Archives for November 2013

HOW TO POP THE QUESTION: Honoring Sales Conversation Touchstone #6

pop the questionIn Touchstones #1-5, we’ve seen people’s innate value, connected with them, shared the vision of our offer, and asked what they would want to get out of it if they bought. Now we’re ready to pop the question:

* Would you like to schedule a session?
* Shall we sign you up for the January workshop?
* Would you like to buy the book?

For some people, this is the best part of the conversation. It opens the door for people to say “Yes.” Worst case, it brings the certainty of “No” and everyone can move on. For other people, “the ask” is agony—usually because they’re afraid of sounding pushy, or because it opens the door to “No.”

Fear of pushiness can keep us stuck. It’s like a little piece of carry-on luggage that slipped through when we were doing Soul of Selling Step #1, Put down your baggage—the negative mental chatter we carry around with us about selling. We’re told as children not to be pushy. It’s not polite. People won’t like us if we’re pushy. Plus, we may have been pushed by others and not enjoyed it. Here are some antidotes to fear of pushiness:

  1. Remember that you have to pop the question at some point. We rarely hear “Yes” until we’ve asked people whether or not they want to buy. They expect us to ask, and often wait, mentally tapping their feet, until we work up the courage to do our part in the conversation. As long as we have to do it, we might as well figure out how we want to go about it and what kind of experience we want it to be—for ourselves and for others.
  2. Remember that if you aren’t pushing, people won’t feel pushed. If we’re tense, nervous, and dreading the ordeal, people will sense that—and they may seize up as well. Regardless of whether or not they want our offer, they are likely to mirror where we are. The more comfortable we are with “the ask,” the more at ease they will feel about giving us an honest answer—whatever that answer is.
  3. Choose how you want “the ask” to come across, and practice delivering it that way.

The first thing I ever sold on a large scale was a workshop. I used to agonize when it came time for “the ask.” This is the kind of thing that used to run through my mind: “Oh my God, I’m asking them for money they don’t have and don’t really want to give. They’ll either say ‘No’ and make fun of me, or ‘Yes’ and hate me. Either way, they’ll think I’m a pushy shyster and my relationship with them will be reduced to me breaking their arms and legs to get them to do something they really don’t want to do and being a bad person. Then I’ll go to hell…” I’ll be merciful and stop there, but rest assured that this was only the beginning.

Then a strange thing began to happen. As I postponed “the ask” in conversations, people got impatient. Sometimes they even interrupted me and said, “Look, I’ve heard enough.  What do I have to do to sign up?” I realized that in trying to avoid or delay that moment, I was disturbing the flow of the conversation. They were ready and I wasn’t paying attention.  Instead, I was paying attention to my own discomfort. That was making everything harder for both of us.

When I thought about what had happened, I realized that “the ask” was actually much more uncomfortable for me than it was for them. People expect to be asked to buy. They anticipate it. Our foreboding is much greater than theirs. It is a normal part of sales conversations.

I also realized that avoiding “the ask” was like calling someone up and talking about the dinner party you were throwing—and then not inviting them!  You might know you wanted them to come, and they might even assume it at some level, but the conversation has an uncomfortable quality until you actually say the words, “Would you like to come on Friday night?”

Even when you don’t get a “Yes,” their answer tells you where you are in the selling process. If they need more information, or if they need to voice more objections, “the ask” will bring that forward. Inviting them to participate is the ultimate “Yeah, but”—solicitor—and you need to get those “Yeah, buts” up into the light of day.

Another reason some people dread “the ask” is that they don’t want to hear “No.” I’ve heard explanations for Fear of “No” from all sorts of people, from clinical psychologists to discount superstore salespeople. These answers can get very complex and very deep, and the results are hit-and-miss.

The one antidote I’ve seen work every time is this: Don’t take it personally. It sounds simple, and it is. Here are some ways to make it easier:

  1. Practice with a friend. Take fifteen minutes, and have your friend say “No” to whatever you ask.
  2. Remember that they aren’t saying “No” to you; they’re saying “No” to your offer.
  3. They don’t necessarily dislike your offer. The timing may be bad. They may have other priorities. They may think that both you and your offer are terrific, and still say “No” for reasons that you can’t fathom. Let them do what they have to do.
  4. Focus on the quality of your interaction, not whether their answer is “Yes” or “No.” If you’re connected, honoring, respectful, and gracious, not only do you enjoy the conversation more, but they are also more likely to be back.
  5. Remember that in sales, you will usually get more “No’s” than “Yeses.” It’s just part of the game, and nothing that has to ruin your day.

When we learn not to take “No” personally, we lose our fear of it. When we combine that with managing our fear of pushiness, we are set up to enjoy and succeed with “the ask.” We never again have to be afraid of popping the question.

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FIND THE SELLING SWEET SPOT: Honoring Sales Conversation Touchstone #5

sweet spotThis is the most important part of any sales conversation—and one of the most neglected.

What is the sweet spot where your offer touches people’s deepest wants and needs? If they were to accept, what would they want to get out of the experience?

Make no mistake. What people want is an experience, an internal feeling of being safer, better, healthier, more fulfilled, or more connected to and of service to others. The more conscious you can help them be of the specific experience they want as a result of accepting your offer, the more willing they will be to overcome their objections, buy, truly appreciate your product or service, and recommend it to others.

