What if I told you that sales is now the No. 1 barrier to making a sale? I promise there’s no schtick here. Here are the four compounding factors in a sales pitch that create a collision instead of a conversation:
1. The sales professional’s approach is biased.
When a salesperson expects and receives a reward for “making the sale,” their actions and intent to sell are influenced by their desire to create the outcome that benefits them.
Since sales appointments take months of outreach effort, exposure to rejection and a pounding to one’s confidence, by the time you show up for an appointment, you are carrying a whole history of emotion and anticipation. Without realizing it, you default to listening for what you want to hear, only asking questions that align with expressing your expertise or that achieve some kind of “sales” next step with the prospect.
2. The prospect’s approach is also biased.
As human beings, we are inherently challenged to maintain objectivity and see things for what they really are. We are often blinded by the history of relationships, the memory of past efforts and the fear of future unknowns. These are sources for your prospect’s emotional attachment to what they currently have in place. So when debating change, they tend to over-estimate what they already have, and under-estimate what could be gained by trying something different. This rationalization keeps your prospect “off-the-hook” from having to make a difficult decision — like changing to you.
3. Core to all human interactions is trust.
This is the mutual sense between two people that determines if an experience or conversation will harm or help. From your prospect’s point of view, harm occurs when they have to invest time listening to you try to convince and persuade them to debate a decision they are not ready to make. That’s because they have an emotional backstory that you have not asked about and therefore do not know.
Help arrives when you choose a bias-free approach that clarifies their situation for them and guides them to think objectively. Because most sales skills and conversations focus on what the salesperson wants, the prospect experiences more harm than help. This creates an ongoing expectation for your prospect every time they accept a new meeting with you.
4. The prospect has a lot to consider.
In surveying 1,500 of our clients over the past five years about their sales experiences, our data indicates that 2 of 10 prospects have decided on and committed to a change that is imminent prior to your first conversation. This means that 8 out of 10 not only have to evaluate the facts, features and benefits of what you do but somehow have to separate themselves from their emotional biases and try to objectively debate the future uncertainty and risk of change. If you’re stuck in sales mode trying to have sales conversations, it will be a hard task to guide your prospect through.
You can see how combining these four factors into a sales approach creates a collision instead of a helpful conversation. You’re driving for an outcome that rewards your effort, and your prospect is resisting your pressure to achieve this outcome to protect their time, effort, past history and future uncertainty. This is not a conversation.
Sales professionals, who are burdened with reward, insecurities, pride and hope, innately make poor advisors. The sales skills of pitching, persuading and promising might work for the 2 of 10 prospects who have already committed to doing something different, but it won’t help the majority of prospects that haven’t accepted the need to make a change. So let’s scratch the sales approach.
What your prospect needs instead is an objective guide — someone who can compartmentalize, or set aside, their position or interest in the conversation and ask the questions that will help him debate the truth about where he is today and what needs to happen to advance his business tomorrow.
This open, exploratory approach will relieve the prospect of their own biases that prevent him from listening to new ideas objectively and seeking ways to disqualify having to work with you so he can avoid the uncertainty of change.
You are the catalyst for a productive conversation. You are the one who can shut down the cycle of sales chasing and decision avoidance.
• Compartmentalize your emotions and needs. The prospect doesn’t owe you anything. Do your best not to label anything said as “good” or “bad.” When you assign a value to whatever is being said in the conversation, you lose your objectivity in how you listen, what you ask, and what you say.
• Shift your conversation’s purpose from a self-serving outcome. Shift your mindset from “how I can get a second meeting” to an intent that serves the prospect: “how and if I can help.” You’ll notice how this shift opens up your natural curiosity and questions.
• Be self-aware of your emotions during the conversation. Anytime you feel yourself experiencing anxiety, hesitancy or disappointment, you’ve assigned a negative value to something that was said and jumped ahead to how that will impact the outcome. You’ve lost your objectivity. And the prospect will mentally withdraw. This also holds true when the prospect says something conducive to you advancing the conversation. This is the perception that a positive sales outcome might be reached, so you get sloppy with your questions, learning and conversation.
This mental process will help you change the conversation because you’re truly listening. It will change what you hear, the questions you ask and what you learn. The subsequent conversation you have will feel and sound very different from your prospect, and so will the experience you create. Conversational value is created when you help another human being objectively debate the risk of change. And change is what your prospects have to accept if you are going to win their business.