My son’s winter boots tend to leave big, black smudges on the hardwood floors when he tears through the house. Long after he’s moved on to another room and adventure, there is no doubt where he’s been. He’s left his mark.

Recently, it appeared my son may have cloned himself. There were several dozen footsteps all through the house. When my wife confronted the “boot Picasso,” she discovered that, in fact, the smudges had been left by his sister, the “boot Cassat.” In this situation, my wife made a quick assumption based on past experience. This is a great example of a mental template.

My daughter left her mark, but my son – due to a quick judgment call from my wife – was about to shoulder all of the blame. For those of you with children, you know that facts can be somewhat subjective and ambiguous. Sometimes you have to default to past learning. This is exactly what happens on a sales call.

Look at it like this. It’s easy for your prospects to get hung up on features, benefits and other fuzzy terminology. However, those are never the real factors that drive a decision to change. How much of a difference is there between your fuzzy terminology and that of your competitors? Maybe a few nuances here and there, but do your smudges really look or sound different than those of your competition? What will your prospect do when things appear somewhat ambiguous? They will default to what they know based on past experience, and this usually results in the status quo and no decision to change.

By attaching to your service’s superior features and the passion you feel for your company’s story, you will only exasperate your prospect’s tendency to rationalize the status quo. No prospect wants to hear the power pitch you’ve been saving in your back pocket – the one that some respected old timer on the sales team clings to like its gospel.

Five Techniques to Help You Prospect With Purpose

  1. Set the tone at the very beginning of your meeting by sharing your agenda with the prospect. The points you cover should be transparent and based on determining how and if you can help.
  2. Let the prospect know the options for ending the meeting. This will eliminate any uncomfortable ambiguousness regarding why and if you and the prospect should continue talking.
  3. Become an expert on the art of encouragement. There are many times a prospect may not know the answer to a question simply because no one ever asked them to think that way. Ask how they will personally define their business success over the next year. But don’t ask this type of question if you don’t care about the answer.
  4. Ask more “why” questions. If the prospect says the color is blue, it doesn’t mean that the prospect is right, or that there might not be a better choice.
  5. Take yourself out of the picture when it’s time to kindly challenge something the prospect shared, or a decision they made that seems unclear or contradictory. For example, “Mr. Prospect, take my company out of the equation, this problem isn’t going to fix itself. Based on what you’ve shared – status quo doesn’t feel like a viable option.”

Remember, you are not putting together a Lego spaceship. There is nothing linear about this. Being successful in sales depends on your ability to traverse the dynamics of the prospect’s mental template, emotions, and dispositions.

The impression you leave will be based on how far you are willing to go with your questions and your willingness to challenge the prospect on a decision or assumption – as long as it’s in their best interest. Features and benefits are ambiguous at best, but there’s nothing ambiguous about speaking the prospect’s language and being direct – but always frame it in the best interest of the prospect.