If you offer bookkeeping services, for example, people’s sweet spots might range from:

  • I told my partner I’d hire someone and I want to stop the nagging.
  • I’m sick of not knowing exactly where the money is and how much we have.
  • Every business needs a bookkeeper and I’m trying to do the right thing by my business.
  • I will feel so at peace if I know this part of the business is being handled by somebody who knows what they’re doing. Then I could let go of it and focus on the big picture.

The deeper the personal experience (the farther down in the above list) you can get, the stronger your sweet spot will be. The sweet spot might include all of the above, one or two items—or there might not even be a sweet spot if your service and your customer’s needs don’t share some common ground.

Your job is to help him or her identify where that sweet spot is, if anywhere—and to get him or her as far down on the list as possible, as close as possible to a heartfelt, or even primal, need or want.

Both you and your customer need to know exactly where their sweet spit is for five main reasons:

  1. You need to know whether or not there is a match between what they want and what you have. If not, you can both be on your way—or just go for coffee.
  2. They need to hear themselves say it. More often than you can imagine, people have an instinct toward an offer—but because they can’t specifically define (to themselves or others) exactly what they want it to do for them, they either give in to whatever objections arise or say to themselves, “This is frivolous. I don’t have a good reason to buy this.” Oddly, very few people actually ask themselves, “What would I want to get out of this if I bought it?” But when you ask the question, their answer is almost always remarkably quick and clear. Without this information, any little thing can throw them off the sale. When they hear themselves say what they want, everything gets more clearly defined and they move closer to the sale. If they are ready to buy, it gives them the green light to go ahead. If they are undecided, it gives more weight to “buy” than to “don’t buy.” Even after they have bought, they are usually happier if they know precisely what need has been satisfied.
  3. If they start wavering, you need to know where to return. When people voice their objections, you will hear them. But at some point, you will turn the conversation back to the value that your offer holds for them. You need to know where that sweet spot is.
  4. They need some value to weight against what it costs them. They need a vivid picture of what they want, so that they can put it on the other side of the imaginary scale from their objections.

HOW TO ASK: The Power of the Hypothetical
Sometimes I think people lapse into a light trance when they are considering buying. They seem to enter a netherworld where it may not even occur to them to think about what they want from your product or service. You can snap them out of that trance, and keep both of you on track, by asking questions like these:

  • If you were to do this workshop, what might you want to get out of it?
  • What would you like a computer to do for you?
  • What are the advantages to you of the sedan over the coupe?
  • Your eyes light up when you talk about the five-day program. What do you see as the value there?

These are crucial questions, but you need to ask them gently. Soften your energy and use qualifiers like “might,” “would,” and “if.” That makes the question hypothetical, and hypothetical questions are safer. You are looking together at a range of possibilities, all of which are at some distance, rather than pressing them into what they might perceive as a semi-commitment.

Here is how it works. Consider these two questions:

  • If you were to do this, what might you want from it?
  • What need of yours will this satisfy?

You are asking for the same information in these two questions, but you are much more likely to get it from the first one. The first question is safer, and therefore easier for them to answer.

That’s the key with this touchstone: Be gentle and non-confrontational, but make sure they are crystal clear about what they want your offer to do for them. Be sure you’ve done this before you go on to Touchstone #5, popping the question!

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SHARE YOUR VISION: Honoring Sales Conversation Touchstone #4

share visionThis is the fun part, the part where you eat the frosting off the cake.

You’ve see people’s value and committed to making that the basis of your sales conversation. You’ve felt the “ping” of connection with them. Now it’s time to share your vision of what you are offering. It’s time to start talking about what you love.

Most of this conversation comes from the Speaking Bank you developed in Soul of Selling Step #3. Your Speaking Bank is a collection of sound bites—of different lengths and appropriate for a variety of occasions—that you can put together with support from The Soul of Selling book or on your own. They give people all the information and inspiration they need to make a good choice about your offer.

People need to know what you are offering, and they expect that it will be presented in the best way possible. You owe it to yourself, to them, and to your product or service to do that—and your Speaking Bank will help.

Start the conversation with your opening ten-second  sound bite. Your instincts will tell you what to say next. Notice what impact your words are having on the other person. If people appear to go away mentally, ask them a question—even if it’s only, “Is this making sense?” or “Am I covering the information you need to know?” Keep them with you.

Move through your Speaking Bank intuitively until you’ve given them everything they need in order to buy. Remember to keep honoring them and holding their interest.

Most of the time, you’ll be engaged in two-sided conversations. There may be times, however, when you are asked to give a short presentation before answering questions.

Ruth was the newly named capital campaign chair at her church. She had no sales experience, and was faced with a series of “at home” meetings. The idea was that at each of these meetings, she would present the vision of the new church to 3-6 people, answer their questions, and then ask them for a donation.

This was a challenge for her, but she said, “I just flung myself into the pool and decided I had to swim. The Speaking Bank was my lifesaver. I had all these good things to say, so I just looked out at those folks and reached for whatever sound bite felt right. After a while, I could just tell what they needed to hear to get inspired. It was a lot easier than I’d thought it would be. Each group was different, and I said different things to each of them—but I learned pretty quickly how to pick just the right sound bites from my Speaking Bank.” Ruth became a force of nature in that capital campaign.

This touchstone is about letting it rip. Keep an eye on the other person and make course corrections if necessary—but mostly, have fun talking about what you offer. You are taking a stand for your product or service, for the best in the people with whom you speak and for the best in yourself.

That feels great.

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