"The chronic kicker, even the most violent critic, will frequently soften and be subdued in the presence of a patient, sympathetic listener--a listener who will be silent while the irate fault-finder dilates like a king cobra and spews the poison out of his system." --Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
Why is it so hard for salespeople to stay patient? Usually it's because they're under immense closing pressure. Listening to someone else describe their (or their company's) problems isn't easy under most circumstances, let alone when the listener is on deadline.
But that's exactly what you'll need to do, if you want to get past a buyer's initial resistance. Here are three techniques that can help you improve at the all-important skill of listening--and finding the path from their resistance to your potential solution.
1. Find a way to validate their protest--even if they're wrong. Carnegie tells a fantastic story on page 146 of How to Win Friends about Joseph Allison, a sales rep for Westinghouse Electric Company. It took Allison and his predecessor a whopping 13 years of sales calls to finally sell someone in their territory a few motors. The buyer then told Allison that he'd order several hundred more motors--if those first few worked well.
Allison was excited. But when he checked in three weeks later, the buyer angrily announced he would not buy any more motors. The reason? The motors were running too hot. "I can't put my hand on them," he told Allison.
Allison was shocked, but instead of expressing it, he found a way to get on the same page as the angry buyer:
"Well, now look, Mr. Smith," I said. "I agree with you a hundred percent; if those motors are running too hot, you ought not to buy any more of them. You must have motors that won't run any hotter than the standards set by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association. Isn't that so?"
He agreed it was. I had gotten my first 'yes.'
You can guess what happens next. With kind and sensitive questions, Allison steered the buyer toward the realization that the motors were not too hot. Yes, they were hot enough to scald a hand, but that didn't mean that there was anything wrong with them. In fact, the temperature of the motors adhered to an accepted national standard. Eventually, the buyer bought $35,000 worth of motors.
All told, then, there are three takeaways: (1) Find the path to a customer "yes," even if that "yes" is merely an indication of initial topical agreement; (2) use the power of persuasive questions to steer the discussion; (3) invoke an accepted standard, in order to de-personalize their protest and recast your product as a viable solution.
2. Use questions to debrief your own sales methods. In the above example, Allison uses questions to lead his client toward an agreeable conclusion. Likewise, when a prospect turns you down, you can use questions to dissect where, in the process, you might have taken a false step.
For example, in a recent post on LinkedIn, sales coach and author Peri Shawn lists 14 questions to ask yourself (or your sales team) if a customer protests your price. One of those questions is, "What could you have asked the prospect to engage them in looking at the price of the product in a different way?"
In other words, how did you frame the cost of your product? Did you properly consider the perspective of your customer? For example, if you sell a certain type of transactional software as a service, you might think that your pricing is utterly fair and reasonable, because you only charge a percentage basis of each transaction. Your customer only pays you when they get paid. What could be fairer?
And yet, to a government customer, this seemingly fair option might be more difficult to agree to than a one-time fee and annual subscription--even if the latter is potentially more expensive. Sometimes price objections have more to do with payment methods and processes than they do with actual price. It might be easier for a government official, strapped with a fixed budget and high dosages of red tape, to authorize a one-time expense, rather than an ongoing series of unpredictable transactions.
I'm not making this example up out of thin air. Yesterday the founders of OpportunitySpace, a startup whose software helps governments manage their lands and properties, explained to me that they eventually plan to charge customers on a percentage basis of any transactions facilitated by their online information platform. But for their initial government customers, an installation fee plus annual subscription model has been much more feasible.
3. Keep your body language upbeat. Buyers notice when you're disappointed. Even if your verbal response to a "no" is empathetic and optimistic, your body language and facial expressions might betray your disappointment. Judith Glaser, a communications specialist, has zeroed on this tendency in her latest book, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust.
And as Theodore Kinni deftly points out in his review of the book on strategy+business, your nonverbal signals sometimes come through over the phone--which is to say, even when your potential buyer can only hear you, not see you:
When Glaser observed pharmaceutical reps making sales calls, she found that if doctors raised concerns about the products being sold, the salespeople usually communicated their displeasure with nonverbal cues, such as stiffened bodies, pained facial expressions, and tense tones of voice. The doctors, in turn, responded by stiffening up themselves and trying to end the sales calls.
The key to not expressing disappointment in your body language is to not let a "no" hit you so hard.
Glaser "taught the pharmaceutical salespeople to reframe buyer resistance as 'simple requests for more information,' writes Kinni. This simple mental step "shifted their focus 'to relationship before task' and significantly bolstered sales."