; What do you like about this house?

You will find that the person in control of the conversation is not the person talking, but the person who is listening. The questions are the key to turning the call from one in which they are asking you for a very specific thing and you are getting them to open up about their goals. It is obvious that your listening skills are very, very important in this regard.

If they feel you are empathetic and understand their needs, they will continue to open-up. It is at that juncture that you can let them know that there are many ways in which to meet their needs, and based upon information that they will supply, you will be able to put them on the road to achieving their goals.

Too many sales people are so focused on getting the appointment or the sale, it becomes a race to collect data instead of a challenge to create a relationship. In these cases, we might not only turn the prospect off, but also accept prospects that are not qualified to become customers. Nothing can waste more precious time than working with an unqualified pipeline.

It may be that your focus may be to speak with the prospect's financial planner rather than the prospect. In this way, they will be more confident that you are interested in helping them make the right decision. And you have a chance to develop a relationship that may be many, many times more important than the original call. Those who open their eyes to all opportunities and the situation as a whole, are more likely to be more successful in the long run...

Dave Hershman is a mortgage industry author and speaker -- with 8 books and hundreds of articles to his credit. He also heads OriginationPro.com Mortgage School. You can email Dave at [email protected].

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