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What’s Your Goal?

I work with lots of people in different roles when it comes to teaching ethical influence. Over the years I’ve worked with senior leaders, middle managers, supervisors, claim reps, underwriters, field sales reps, insurance agents, business owners, financial reps and many others. I’m always amazed at how often people try to persuade without a clear goal in mind.

You may think a salesperson always has a clear goal; i.e., to make the sale. True enough, but that’s still a little vague in my book. Let me share an example to help you see what I mean.

During the Principles of Persuasion Workshop© we have an activity where participants work in teams to come up with a persuasive argument to get a high school student, Jimmy, back in school after he’s been expelled for foul language and insubordination. Participants generally do a good job at applying the principles of influence to persuade the school board to let Jimmy back in but very few clearly state when they want Jimmy back in school. That leaves the final decision up to the school board, which could opt for another week or two out of school.

Participants would do much better to say something like this at the conclusion, “It’s our sincere hope that you’ll let Jimmy back in school tomorrow.” Why is this so important? Because if the board says no there is a moment of power the teams can leverage.

Studies show when someone says “No” to you, if you make a concession and ask for a smaller request immediately your odds of hearing “Yes” are much better. This is an application of the principle of reciprocity because when we give a little, people often feel compelled to give a little in return.

Robert Cialdini had his research assistants run an experiment that shows how powerful this concept can be in real life.  These students randomly asked people around the Arizona State University campus if they would be willing to be a chaperone on a day trip to the zoo for a group of juvenile delinquents. As you might expect, very few people wanted to spend a day at the zoo with those kids so only 17% said they would be willing to help.

At a later date the research assistants roamed the campus and started with a bigger initial request. They randomly asked people if they would be willing to be a big brother or sister to some juvenile delinquents. They made sure people knew this was a weekly commitment of two hours and they were looking for people to sign up for two years. No one was willing to give up that much time. As soon as people said no the research assistants would ask, “If you can’t do that, would be willing to be a chaperone on a day trip to the zoo for a group of juvenile delinquents?” So basically they were asking for the exact some thing they’d asked for earlier but this time 50% said yes – triple the initial response rate!

Two things were at play during the second scenario. First, the contrast phenomenon came into play. By comparison, a day at the zoo is nothing compared to a two-year commitment so it’s much easier to say yes to the zoo after thinking about being a big brother/sister. The second thing was the principle of reciprocity was engaged by way of concessions. When the research assistants counter-offered immediately, many people felt compelled to do the same.

Let’s go back to the scenario with Jimmy. By clearly stating what the team wants – to have Jimmy back in school tomorrow – they will be more effective persuaders. They might hear a “Yes” to the initial request but if they don’t they can make a counter offer that’s very likely to be accepted. This is a far better approach than leaving the timing up to the board.

How does this work for you? Two ways.

  • Clearly state what you want. Think about the times when you’ve not clearly stated what you wanted and left if to someone else to decide the outcome. Perhaps you interviewed for a job but didn’t clearly state the salary or benefits you wanted. Or maybe you were trying to make a sale but didn’t make the first offer.
  • Don’t censure yourself. For example, you want a job and would like to earn $95,000 but inside you’re thinking they might say no so you ask for $85,000. If you hear no then you might end up at $80,000 or less. Ask for $95,000 because you might just get it but if not you can retreat to $90,000 and are more likely to get that than if you’d started at $90,000 or $85,000.

Next time you go into a situation where you’re trying to persuade someone don’t just focus on building your persuasive communication. Give lots of thought to what your ultimate goal is. What would you like to have happen if everything worked out as you wanted? But don’t stop there; clearly communicate your desired outcome. Be ready in case you hear “no,” which means having multiple fallback positions ready. This allows you to leverage the moment of power after “no.” Do these few things and you’re on your way to becoming a much more effective persuader.

You Teach People How to Manipulate Others

I attended a networking event/cocktail hour recently and was engaged in conversation with the woman I was seated next to. She asked what I did and I told her I was a sales trainer for an insurance company. She asked if I had a background in education and I told her I did not. She proceeded to quiz me on how I could be a trainer or educator without formal training as an educator. I say, “quiz” because rather than feeling she was interested, I felt more like I was being cross-examined, as if I might be unqualified for the job I’ve been doing successfully for more than 20 years.

