As published on Forbes.com
As someone who delivers keynote addresses and workshops throughout the year, at least once per week I get asked these common questions by business executives: “How do I get them [clients] to tell me who is the decision maker on a project?” Or, “How do I get them to tell me their budget?” Perhaps there are too many Star Wars junkies in business. When people ask for a magic answer, they overlook the failure of using Jedi mind tricks in business.
It’s Not About Tricks or Gimmicks
When business people ask these common questions, I often wonder what would happen if I told them, “Just ask your client this… but while you do, stand on only your left leg, and inhale helium just before you say it. These actions will produce all of the answers you seek.” There is no way to employ The Force, or a silver bullet to get to the truth in selling situations. However, there is a formula you can follow with your clients to uncover the truth much faster than with other methods.
Do you know anyone who likes to be on the receiving end of a sales pitch? If you do, that’s just weird. The notion of tricks or manipulation are contrary to the most important value to embrace in business: Trust. Above all, you must establish trust with your clients.
Much like The Force in Star Wars, sales language can be used for good or evil. We know from science fiction research that people who use their talents for good, might not win every battle, but live on to fight another day (I know – just humor me). Those who use their talents for evil, end up dying a painful death where they have no friends – and may even lose a limb or three. Here are steps you can take to uncover the answers to important questions in selling while maintaining integrity.
Start with a code of operating with integrity. Your mission, should you accept it, is to uncover two critical components: 1) Is your potential client facing an issue that they feel is worth solving? 2) Are you [or your firm] the best people to solve that issue for the client? If AND ONLY IF the answer to both of these questions is “Yes” should your proceed with that client. This is something that in Same Side Selling we call Finding Impact Together or FIT. Notice that your first step is for the client to convince you that the problem is worth solving.
Discipline Is Not Easy
In my prior business, we would have clients travel from half way around the world to meet with us. I explained to our executive team that the first question we would ask is, “What is it about our technology and business that you felt was compelling enough to fly with your team half way around the world to meet with us?” The idea was to start the meeting with the client telling us what they liked about our offerings. It was a great strategy.
The problem was that the Chairman of our company would often sit in the client meetings. He had been part of the same pre-meeting discussion with our executive team. However, in the first three client meetings, when I asked that question, HE would respond and say, “Let me tell you why they are here.” After several discussions about why we wanted the client to answer the question, we devised a plan. When the meeting would start, I would send a text to our COO. He would call the chairman’s assistant and say he needed to speak with him immediately. Once he was called out of the meeting, I would immediately ask the question. This formula and question helped us quickly get to the truth. In those first few minutes, we could quickly tell if we had a FIT or not.
Great Questions Uncover The Truth
Just like the previously mentioned question helped us quickly get to the truth, other questions can be valuable in your meetings. Remember to use them all for good, and not for manipulation. Here are a few examples of great questions to help uncover the truth with your client:
Budget: Budget is highly overrated. Instead, if you and your client can agree on how much not solving their issue is impacting their organization, then that will give you a sense of what the solution could be worth. This is how you focus on value vs. price. A good question to ask is “What happens to the organization if six months from now you still have not solved this issue?”
Decision Maker: Even CEOs like to build consensus. The notion of a single decision maker is somewhat elusive. If you ask “Who is the decision maker,” you’ll probably not get an honest answer in response. Instead ask, “Who else is impacted by this issue? Who would be the most upset if it is not solved, and which people will gain the most from its success?” Trust me when I tell you that those folks will be involved in the decision.
As Yoda certainly might have said, “Coercion, deceit, and pressure – to the dark side they will take you.” Effective selling is about creating a balance between vendor and customer so that you build mutual trust toward reaching a common goal. Sure, you might find the occasional client who does not operate with integrity. However, don’t punish everyone else for mistakes only a few clients make.
When you tell your client that you might not be the best fit for their current situation, believe me that they will be dying to find a way to do business with you. When you deploy a sales approach built on integrity, you will have a system everyone can embrace, even your customer. Still, carry a light saber just in case.
It’s Your Turn
When have you experienced a salesperson telling you they might not be the best fit. Were you more or less inclined to find business for them?