In a previous post, I spoke about empathy and sympathy and how it’s better to be sympathetic to the client’s situation vs being empathetic and joining them in the situation. Let’s delve a little deeper into that and see how we can use this to influence the sale process.
Diagnosing is a delicate business. Doesn’t matter if I’m solving a need or creating an opportunity when I’m selling my product or service. I need to be sympathetic to the prospect’s conditions and help them face their situation. In other words, I have to do something I said previously I would never do. I have to tell the prospect in a nice way that “their kid is ugly.”
As salespeople, we are identifying that gap between where a prospect is and where they want to be. Essentially, we’re telling them that they have a problem, need to make a change, or need to make a commitment. And we have to be careful when stating our diagnosis. We don’t want to make the prospect feel the pain or imply that they are incapable of taking action.
Remember, we are selling to people. And people are creatures of emotion. Now, your prospect is stuck at an impasse that they can’t or don’t want to address. Otherwise, they would already have moved from where they are to where they want to be. There would be no gap and no reason for you be talking with them. So break out the velvet before using the hammer. Be respectful and sympathetic to their situation, but also be firm and dedicated to addressing the problem.
Influence is not Manipulation
Picture this: you are at a nice restaurant with people you want to impress. So you order a fine Napa Cabernet. After a few moments, the sommelier comes back with an alternative bottle because the one you ordered was out of stock. There’s that moment of sheer panic when you see the bottle they’ve selected is way out of your price range. And addressing the situation at that moment is just awkward. So what do you do?
Well, a good salesperson would have read the situation and presented you with a comparable bottle. A bad salesperson, however, might take advantage of the situation to stick you with a $400 Merlot that has been sitting in the cellar for twenty years. They are banking on the fact that you wouldn’t ask the price in front of your guests. Or they believe they can easily guilt you into buying it if by chance you did happen to ask.
Manipulating and guilting someone into a buy is just a sucky way to do business. Period. Don’t do it.
The key to good diagnosing is leading the buyer to the gap. Ultimately, if you asked the right questions, you can actually make it their idea. It’s a lot harder for someone to walk away from their own idea than it is from your idea.
Achieving Influence by Aligning Your Ideas with Theirs
Here’s an example. We had an opportunity to pitch to an iconic pro-sports team, the Boston Red Sox (Fenway Sports Management). We had initial meetings with senior-level executives and got to meet with their EVP of Sales and Operations, John Clark. In this meeting, John did a wonderful job describing the historical significance of Fenway Park, how his business ran at all levels, their sales philosophy, how they were managed, how they sold and marketed, and how the marketplace perceived them. As we guided him through the questions about his current and past situations, he found it easier to talk about what needed to change and what needed to get better.
We also asked him, if he were in our position, how he would approach training his sales team and coaching his sales managers. He was then able to talk about the same things, but in the frame of the desired situation. He told us where he was, where he wanted to go, and how he would approach things if he were us.
We came back to him a few weeks later. But instead of submitting a run-of-the-mill proposal, we presented a tailored discussion document.
Our first two pages listed what he said about his current and desired situations. Essentially, we showed him the gap between where he currently was and where he wanted to be.
When we presented our recommendations, we based them all on his ideas. Remember, it’s hard to argue against your own ideas. Guess who was influenced to act by the recommendations?
Sales Debrief: Achieving Influence in the Sales Process
Let’s revisit the doctor visit analogy. You go into the doctor’s office for an exam. You review all of your vitals like weight and blood pressure. Then, you review your symptoms to find out how sick you are, and comparing everything to what they should be. The remedy is more of a realization of what it will take to get well. Eventually it becomes your idea.
The skillful salesperson designs questions that lead buyers to realize there’s an opportunity to fill a gap or address a need. Don’t let your questioning process be a haphazard collection of curiosities. As you lead your prospect through the sales process, use your questions to reach a diagnosis with your prospect that’s going to solve their problem.
You’ll find more ideas on achieving influence through your questioning process in Lance Tyson’s book, Selling Is An Away Game: Close Business and Compete in a Complex World available on Amazon. Get your copy today!