As the conversation proceeded, I mentioned that I have my own business where I teach people about the psychology of persuasion. She said, “So you teach people how to manipulate others.” I’m sure she noticed my face change as I replied rather forcefully, “No, there’s a difference between manipulation and persuasion.” She said she didn’t think there was any difference because persuasion was only about getting people to do what you want which in her mind was manipulation. In my mind that’s like saying there’s no difference between the person who uses a knife to cut into a steak and a surgeon who uses a scalpel during an operation.

If you’ve read Influence PEOPLE for any length of time, you know I’ve addressed manipulation before but it’s worth going into once again because there’s such a misconception out there.

My first question to those who think persuasion is manipulation would be this – is there any way to get someone to do what you want without manipulating them?

I hope you answered yes because if not, then we live in a world where everyone is simply out for himself or herself with no regard for anyone else. Think of the consequences:

We don’t get our kids to study because it will help them in life, only because it allows us as parents to brag about their grades.

Wherever you work, no one should buy your product or service because you only sell it to make money without regard to how it impacts others.

You don’t marry someone because you love him or her and want to make him or her happy; you just want to take happiness from them.

I could go on and on but you get the picture. There are people who do what I just described because there are always people who are out only for themselves and don’t care about anyone else.

However, I bet most of you reading this aren’t like that. You want your kids to do well in school because it will make their lives better down the road. You probably work for a company where you really believe people will be better off with your products or services. And the person you’re with, you probably do want to help him or her live a happy, fulfilled life. Do you get anything out of what I just described? Sure you do, but is what you get your driving force? Probably not.

Here’s the reality; every day we encounter people who are not doing what we’d like them to do, what we know they should do, or what might make them better off. For example, in my line of work – insurance – people are happy they have insurance if they have a car accident, their home burns down or a loved one dies. You hope you never have to use your insurance, and you’d rather not have to buy insurance, but you know you might need it one day and you’re thankful it’s there when something bad happens. Is a salesperson helping you understand this reality manipulating you? I don’t see it that way.

Now, people can certainly resort to manipulation. One definition is “to manage or influence skillfully, especially in an unfair manner.” Today we don’t think about “skillfully” because the word is associated with “unfair” and taking advantage of others.

Consider this; if you learned that saying “please” and “thank you” made people more likely to do what you want, would you say “please” and “thank you” most of the time? Certainly you would! You can call using those words “good manners” but the fact remains, we appreciate it when people are polite and we know people respond to us better when we’re polite. Consequently polite people tend to get what they want more often than impolite people. But that doesn’t mean polite people are manipulative.

It’s a fact that when we help others they’re more likely to help us. Does being a nice person who likes to help others make you a manipulator? Not necessarily. Certainly some people learn this and use it to their unfair advantage but others do it because they’ve learned life is easier when you give and respond to giving. This starts early in life when we teach our kids to say “thank you” after someone has done something for them. Are you just teaching your kids to manipulate? I don’t think so.

When we talk about the principles of influence we’re talking about psychological triggers that people naturally respond to. The principles are neither good nor bad, they simply describe how people typically think and respond. How we use them reveals something about our character. When it comes to this I like the following quote from The Art of Woo:

“An earnest and sincere lover buys flowers and candy for the object of his affection. So does the cad who only seeks to take advantage of another’s heart but when the cad succeeds we don’t blame the flowers and candy, we rightly question his character.”

Learning how to influence others isn’t manipulation but can certainly be used by a cad to take advantage of another so let me end with this:

Be truthful, look to give, and try to genuinely help people. If you live your life like that you’ll reap much more than you sow because people will appreciate you and want to help you in return. That’s not manipulation, that’s living life in a way that benefits everyone, including you.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
influencePEOPLE 
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

 

The Psychology of the Sales Cycle – Referrals

For the most part salespeople don’t have a great reputation. This is so because many people feel they’ll be pressured into buying something they don’t want or need by someone who is manipulating them. I teach sales and don’t always like dealing with salespeople because most of the time they don’t add value to the transaction. If someone can only tell me what I can already read on online or find on a label, then they’re not doing me much good. Good salespeople add value because they:

  • Ask questions to help uncover a need you might not have considered before.
  • Save you the time and effort of having to do lots and lots of research on your own.
  • Point out features you might not have known about and demonstrate how they’ll be beneficial for you.
  • Can be a “go to” person for you when something goes awry.

When you interact with someone who really helps you, it’s natural to want to help him or her in return. That’s the principle of reciprocity and it will make the client happy to help you by giving you some referrals.

It’s common for salespeople to ask for referrals at the close of the sale.

