Sales conversations inevitably follow a specific course, down one topical path. It is a well-worn and often quite predictable track called “product and price.” To improve your chances for a sale, you may try to steer the conversation in other, more intellectual directions. Your intention of course is to engage the buyer in a higher quality discussion that addresses their precise challenges and objectives.
Much like a horse’s natural tendency to head back to the barn, however, buyers instinctively and habitually attempt to maneuver the conversation back in the direction of product and price. They do this for a couple of reasons, and invariably because of apprehensions that arise from moving into unknown territory.
The first reason is that by focusing on product specifics, it helps buyers quickly grasp the fundamental scope of what the product actually does so they can determine whether they really need it. Focusing on price helps them to quickly establish and ultimately justify whether or not they can afford it.
The second reason buyers focus on product and price-once they determine they do have a need-is because it is the easiest way to compare options among the solution providers fortunate enough to have made their shortlist. These two reasons are indeed “reasonable” and it would be tempting to acquiesce on the matter as a result. But allowing the buyer to merely focus their busy agendas on what is reasonable may not move your product or solution to the top of that list.
The third reason is key
It is the crucial third reason that reminds us sellers why we must pull the buyer’s reins in a different direction. Buyers focus their attention on product and price because that is what they know to ask about, as opposed to what they should be finding out about. Product and price questions are familiar and virtually generic topics to them. Simply put, the two together are topics with which buyers are the most comfortable. This is especially true the lower down the organizational structure your buyer is. No matter how decisive or essential the solution is, product and price questions are the path of least resistance for buyers.
As sellers, it is our job to inspire and stimulate the buyer enough to feel both comfortable and eager to follow a different conversational course. The best way to do that is by asking questions, and not just any questions will do. Qualifying questions, for instance, help you understand whether you should be expending your valuable time and effort talking with the buyer. But they do nothing in the way of helping the buyer understand whether they should be talking with you.
If you want to lead the prospect in a meaningful and productive conversation you must ask questions that illuminate, illustrate, and stimulate ideas. Help them visualize a systematic, solutions-based approach to trigger just the right questions they should be asking of you and of themselves. To give you a better feel for questions designed to promote a more substantive level of thinking, here are a few examples we ask our own prospects:
“What percentage of calls results in an appointment?”
“What are your best performing reps doing differently from your under-performing reps?”
“Which conversation starters perform best?”
In many cases, our prospects don’t know the answers. Up to this point, they have never been asked to really focus on these critical, more performance-based issues. The fact that they don’t know the answers is what makes these and other questions like them so powerful. Allowing the prospect to engage and participate in a more solution-tracked conversation, they soon realize that it is their responsibility to know the answers, and just as quickly realize the ramifications of their not knowing.
Your buyer will quickly shift their focus back from product and price to the genuine and indeed more pragmatic issues at hand-what do we need to do that we are not doing, what are we doing that we shouldn’t be doing, and what do I need to know that I don’t know. When the buyer crosses this important threshold, their attention will certainly be directed toward acknowledging that you not only opened the door, but stand ready, willing, and able to present the answers. After that, it is a short conversational transition to the more significant topic of how you can effectively help them solve the problems that ‘product and price’ alone could never reveal.