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“Playing catch” ensures homeruns with customers

A huge myth about top producing sales people is that they are exceptional at the “pitch.” The stereotype holds that because someone is smooth taking and naturally gifted at persuasion they will excel as a sales professional. In reality, non-stop pitching will significantly reduce your selling success.


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by Tony Enrico

A huge myth about top producing sales people is that they are exceptional at the “pitch.” The stereotype holds that because someone is smooth taking and naturally gifted at persuasion they will excel as a sales professional. In reality, non-stop pitching will significantly reduce your selling success.

Pitching one product, feature or benefit after another, with few pauses in between, hoping to connect with the customer is a highly unproductive approach to winning more sales. Although the baseball pitcher may think they are in control of the game, it’s actually the catcher who calling the shots, setting the pace and directing the next throw.

While pitching is an important element in the sales process; learning to play an effective game of catch is critical to winning with customers. Champion sellers have learned a valuable lesson that runs counter to the instinct to pitch: the more salespeople talk, the less they are in control of a conversation. And the less they are in control, the less they learn about what matters to the customer. Championship salespeople keep the urge to pitch at bay. Instead, they assume the role of the catcher.

Many salespeople, experienced and newly minted, are surprised to learn how frequently they fall into the habit of pitching with customers. We’ve put thousands of sales professionals through our single day Sales Championship™ real-life sales competition learning experience. Although many sales people and sales managers understand the value of asking great questions, few are able to consistently demonstrate the ability to play catch with customers! It is this ability – to listen – or catch, that is a key behavior that separates championship sales people from the rest.

Think of pitching as trying to create value by piling information on a customer that YOU think is important. Now think of catching as a way to learn and understand what the CUSTOMER actually wants. When you pitch, you tell a customer what value your product or service can bring. When you catch, you interweave that product or service with the customer’s goals. More simply, pitching is telling; catching is communicating.

Great catchers tend to do the following:

  1. Prepare appropriate questions for customers prior to their arrival in the store. During customer engagements, a chronic “pitcher” will constantly think, How can I close the deal? The person inclined to catch will quickly adapt and adjust their questioning and ponder, How can I further understanding and clarify their most important needs?
  2. Demonstrate the ability to summarize and paraphrase how your product or service will help the customer deliver on their stated goals and objectives.
  3. How often do your customers say to you, “That’s a good question,” “I never thought of it that way,” or “I never looked at it from that perspective. The more comments like this you hear, the better you’re catching.

For decades, sales research has shown that the most successful salespeople are those best able to communicate meaningfully and effectively; often by excellent use of questions or by saying nothing at all. When championship salespeople uphold this mentality, they marry the skills of pitching and catching by opening dialogues, asking appropriate and challenging questions that skillfully facilitate others to share information. With the new insight in hand, top sales professionals can then integrate their new found information into how the product they are selling will create a valuable solution for their customer. Champion salespeople play catch with their customers and their colleagues at every turn.

The ability to play catch can be polished. The best salespeople are able to recognize and respond to subtle linguistic signals and small non-verbal cues. They also have an awareness of other’s tendencies. In the end, only two skills are required to play catch effectively. The first is asking great questions. The second is to truly hear the answers.

10 Golden Rules for Playing Catch

  1. Ask open-ended questions first, and often.
  2. Greet each customer with a smile and a friendly introduction using your name; then ask for the customers name in return.
  3. Ask questions that engage the customer to share the purpose of their visit.
  4. Ask how you can make the most efficient use of the customer’s time.
  5. Clarify the customer’s intentions and objectives.
  6. Use strong eye contact to maintain connectivity while pausing.
  7. Paraphrase what the customer has shared and ask that you understood correctly.
  8. Ask colleagues or other successful sales people the questions they ask to meet customer’s needs.
  9. Be creative in asking similar questions; personalize your approach to each customer.
  10. Ask the customer to buy using the information they shared during your conversation.

Tony Enrico is co-author of Championship Selling: A Blueprint for Winning with Today’s Customer. He leads Optimé International’s U.S. consulting practice where he develops high-performing sales organizations for small to Fortune 500 clients through Sales Championship™ real-life sales simulations, proven sales development processes and leadership development programs. He previously was with Johnson & Johnson, where his expertise in strategic thinking and experience as a senior sales leader earned him numerous top performance awards during his 15-year career. To learn more about Optimé International, please visit www.optime.com or for a copy of Championship Selling: A Blueprint for Winning with Today’s Customers, please go to www.amazon.com/championshipselling.