“John, I’m really glad we’re doing business together. One way my business grows is through referrals. Do you know anyone else who might be interested in the services I offer?”

Personally I think that’s a terrible approach because you’ve not done anything yet to deliver on your promise! If the client doesn’t say no right off the bat it’s likely to be met with a name or two off the top of their head quickly just to satisfy you.

Here is an approach that combines the principles of reciprocity and consistency that is sure to get more and better referrals! You disarm the client by telling them you’re not going to ask for referrals but would like to ask a favor. Ask if you can talk sometime in the future about referrals, after they’ve had a chance to see how your product or service performs. This is where planning comes in because you’re planting a seed. Here’s what I recommend to insurance agents. I’m sure some variation might work for you in your business:

“John, I’m really glad we’re doing business together. At this point in the sales process I know a lot of insurance agents would ask for referrals but don’t worry, I’m not going to do that. I would like to ask a favor though. After you’ve had a chance to experience our service, say nine months to a year from now, if we’ve done what we said we would and you’re happy with us, could we talk about referrals at that time?”

Humans are funny in many ways and one is our willingness to put things off into the future that we’d rather not do today. I guarantee nearly everyone will agree to talk with you in 9-12 months about referrals.

Now it’s up to you to have an efficient diary system for following up with clients.

“John, it’s Sue. I’m calling to see how things are going and if there’s anything you need from me as we approach your renewal date?”

Towards the end of that conversation try this:

“John, do you remember when we started doing business together last year? I asked if we could talk about referrals if we’d lived up to our promises and you were happy. I feel we’ve done that (reciprocity). Are you happy with the decision you made to move your business to us?”

Don’t just ask for names and numbers at this point because the customer will be scrambling. They were not thinking about referrals when they picked up the phone, so continue in this way:

“I don’t want to take any more of your time today and I’d like to give you a chance to think about who might appreciate the kinds of things we’ve done for you. Could we set a time next week to talk for about 15 minutes?”

You’ve planted the seed for them to really give this thought and they will because they told you they would. On next week’s call you’re sure to get the names of people who would be most likely to appreciate what you have to offer.

This is the final post in this series where we’ve looked at using particular principles of influence at different points in the sales cycle. I hope you’ve found the posts enlightening but more importantly, that you employ what you’ve learned and see your sales soar as a result!

The Psychology of the Sales Cycle – Closing

I remember when I was young and single I would go out with friends and see pretty girls, but rarely had the gumption to go up and talk to them. The reason was fear of rejection. Nobody likes that feeling so we do what we can to avoid that possible self-inflicted wound.

In the same way I was afraid to talk to a pretty girl, salespeople are reluctant to ask for the sale for fear of rejection. It’s safer for the ego to let the prospect “think it over and get back to you.” In their uncertainty, prospects do one of two things: 1) take the safe route and don’t change anything, or 2) go with the salesperson who fearlessly asked them if they could start on the paperwork.

The number one question salespeople ask during The Principles of Persuasion Workshop® is, “What’s the best way to close?” My standard response is, “The best way to close starts the moment you meet prospects for the first time, look them in the eye and shake their hand.” From that point forward how easy or difficult closing is depends on what you do. I believe closing the sale should just be a natural part of the ongoing conversation with a prospect. The best compliment a salesperson can hear from a client is, “I never felt like I was being sold.”

Early on in this series I quoted Jeffrey Gitomer, “All things being equal, people want to do business with their friends. All things being not so equal, people still want to do business with their friends.” Tapping into liking early and often will make a big difference by the time you ask for the business. Always start your contact with a prospect on a social level bonding over things you have in common and looking for opportunities to offer genuine compliments.

The more you’ve done for the prospect and the more you’ve gone out of your way on their behalf, the more likely they are to look for some way to give back to you. If you’re unable to close the deal for some reason you might still leverage all you’ve done as a way to get some referrals because of reciprocity.

People want to know they’re doing business with an expert because it gives them more confidence in their decision. As you make your way through the sales process, show yourself to be professional and someone your prospects can rely on for answers when they need them. In short, tap into authority.

I believe consistency is the most important principle to tap into during the closing. Reminding people of what they said is a powerful motivator of behavior! This is where the upfront close comes in handy early in the sales cycle. At some point during the initial meeting or qualification stage you need to find out exactly what it will take for you to earn the right to do business with the prospect. If you know you can’t meet their requirements, cut your losses and move on. But, if you believe you can meet the requirements you might want to say something like this: “Shirley, from what you’ve shared it sounds like if we can meet your specifications at the agreed upon price by the delivery date you mentioned, we’ll be doing business, correct?”

