Almost all sales involve conversations with potential buyers. Sales is conversation.
You might not realize, however, that in every conversation a salesperson has with a potential buyer, three conversations actually occur at the same time.
These conversations are:
- The conversation between the buyer and the salesperson
- The conversation the buyers is having with himself or herself
- The conversation the salesperson is having with himself or herself
Yes, you talk to yourself. If you find yourself saying, "I don't talk to myself," please accept this as evidence that you do talk to yourself.
For example a typical sales conversation may go something like this:
Salesperson "I wanted to follow up on the proposal we submitted and answer any questions or concerns you might have."
Buyer: (To herself) "Their proposal didn't address my needs and I am leaning towards another company. Should I share my real concerns or just tell her everything is fine? I am really not in the mood for another sales pitch right now."
Buyer (To salesperson) "I don't have any questions. Everything looks fine. I have a call right now and I need to jump off."
Salesperson (To herself) "Sounds like something is a bit off. Should I probe more and see what is going on?
Salesperson "Great to hear! I look forward to hearing your decision when you are ready."
All buying decisions occur in conversation #2, the conversation the buyers have with themselves. But as you can see, the buying conversation often doesn't reflect the conversation buyers have with sellers.
What average salespeople do
Rather than probing to get to the bottom line of conversation #2, the average salesperson spends too much time engaging the buyer in surface-level information in conversation #1, plotting what they will say next in conversation #3, or ignoring their instincts and accepting conversation #1 as the way it is.
What the best salespeople do
Best-in-class salespeople know how to bring conversation #2 out in the open. This enables the buyer and the seller to have an open and honest dialogue about what's really going on and gives the buyer freedom to voice their concerns and engage in win-win negotiation or problem-solving.
Engaging the buyer in Conversation #2 requires the average salespeople to develop expert interviewing skills, highly refined listening skills, and the ability to create safety and trust in the relationship. If buyers don't feel safe, heard, and understood, then they will withhold critical information as to where they really are in their buying decision, which diminishes or eliminates the salespeople's ability to impact the final outcome. Bottom line, buyers keep conversation #2 to themselves.
Several things have to occur for buyers to want to share what they are feeling or experiencing:
- They have to believe they are dealing with a highly trustworthy and credible salesperson who has their best interest at heart. Put another way, high pressure closers need not apply.
- They see the salesperson as "safe." This means they feel the salesperson won't convince them they are wrong, pressure them, overcome their objections, or try to play with their emotions. They just want to be heard and understood, and perhaps gather some professional assistance in sorting their issues out, regardless of whether or not they buy.
If this relationship has not been established buyers will most likely try to create some distance during decision making time by telling the salesperson what they think they want to hear or clamming up rather than what is really going on.
I once heard a sales trainer once proclaim, "Buyers are liars." I see the problem differently. I would ask, "What did the salesperson do or not do that the buyer feels the need to hold back?"
Here are a few questions salespeople can ask to help gain access to the buyer's conversation #2.
- "When you said (whatever it is they said), what did you mean by that?"
- "I hear some hesitation. Can we talk about what gave you pause?"
- "Since my goal is to understand where you are coming from, what didn't I ask you that I should have?"
- "I feel like there is a conversation that would should be having that we aren't. What aren't we talking about that we should be?"
It is our experience that those salespeople who learn how to regularly gain access to conversation #2 will increase their results as much as 100%, often doubling their revenue creating and personal income.
They won't work harder, need more leads, or put in more hours. They are simply far more effective with the same time, money, and energy average salespeople invest. They recognize there's something that's more important than time, money or energy when it comes to closing the deal: listening to what the buyer isn't telling them.
Joe Mathews has 20 years' experience in franchising, including management roles with Subway, Blimpie, Motophoto, The Entrepreneur’s Source and other national chains. He is co-author of Street Smart Franchising with Don Debolt and Deb Percival, from Entrepreneur Press. He is based in Litchfield, Conn. Follow him on Twitter: @joematty.