Elite salespeople ask the questions no one else asks – including contrasting questions. Contrasting questions create a comparison between different things – actions, routines, decisions, and results. They are highly effective in adding objectivity and ownership into your prospect’s decision-making process, especially with a prospect who hasn’t yet decided on change but would highly benefit from making one.
Some prospects get caught up in the chains of vendor loyalty. The pride of past effort and outcomes overwhelms any doubt about their current approach. How many of these types of prospects do you interact with or give space to in your business pipeline? I can tell you from experience, impassioned presentations do little to turn around change-resistant prospects.
Beware of Vesting Interest in the Sale
Your prospect knows you have a vested interest in them as a sales target or win. They don’t condemn you for it, in fact, they’ve grown used to it and probably expect it. But they filter your commentary and expertise through this skeptical lens.
To illustrate my point, I’m going to draw from a recent experience with my teenage son. If you don’t have teenagers or kids yet, hold tight – they’re even tougher than prospects.
After years of youth travel soccer and physical training this summer, my son did not make the local high school freshman soccer team. As parents, we were surprised. I had a vested interest in how he would respond to this setback. Would he quit? Would he double down? How would he go about those decisions?
His initial reaction was to buy into the noise regarding coach favoritism and youth club politics. He was feeling the sting of disappointment from all that past effort, and the insecurity that maybe he wasn’t as good as he thought he was.
As a parent, I knew if he hung his hat on the “fairness or favoritism” excuse, he would not be able to take ownership of the effort to improve. And because of the size and competitiveness of his high school (5,500 students), his opportunity to play again with all his friends on the team would soon disappear. I was also fully aware that he had no interest in listening to dad (a vested participant) try and persuade and convince him to make a decision he wasn’t ready to make.
Focus on How Prospects Make Decisions
If you’re out there hustling for a sale, I’m sure this sounds similar to many prospect conversations. You’re ready to guide, help, and in some cases lead the way, but your audience (prospect) hasn’t yet determined if they are interested or committed. In the case with my son, it was time for me to let go of the direction and decision my son would take, and focus more on how he would make the decision, and why.
The first step was to help him gain clarity on his two choices, and the impact of each one. The first choice was coming to grips with the fact he needed to get better. He didn’t do enough out there to shine. Not an easy starting place. The second choice the coach only selected the kids he liked and knew. The second choice was much easier because it let him off the hook from the hard work he needed to do to get better.
I posed the following contrasting questions to my son to help him think, debate, and assess which path to take:
- Which choice is easier, and why?
- Who is the person in control with the first choice (the need to improve skills)?
- Who is in control with the second choice (coach’s selection of kids he knew and liked)?
- Which choice feels better today in the short term, and why?
- Which choice would feel better a year from now, and why?
- Which path gives him the best chance to play with his friends again (if that was important to him?)
- What is he going to do with his time if he doesn’t run cross country and play club soccer?
At this point, I could tell he was starting to move past the sting of not making the team, and slowly accepting and embracing the idea of taking ownership of his training and improvement. His other choice was to accept the fate of one coach’s opinion as the end of his high school soccer dream. After a night of thinking it over, he chose to take ownership.
Let the Prospect Take Ownership of the Change Decision
This conversation with my son is similar to the interactions you have with prospects who are stuck and unable to debate change or change options objectively. Loyalty, pride, and insecurity play a big role in how prospects scrutinize change. Contrasting questions help clarify choices and consequences of those choices. What happens if they do? What happens if they don’t? To advise successfully, you need to let go of your vested interest in the sale and let the prospect take ownership of the decision.