You want the prospect to come back with: “Correct. Meet those specs at that price by the delivery date we discussed and you have a deal.”

This is also the time to confirm there are no other hidden reasons that might crop up to kill the deal: “Just to be very clear Shirley, are there any other reasons I’m unaware of that could get in the way of us doing business?”

Again, you want her to confirm what you’re asking. When it comes time to close you only need to refer back to what you’ve already agreed on: “Shirley, great news. We can meet the specs at the price we discussed and can even deliver a little earlier than you requested. Can we go ahead and start the paperwork so we can get everything in motion?”

It would be very hard for Shirley to come back and say no at this point after you’ve done everything she asked for. Will there be times when someone backs out? Sure. But, using consistency in an approach like this will have more people saying yes and will make it much easier and natural for you to seal the deal.

Last, but not least, is scarcity. Pointing out what someone might save or gain by going with your proposal will not be as persuasive as honestly sharing what they stand to lose by not taking the step you recommend. For example, if you are in financial services, talking about how much more someone might be able to save for retirement by setting aside an extra percent of their income will not be as motivating as sharing what they will lose if they don’t save a little extra.

Ineffective – “Ed, if we can find a way to set aside just 1% more you’re going to have more than $100,000 extra in the bank by the time you retire.”

Effective – “Ed, if we can’t find a way to set aside just 1% more you’re going to lose out on more than $100,000 by the time you retire.”

Hopefully these examples of weaving the principles of influence into the sales process will take some of the fear out of closing. There’s one more post in this series – asking for referrals. Next week we’ll look at ways to make that happen as naturally as the close, by effectively working the principles of influence into your sales cycle.

The Psychology of the Sales Cycle – Negotiations

If you’re like the vast majority of people, when you make a purchase you want to believe you got a good, or great, deal. What’s your definition of a good deal? The deal is really the value you get from the transaction and when I talk about value I use the following equation:

V = WIG/P which translates Value equals What I Get divided by Price.

There are two simple ways to look at it. If I can get more of something for the same price, that’s a better value. If I can get the same amount but pay less, again, that’s a better value.

When it comes to value, getting a good deal, everyone would like to get more for less. We might not get as much as we want, or pay as little as we’d like, but believing the old adage – everything is negotiable – we’ll try our best to get more and/or pay less. And so will your prospects.

Negotiating isn’t simply about lowering your price or giving away more stuff to make someone happy and close the sale. It’s about knowing when to deviate from traditional pricing or when to make concessions that will make both parties better off in the long run. It’s fair to say all the principles of influence and the contrast phenomenon might come into play as you negotiate but a few will stand out a little more.

Liking remains very important because the more the prospect likes you and really wants to do business with you, the better your chance of getting to yes as you go through negotiation points. Continue to remain friendly, bond over things you have in common and offer compliments when warranted because those simple acts will grease the wheel. One study I regularly share in my influence workshops clearly shows people put in a negotiation scenario had a much better chance of avoiding a deadlock if they take the time to get to know each other on a personal level.

The principle of reciprocity describes the reality that when you give, quite often people feel they should give in return. This is very important in negotiations because your act of conceding on some point might cause the other person to make a concession too and you’re now closer to agreement. A concession might be sweetening the deal with something that may not mean much to you but might mean a lot to the prospect. Again, your act of giving is met with something in return. That’s the basis for bartering. The key here is to be the first to take the step to the middle.

Consistency allows you to fall back on what the prospect said earlier in the sales process. If they wanted certain features and those features have a price tag then the reason for the price being what it is might be due to their choices. Reminding them of what they said they wanted is powerful because most people won’t come back with, “I know what I said but I’ve changed my mind.”

Scarcity is closely aligned with consistency because you can always offer to remove certain features to get the price more in line with customers’ expectations or budget. If you recall in the post I wrote on qualifying the prospect, I shared a conversation between an insurance agent and prospective customer. The agent shared a little about business income coverage and the prospect asked to have the price included in the insurance quote. The new coverage will cause the premium to be higher but could be modified in some way or removed as a concession if the prospect feels the price is too high. With a new understanding about the coverage and their exposure, prospects might just find a way to keep it because no one wants to think about an exposure they clearly know is not covered.

Contrast is used to help the prospect see what is being offered is in fact a good deal. If they believe your price is too high you need to figure out what their\ comparison point is. Whatever they have currently might not be a valid comparison point because the features may have changed. If that’s the case you need to move away from the old price and get them to see the value in what you’re offering.

