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September 17, 2015 // 7:30 AM

5 Ways to Build Authority With Any Prospect

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In a previous post, I outlined six ways to quickly win your prospect's trust. But while trust is necessary to a good working relationship, it’s not enough. You have to establish authority as well.

When you call a prospect for the first time, you probably haven’t given them any reason to care about what you’re saying. They’re thinking:

Who is this person?

Why should I believe anything they say?

Do they even know anything about me?

Authority is different from trust. Establishing authority requires showing that you’re a specialist in a particular subject matter or process, and possess a particular skill set that can help your prospect.

Establishing authority is also necessary to staying in control of the sales process. If you seem like a hot mess, your prospects won’t believe that you’re able to truly understand their problems, much less help them come up with a viable solution. Sales reps who convey authority come prepared to calls, think a few steps ahead, and project confidence.

Generally speaking, being authoritative usually requires a person to be forceful, confident, and direct. But authority takes on a slightly different meaning in sales, and is therefore expressed in different ways. Here are five techniques salespeople can use to build authority with prospects.

1) Start your calls with an agenda and a question.

Setting an agenda shows your prospect you’ve thought deeply about your business relationship and how to advance it in a productive manner.

Always ask your prospect to review your agenda and confirm it makes sense. Steamrolling your prospect is the opposite of authority -- there’s a huge difference between being controlling and being in control (more on that later). Be flexible and willing to adapt if that’s what your prospect wants.

The question signals that while you’re in control, you’re not going to force your prospect into anything. You care what they have to say. Some examples of good opening questions include:

  1. “How's everything going [in relation to discussed goals or plans]?” Ask for a status update early on to quickly surface potential roadblocks.
  2. “When we last spoke, we discussed X and decided on Y. Does Y still make sense?” Confirm that you and your prospect are on the same page. If you're not, find out why.
  3. “Before we get started today, is there anything you think I should know?” A mix of #1 and #2, this question gives your prospect the opportunity to discuss information that's important to them -- and may wind up being crucial to your sale.

2) Demonstrate your experience.

If a salesperson said to you, “Trust me, I’ve seen your situation a million times -- everything will be fine,” how would you respond?

If you’re savvy, you’ll say, “Oh, really? Give me an example.”

Your prospect has no reason to believe that you have a track record of success unless you show them what you’ve done. Whether it’s sharing anecdotal examples, setting up a call with a satisfied customer, or providing a walkthrough of the sales process, your prospect will be far more likely to listen to what you say if you’re able to prove you know your stuff.

3) Work how the prospect wants to work.

What’s the difference between being controlling and being in control?

A controlling salesperson is rigid and inflexible. He won’t change his approach no matter what his prospect says, because he believes his way is the only way. And guess what? He probably doesn’t close a lot of deals.

A rep who’s in control knows this isn’t an effective tactic. She’s not afraid to change her strategies if it turns out her prospect needs something a little different. By being adaptable, she’s demonstrating that she’s an expert seller -- all while making her prospect feel as comfortable as possible.

The takeaway? Always ask your prospect if they’re in agreement with you before taking a step. For example, you might say, “What I’d like to do now is spend 30 minutes taking you through X. Is that okay with you? Will you let me know if I start talking too fast, too slow, or if you have any questions?”

By getting your prospect’s buy-in, you’ve automatically made them a stakeholder in the process and confirmed that you’re proceeding at their desired cadence.

4) Be businesslike with a personality.

I love making people laugh. When people are having a good time, they’re more relaxed and more real.

Authority doesn’t mean being so lofty and out-of-reach that your prospects can’t relate to you. I use analogies to make my prospects smile -- “moving faster than a hungry dog to a hot dog cart” is one of my favorites. Humor allows me to foster a connection with my prospect, who is then more likely to tell me the truth.

Here’s another way in which I bring my personality to selling. I like to ask whether the process has been easy or hard, stressful or relaxing, fun or a pain. This tells me whether the prospect has done this before and is following a set plan, or is winging it and needs a bit more help.

Like trust, authority is easier to gain if your prospect believes you’re genuine. You can't get by on likability alone, but I always bring my personality to the table because the rapport I build with my prospects makes them more receptive to my direction. Ultimately, prospects are more likely to be forthcoming if they feel you're genuine. And unless you understand their needs, you can't tailor the sales process to their unique situation.

5) Recap.

At the end of every conversation, clearly list next steps for both you and your prospect, and attach due dates. Email out a written summary after each call recapping what’s been done and what’s next, and ask for updates, changes, or questions.

Keep in mind that your prospects are busy people, and they depend on you to keep them organized and remind them of what to expect next.

It's essential to stay in control of a sales process. You simply can't close deals if your prospect doesn't put stock in what you say. Moreover, you can't successfully anticipate objections or accurately forecast deals without a plan and the ability to get your prospect to follow you. And to do that, you need to establish authority.

How do you build authority with your prospects? Let us know in the comments below.

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Topics: Sales Strategy

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