Imagine you’ve been invited to a two-hour sales workshop. You walk toward the conference room with a variety of feelings and running dialogue in your head:

  • Who is the person hosting, and what will they teach me that I don’t already know?
  • My performance is fine—I just need to work a little harder and stay consistent.
  • I’d rather use this time to do the prospecting I’ve been putting off.
  • Will we get a break and for how long?
  • At least my manager will see me there…but I’ll sit in the back.
  • What a pain in the ass this is!

Passive Participation

These thoughts may be familiar even if you’re open to new ideas and self-improvement. They occur on days when you’re feeling like a spectator instead of a player—days when you feel slightly off or less engaged. All of us have days like this. We may be in the room physically, but our energy and focus are elsewhere.

You complete the walk to the workshop, swing open the conference room doors and plop down into a seat in the back. You play along, offering passive mental participation in the sales workshop, even though you know you’ll get no more out of it than what you put in.

Two hours and two coffee breaks later, you rise from your seat and shuffle back to your office. You shrug your shoulders when asked about the value of the training, then settle back into your routine of checking emails for a prospect response.

Why Prospects Disengage

Now you know why your prospects sometimes seem out to lunch. They make the same reluctant walk to the conference room, where you await with wide-eyed anticipation. Your prospect nods approvingly as you ply her with solution-selling questions she could have scripted herself, or listens patiently while you regale her with stories about the alignment of your corporate cultures. Your prospect is a passive participant. Unengaged. Her mind is elsewhere because you’ve taken center stage to share all your wonderful expertise or don’t know when to zip it.

Remember the sales workshop? Same rule applies here. The value your prospect derives from meeting with you is directly proportional to what you’ve encouraged her to put into the conversation. Simply put, conversation is engaging when your prospect participates c. But participation isn’t the same as a few approving head nods or off-hand comments: “That’s interesting,” or “I didn’t know that.” Active participation means all of the brain synapses are firing and your prospect is actively engaged in the conversation.

Engage Your Prospects

Get your prospect involved and engaged by facilitating active participation. Inquiring about their goals for the meeting isn’t enough. What would you have told the sales workshop trainer if he asked what you wanted to get out of the meeting? You would have come up with some half-assed answer to pacify him and save face. If that’s how you treat your prospect, be prepared for the same response.

Set Up Meeting Outcomes

When meeting with your prospects individually or in a group setting, learn what they would like to get out of the meeting, but be sure to follow up with an equally important question—why?

If it’s a follow-up conversation, ask the prospect what he might remember from the first meeting and why. No need to provide a recap of the first meeting: That only allows the prospect to stay in passive mode.

Ask your prospect for her thoughts and opinions, and encourage her to disagree, if needed. For example, “Ms. Prospect, how would you role something like that out?” If multiple opinions are offered, roll with it. Create a healthy debate by asking if others in the meeting to agree or disagree. Ask what they might do differently.

At the end of the meeting, ask your prospect if they have any takeaway points, and how those points might impact what they’re doing and why.

Keep It Neutral

Most important, stay neutral in terms of the way you shape your questions. Don’t be so emotionally invested. You don’t like to be led by know-it-all sales trainers and your prospects don’t like to be led by overanxious salespeople.

You know how bad it is to sit through an hour of crappy sales training where you’re not engaged. Treat your prospects as you would like to be treated. Don’t subject them to another boring sales call.