For example, how does being $1,000 higher than a competitor breakdown over the life of a product with a five-year lifespan? Over five years, there are 260 weeks so your product will cost the prospect less than $4 a week. Can you show the prospect how your product is worth much more than the extra $4 a week you’re asking them to pay?

Bottom line – Don’t be offended that the prospect wants more for less. We’d all love to have a Cadillac but it’s not reasonable to think we can get it for the price of a Volkswagen, is it? And so it is quite often in your negotiations during a sale. You need to work with the prospect to come up with a solution that makes them feel their needs were met and they got a good deal.

Next time we’ll look at the part of the sales cycle I’ve seen salespeople struggle with the most – closing the sale, i.e., asking for the business. This doesn’t have to be difficult if you’ve set the expectations early on. Using the principles of influence effectively can make closing a natural part of the sales conversation.

The Psychology of the Sales Cycle – Objections

“Let me think about it” and “Your price is too high” are two phrases salespeople dread. They’re perhaps the most often cited objections put out by prospects during the sales cycle. As I noted in closing last week, it’s not often a sale is made without resistance. Objections might come after your presentation or they could be peppered throughout. This week we’ll look at some principles of influence that can be very helpful in overcoming objections.

Two principles that are particularly useful are consensus and authority. They’re the ones to focus on because more than any other principles they help people overcome uncertainty and that’s the root of most objections. We’ll also touch on the contrast phenomenon because it’s particularly useful to demonstrate your offering is actually a better deal than the prospect might believe.

You may have heard the old saying, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” What that means is, as bad as things may be sometimes, there’s always the chance they could be worse with change. That fear of change is always in the back of the prospect’s mind, especially with big-ticket purchases. Below are a few thoughts prospects may have as you present. In fact, you may have held some of these very thoughts last time you bought something expensive.

  • Will it last?
  • Will it perform as advertised?
  • Will it be worth the extra money?
  • Will I regret this decision down the road?
  • Can I really believe the salesperson’s claims?

The challenge for the salesperson is to uncover the real objection. For example, when it comes to, “Let me think about it,” there may be something underneath that statement. Perhaps the prospect met with another salesperson and kept their appointment with you only because they said they would. It’s okay to ask, “What specifically will you be mulling over? I ask because I might be able to answer some questions for you right now to make the decision easier for you.” People generally don’t like confrontation so it’s easier to avoid it by saying, “Let me think it over.”

Let’s start with price. When it comes to price I tell people, “There’s nothing high or low but comparing makes it so.” If someone says your price is too high it’s because they are comparing it to something else. Your challenge is to find out what they’re comparing your price to and then to reset the comparison point so they’ll see your offer is actually a better value. The contrast phenomenon comes into play because what you present first will make the difference in how they perceive the next item presented.

The principle of consensus, that desire we have to move with the crowd, can help deal with objections. You never want to tell someone they’re wrong because that will only produce resistance. A better approach would be to incorporate consensus through the “feel, felt, found” approach. An example might go like this:

“I understand how you feel because other customers have felt the same way initially. However, here’s what they found…” Then you go on to show them what others discovered. It might be the realization that a higher price, say 10%, is worth it because the product life is 20% longer. Getting 20% more product for only 10% more money makes for a better value!

When we’re in a state of uncertainty making a decision is a lot easier when an expert tells us what to do. Establishing your expertise early on in the prospecting phase makes this much easier. That’s using the principle of authority. You can defer to this casually:

“Ann, as I told you when we first met, I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I can tell you…”

Maybe you don’t have that much experience or the credentials just yet in order to be viewed as an expert. You can still refer to others who are experts and you can share various facts to support your case.

“Bill, there’s a reason Consumer Reports has rated this product #1 for the past three years.”

“Sarah, several independent studies show…”

Dealing with objections isn’t something most salespeople look forward to but there’s good news. First, most of the time people who throw up objections are engaged in the sales process and that means you still have a shot at making the sale.

Second, if you’ve been in your role for any length of time you probably know 80% or more of the objections you’ll face. That being the case, you should be ready to answer those objections each and every time. Give thought to the proper responses, utilize the psychology or persuasion, then drill on the proper responses until they roll off your tongue in a very natural way.

Even if you successfully handle all the objections and the prospect clearly wants to do business with you the sale might not be a foregone conclusion. It’s very likely you’ll find yourself negotiating over price, terms, conditions or other items related to your product or service. The next post will look into which principles of influence will help you negotiate most effectively.

