Dec 162011

Tom Hopkins is a master salesman and here’s his advice on selling

There are thousands of different sales tips and techniques out there; some of them are very hard sell, some are focused primarily on specific sales areas like door to door or car sales.  One question I’m often asked by clients is “What sales techniques work?” and one of the best and most effective sales techniques I have come across that is useful in all areas of sales is by Tom Hopkins, which he covers in his book ‘Sell it today, sell it now’.

Here’s the 5 minute version of Tom Hopkins’ Trust, Need, Help, Hurry sales technique:

When you walk into a prospect’s office they are going to be suspicious of you and cold towards you.  Tom Hopkins says that what you need to do is reduce their resistance to the sale before you can start building up their willingness and he uses 4 key stages.


Once the general introductions are over, coffee served etc then you should start on this phase.  This is the phase where you do 90% of the talking.

This is where through general discussion, examples, history, your ‘back story’ etc they get a feeling that you’re not some sort of fly by night organization and that you’re just ‘people like them’.  Examples of past experience, previous work/jobs, anything that helps to warm them up will help.  Explain the previous work you’ve done, plus your experience and demonstrate how you can bring those both together to achieve success.  Wherever you can link what you’re saying to the generic sort of work they do (but not too detailed at this stage for reasons explained below).

It’s a good idea to route map the whole thing for them and get their permission for how you’re going to do it all (once they have given permission then they can’t really stop you, or if they do you can gently counter them).

“Ok, David, first of all thanks for the opportunity for allowing us to meet and talk about how we can help you move your business forward by using our product  If it’s ok with you (start nodding your head here) what I’d like to do is take a few minutes to explain a little about our business so that you can get an idea of how we came about and our areas of expertise.  Is that ok?

Great.  Then I’d like to ask you a whole load of questions about your business and how you think we can help you move forward.  This will allow us to hear direct from you what you think the issues are, exactly what it is you want to use our product and service for and other stuff that will help us see how we can help you.

Once we have a full picture of what you want we’ll then explain how and where we think we can help you.  It may be that we can help right across the board or it may be that we can only help in specific areas but we can’t determine that until you’ve explained exactly what it is that you want. Make sense?

Finally, if we do both agree that we can help then we’ll discuss the next step and how we move things forward.  David, does that all seem sensible and logical (keep nodding your head).  Yes, great, then let’s start.


This is where you find out exactly what the problem is that they need you to solve.  Try not to get too many pre-conceived ideas before starting this and whatever you do don’t try to give any sort of solution until the end of the whole process.  You (and they) might initially think your product/service will be most use in one particular situation but after really digging in and understanding what it is they want to do you may realize that actually it’s another area completely where you can help the most.  If you’ve started off the presentation by focusing on how good you are in the first area then you’ve lost (or at least have a lot of ground to make back up).

During this phase they should be doing 90% of the talking (you should be able to drink your coffee while it’s hot; theirs should go cold while they talk!).  Ask a question then shut up and let them talk.  Don’t butt in; sometimes the killer points come when there is that slightly embarrassing pause after everyone thinks they’ve finished talking (stretch the silence a little by pretending to make a note).  If they say anything that you’re not sure about then ask for clarification.

Keep digging to find out what the problems are that they have, why are they a problem, how do they think those problems can be overcome?  In an ideal world how would they see their job going?  Try to structure the questions so that you take them into a negative area (all the problems that they have) and then bring them back to finish on the positive (the ideal solution – which of course you will provide!).

Also try to find out what time pressures they might be under (“So, if you could have your perfect solution, when would you like to see it in place?”).  This will help you later.

This phase should be the longest and should take up the bulk of the meeting.  All the time be making notes of the key points and how you might be able to fill their need . If there are two or three of you there try to spread the questions around so that others have time to make notes while the others talk.

At the end of the phase have a list of check points that they have brought out and which you think you can solve.

“Ok, David, let me see if I’ve captured everything here.  You say that your biggest problem is cost because of the time and manpower needed to do the job using outside cotnractors.  You also say that there’s a problem of flexibility because it takes time to bring in the contractors – yes?  You also said that Health & Safety requirements are causing you lots of bureaucracy and also add to costs.  Are these points all correct?  Is there anything that I’ve missed?”

If all has gone to plan then you should all be in violent agreement by this stage.  However you may have to do the ‘anything I’ve missed’ bit a few times if you haven’t dug deep enough and they don’t seem engaged/in agreement with what you’ve brought out.  If you do feel that you haven’t got to the bottom of the issue then just say it “David, I sense I haven’t really got to the core problem that you’re facing – are you able to explain it better than I have?”


This is where you now take the stage again and do most of the talking.  You take each specific point they have come up with and explain how you can help them solve that problem.

This can be a little bit of a tightrope walk in some senses; you want to give sufficient information to demonstrate that you know what you’re doing and have the skills/equipment to solve the problem but you don’t want to give them the full solution (which would allow them to go away and do it themselves or use the information with another company).

Keep focused on the points that are pertinent to them.  If you’re using PowerPoint and have slides demonstrating areas they have no interest in then skip over them and go to the more pertinent ones.  (If you have done your homework then it’s arguable that all the slides should be pertinent.  The counter argument is that you may uncover something during the need phase or it may be that another of your capabilities may help).

At the end of this phase try to get a positive response from them that they see how you can help solve their problems.


This is the close.  If you have found their pain and shown how you can get rid of it then there shouldn’t really be any reason why they don’t sign up there and then.

Unfortunately, it’s not usually that simple and they will undoubtedly say they need to think about it/discuss it in more detail amongst themselves.  Without being too pushy ask what it is they need to discuss and think about.  Very often those excuses are just automatic but sometimes it is because you haven’t really hit the button; even at this late stage asking that question can reveal the true reason so give it a try.

If they are set on ‘thinking about it’ then at least get their permission for the next stage in the process.  With some business areas the chances are that you will be going away to put a full report together or write out a formal quote/contract so make it quite clear exactly what the next stages are going to be (ideally with timelines – shorter the better otherwise they start to go off the boil).

To heighten your chances try to ensure that you take the report/quote back physically so that you can get in front of them again.

‘Right, I think we have all that we need.  What I propose we do, David, is we will go away now and produce the report for you.  That will take us a week.  We will then come back and explain the report (can we put a date in the diary now while we’re here?) and if that suits we’ll then get all the contracts ready and signed in the next fortnight.  Ok?”

After the meeting keep in touch; the usual thank you letter/email and a reminder about the next step etc.  The more touches you have the more likely it is they will sign but make sure the touches are relevant.

One of the characteristics of a successful sales person is that they are comfortable in the selling environment.  That doesn’t come naturally to many people because of the worry that they’re trying to sell something to someone who may not want to buy.  Using this process properly there should be a real sense that you’re helping the prospect overcome an issue they have – rather than trying to sell something to them.  I’ve taught this sales technique to people like architects and other professional people who are as far from being sales people as you can imagine and they have felt comfortable with the process.

This is one of the most effective sales techniques that I know – and it’s the one I use.