When you give advice to a spouse, friend or business associate on the best way for him (or her) to approach a particular problem or opportunity, does he leave the conversation feeling ownership of the situation? Probably not. Even if you’re absolutely certain about being right, they may agree with you and shake their head up and down, but it’s probably just to get you off their back.
As a sales professional, don’t you want your prospects to take ownership of the facts, problems, and solutions and feel compelled to take control? An entire book could be written about prospect ownership and accountability. The question is how do you establish both in a follow-up conversation or meeting.
The Dead Zone Between Your First and Second Meeting
Time kills enthusiasm.
There’s a good chance your prospect has cooled off between the first and second conversations. This phenomenon is described many different ways in the world of sales academia, but for you it means that any emotion or enthusiasm the prospect felt in your first meeting is long gone.
The time between the first and second meeting has likely enabled the prospect to seek the easier path—the path of least resistance. As compelling as your first conversation might have been, enough time has lapsed for him to justify staying the course and playing it safe. The prospect has become purposeful in his forgetfulness.
This is when your prospect filters and confuses your conversation with another one he had with a competitor or incumbent. Prospects are human and can be overwhelmed with information and confuse their sources. Sometimes this happens by accident, other times it’s intentional. When deliberate, it’s usually the result of the prospect needing to justify a relationship preference or defend an incumbent, so he filters the conversation to align with his bias.
You can avoid the loss of momentum between meetings and transfer change and decision ownership to your prospects.
The Best Way to Start a Follow-Up Conversation
When you start a follow-up conversation, ask the prospect a simple question: “It’s been a few weeks (or months) since we last spoke. Can you share a little of what you remember from our last conversation?”
If he looks at you like a deer in headlights, you might need to refresh his memory. Be ready with a list of compelling points from your last meeting. Walk your prospect through the list one point at a time. Try asking something like this: “One of the key takeaways I noted from our conversation was your concern about X. Is this still the case?”
If he says “yes,” follow it up with:
- “What actions or decisions are you considering to solve that issue?”
- “Should we spend more time talking through this concern?”
If he says “no,” ask:
- “Why is X no longer a concern?”
- “What if this concern resurfaces?”
Continue this questioning process all the way through your list.
This simple process will help you assess the importance of any particular problem. It will allow you to:
- Gauge the prospect’s propensity for change. How willing he is to do something different to solve the problem?
- Identify the types of questions you need to ask.
- Determine where the prospect is in the decision-making process.
- Understand the language the prospect uses so you can use the same language when you align your solution.
- Avoid chasing the prospect to help him solve his problems.
- Potentially bring the prospect’s emotions back into the conversation.
Using this technique, meetings will take off faster and with less effort because you’ve made the conversation about the prospect. You’ve allowed him to take ownership.