The Psychology of the Sales Cycle – Presentation

You’ve made it through your first meeting and perhaps subsequent meetings with the prospect. These meetings were designed for you to build rapport, learn what the prospect needs and what it will take to land his/her business. Now comes the big day; your opportunity to present.

Just for clarification; I use the term “present” when you’re sharing intangibles such as insurance, accounting and other services. When you have a tangible product where you show how it works or involve the prospect, I call that a demonstration. Either way, it’s your chance to build compelling reasons why the prospect should choose to do business with you and your company. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t talk yourself out of the sale – You might have 10 items to cover but if you sense prospects are satisfied after hearing their top three issues addressed, cut it short and ask if they’d like to get to the paperwork. Poor salespeople have a tendency to talk themselves out of the sale during this part of the sales cycle. Here’s a visual from the movie Jerry McGuire,  when Tom Cruise made a long speech to Renee Zellweger asking her to marry him and she said, “You had me at hello.”
  2. Involve the prospect – If possible have the prospect handle your product as you demonstrate it. If not, make sure you ask plenty of questions to keep the prospect mentally involved. What you don’t want to do is drone on and on in a monologue because the prospect will tune you out.

The two principles of influence you want to focus on during this phase are consistency and scarcity. Both of these principles are great when it comes to motivating people to action. Let’s take a look at why.

The principle of consistency alerts us to this reality; we feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to be consistent in what we say and what we do. This is why it’s so important to ask the right questions during your initial meetings. Perhaps the most important question is something like this: Exactly what will it take for me to earn your business?

This is not only important because of consistency but also because you might learn some things that you know you can’t come through on. If that’s the case, let the prospect know you won’t be able to help them and move on to another prospect where you might be able to help.

Scarcity highlights the human tendency to want things more when we believe they are rare, going away or can’t be gotten elsewhere. Throughout your presentation you need to highlight aspects of your product or service that are unique to you or your company. Maybe there’s not one thing that’s unique but perhaps there are several features that, when combined, make your product or service unlike any other.

This is important – it’s not enough to talk about what you think is unique. You need to frame it in such a way that prospects realizes that by not going with you they lose something; i.e., that uniqueness that you offer. Six months to a year down the road why might prospects regret not having gone with your recommendation? That’s what will give them pause to think long and hard about what you’re offering.

It’s not often a sale is made without resistance. Objections might come after your presentation or they could be peppered throughout. Next week we’ll cover how to effectively use different principles of influence to handle objections.

The Psychology of the Sales Cycle – Qualification

You made it through the first meeting with the prospect, rapport was established and he/she liked you enough to allow you to come back and continue the sales process. And you enjoyed the prospect enough to want to pursue the business. Now it’s time to determine if you can do business with the prospect. By that I mean, after you do your fact finding, you have to honestly assess whether or not what you have to offer can help him/her.

On the flip side, you also want to figure out whether or not you want to pursue the prospect any further because not all business is good business. If you get sense that prospects’ demands will be more than you want to take on, or if you begin to get the feeling you might not like working with them, this is the time to politely back out of the process. Better to not take on a customer than to have to end up “firing” him/her.

As you qualify the prospect through a series of well-planned questions the principle of consistency becomes very important. During the follow up meetings after the initial contact, you want to ask LOTS of questions. A rule of thumb is that a good salesperson should talk no more than 25%-30% of the time. That might be contrary to what you’ve experienced with salespeople in the past because a misperception about salespeople is they have to have “the gift of gab” to talk people into anything. Nothing could be further from the truth! Excellent salespeople talk so little because they ask good questions that allow the prospect to do most of the talking. Excellent salespeople are also good listeners because it doesn’t do any good to ask the right questions if they don’t care about the answers.

  1. Here are some benefits of asking good questions:
  2. They allow the prospect to feel in control of the situation.
  3. They help you gather information so you can understand the prospect’s needs.
  4. They will let you know whether or not you should go forward. If you can’t meet the prospect’s needs or requirements then be honest, remove yourself from the sales process and go work with prospects you can help.
  5. They help you tailor your presentation or demonstration.

You will be able to tie back what you ultimately propose to what the prospect told you in earlier meetings. This is where consistency becomes a powerful principle to leverage the sale.

One more point about questions. Whether you win or lose an account, you should always try to understand why. Replicate your winning behaviors and change whatever led to you not making the sale. When you lose, you need to see if there’s a question or two you can add to your qualification process to avoid that from happening again. For example, if you find out the prospect’s brother-in-law works for the company the prospect is currently doing business with then add a question in your qualification process to uncover that next time. Refining your questions over time will make you more efficient and successful.

Last, consider scarcity as you go through the qualification phase. People naturally want more of what they don’t have, can’t have or perceive as going away. By asking the right questions you can start to highlight what prospects might be missing currently and they’ll want it more.

An example from insurance might be the following:

Agent – “If you’re like most customers I work with you probably want to make sure your building is fully covered in the event of a total loss, correct?”

Prospect – “Of course. I can’t get stuck paying tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket if the building burns or a tornado takes it down. That’s why I buy insurance.”

Agent – “How about your employees? If your business was shut down for six months or longer would you want them to come back when you reopen?

Prospect – “Sure. Without them I have no business.”

Agent – “I thought so but right now you don’t have business income coverage. If you can’t pay them while the rebuilding is going on they’ll end up looking for other jobs so they can pay their bills and feed their families. Should I include this coverage in your quote?”

Prospect – “I never thought about that. I couldn’t afford to hire new people, retrain them and do all the other stuff you have to do with new employees. Yea, include it so we can see what it will cost.”

Tom Hopkins, a well-know sales trainer and author regularly tells audiences, “If you say it, they doubt it. When they say it, they believe it.” Telling prospects what they need is never as effective as them seeing the need themselves and verbalizing it. This comes about more easily when you know you product or service and ask the right questions.

Next week we’ll delve into the presentation or demonstration with a prospect looking to leverage certain principles of influence that will help that go smoothly.

The Psychology of the Sales Cycle – Initial Meeting

Congratulations! Your prospecting efforts have paid off and you’ve set up your first meeting with the prospective client. Now comes the fun part because you’re going to start building relationships, selling and enjoying success.

First impressions matter and your initial contact will determine whether or not you go any further for several reasons:

  • Judging the book by its cover. Growing up we were told never to judge a book by its cover, but we do. Sometimes we do it consciously and sometimes it’s subconscious, but we all do it. Your prospect will do it too so leave nothing to chance. How you dress, act and prepare can make all the difference for that initial impression which happens in less than 30 seconds.
  • Do they want to do business? As you talk, beyond the initial judgment we just touched on, the prospect will be assessing many things as he/she decides whether or not to go forward.
  • Do you want to do business? The prospect isn’t the only one making a decision. Not every prospect is a potential fit for you and you should be assessing whether or not this is an individual or company you can, or want, to do business with.

There are two chief aims of this meeting: build rapport and ask enough questions to assess whether or not you can, or even want to, do business with this potential client.

Sales trainer and author Jeffrey Gitomer is fond of saying, “All things being equal, people prefer to do business with their friends. All things being not so equal, people still prefer to do business with their friends.” This goes to the heart of the principle of liking, which says people prefer to say, “Yes” to those they know and like.

Here’s a great example – ladies’ home parties. Whenever I ask an audience how many ladies have been to Tupperware, Mary Kay or Pampered Chef parties, nearly every female’s hand goes up. I can also tell by their reactions they don’t particularly want to go to those parties so I ask why they go. Inevitably they say, “Because a friend invited me.” They’d have no problem saying “No” to a stranger but when it’s a friend it’s hard to say “No.”

The more you put someone at ease, the more you offer genuine compliments and the more you connect over what you have in common, the more the other person will come to like you. But wait, there’s more! As you employ this strategy you will come to like them too and when they sense you really like them everything changes!

Another way to build rapport is to engage the principle of reciprocity. The reason this builds rapport is twofold. People feel positively towards those who give to them. Secondly, if what you give or share benefits them in some way they feel more positive towards and more indebted to return the favor. That’s effective use of this powerful principle of influence.

Here’s an example. Someone who went through one of my Principles of Persuasion Workshops gave his copy of Influence Science and Practice to a client’s son who was just starting out in business. He was amazed at the look on both of their faces and knew what he’d just done was appreciated and would make a difference in their relationship going forward.

Knowing what to give and what you can connect on or compliment requires some up front leg work. Doing a little research online and talking with people who know the prospect shouldn’t take much time and might be a goldmine of ideas on how to leverage both liking and reciprocity. Again, one major goal of the meeting is to have the opportunity to go to the next step in the sales process so building rapport is a must.

Next time we’ll look at the qualification process where you really begin to understand the prospect, his/her business and needs. Two principles of influence are especially helpful in this phase of the sales cycle.

The Psychology of the Sales Cycle – Prospecting

Dictionary.com defines a prospect as “a potential or likely customer.” By extension, prospecting is the act of searching for potential or likely customers in hopes of setting up an initial meeting.

How salespeople go about prospecting varies by industry, product or service, and personality. Here are just a few ways in which salespeople tackle prospecting:

  1. Cold calls – Getting on the phone and asking to speak to a decision maker.
  2. Mailings – We all get marketing fliers and brochures in the mail where businesses hope we’ll respond.
  3. Email blasts – It’s easy to find email addresses to build a database. This approach is more effective than mailings because you can send the same message to hundreds or thousands at a time with little effort or cost.
  4. Door hangers – Bypass the mailbox and go door-to-door leaving marketing material.
  5. Door-to-Door – It used to be the case that salespeople simply knocked on doors to meet people and sell their wares. This is a very time consuming and expensive approach!
  6. Internet – You can search by various criteria to see who or what businesses in a geographic area fit your customer profile with a goal of target marketing.
  7. Conventions – Going to some event where you set up a booth and interact with customers.

The list could go on and on and I’m sure you’re thinking of a way or two to prospect that I’ve not touched on. Creative prospecting means doing something to stand out from the crowd, something that makes people take note and listen to you when they’re not paying attention to others.

The focus of this article is not to cover the different ways of looking for customers. The purpose is to talk about the principles of influence that will give you the best chance to stand out using whatever approach is best for you. You have one overriding goal when you’re prospecting – to get an initial meeting with a potential decision maker.

When you’re requesting time with someone, did you know they’re listening to their favorite radio station? That’s right, they’re tuned on to WIIFM – What’s In It For Me? In other words, with all the other salespeople who would like their business why should they meet with you?

First and foremost, and this can’t be emphasized enough, you have to believe in your company and product. Will doing business with you make the prospect better off in the long run? If you don’t believe it will, if you doubt your company or product, prospects will sniff you out like an animal smells fear. It’s a survival instinct. For the sake of this series I’m going to assume you have that belief in your company, product and your potential to help the customer.

Knowing the prospect is uncertain about whether or not to give you consideration, the three principles that come into play most prominently when prospecting are consensusauthority and scarcity.It’s natural for the vast majority of people to feel comfortable going along with the crowd. That’s the principle of consensus at work. It’s natural because we look to others when we’re not 100% certain of the course of action we should take. Just remember the old adage, “There’s safety in numbers.”

In your marketing material, emails, phone calls, etc., can you tap into this principle by talking about all customers you already serve? The more you have, the more that consensus comes into play. Allstate Insurance did this effectively many years ago when its spokesman Dennis Haysbert stood in the Rose Bowl and said 100,000 people would watch a game there on Saturday. He went on to say Allstate filled the stadium ten times with the number of people who made the switch last year. When more than one million customers switch insurance companies you can bet many viewers called an Allstate agent or went online to compare!

If you don’t have a huge number, or even of you do, it’s always more effective when you can point out customers or clients who are just like the prospect you’re talking to. After all, dealing with a restaurant owner can be very different than dealing with a grocery store owner, or hotel manager for example. When talking to one of those business owners, if you can refer to other restaurants, grocery stores or hotels you do business with, the prospect will feel more comfortable and you’ll gain much more credibility.

Speaking of credibility, the other principle of influence that comes into play is authority. When people are unsure what to do, quite often they want to defer to an expert, someone they view as having superior knowledge or wisdom. This can be conveyed through your title, years in business or years of experience, awards you’ve won, degrees you’ve earned, credentials and designations. Any opportunity to get this information in front of a prospect conveys you have expertise. It’s a strong reason for them to consider meeting with you as opposed to someone who lacks expertise or has not conveyed their expertise.

The last principle that could come into play is scarcity. It’s a natural response to want things more when we believe we can’t get them anywhere else. Does your company, product or service have something unique or a combination of features that make it unique? This is important because you want the prospect to see he/she can’t get something exactly like what you’re offering anywhere else. If so, and you point it out so they understand what they might lose by not considering you, that might be enough for them to give you that initial meeting.

So the three principles to thoughtfully consider as you approach potential clients during the prospecting phase of the sales cycle are: consensus, authority and scarcity. Engage any or all of these ethically and correctly and you should land more initial meetings with prospects.

Next time we’ll look at the initial meeting with a prospect and how to leverage that opportunity using the principles of influence.