Let’s talk about the word “no.”
In the context of sales specifically, what are customers saying “no” to? Typically, they are not actually saying “no” to a solution – customers are saying “no” to being sold, they’re saying “no” to a sales call.
How can sales reps adapt to the growing number of unreceptive customers and prospects?
There are several counterintuitive, yet simple and effective strategies that sellers can employ to open more doors and win more sales opportunities.
Why is receptivity declining?
To set these strategies up, it’s important to understand the context of what is happening in the market. What’s causing this rapid decline in customer receptivity?
Since the 1950s, there has been an explosion of information. Within the last two decades in particular, there has been a 5X spike of information flooding the marketplace.
People are overwhelmed. Experts estimate that we receive anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 messages every day.
And it’s not only the amount of information that’s steadily increasing, it’s the availability of it. Information is more readily accessible than ever. Customers would rather do a quick Google search on their own than take the time to talk with a sales rep.
The amount and the availability of information, combined, is the main culprit in the decline of customer receptivity. According to a 2020 study by McKinsey, customers’ willingness to talk to a seller when evaluating a solution has declined by 120% in the last three years.
The Evolution of Sales Methodology
The sales world has seen many different models for what successful selling should look like. We saw the communication of Features & Benefits, SPIN Selling (popular in the 1980s, focused on questioning techniques), Solution Selling (quit selling your product and focus on the problem, sell your solution), and more recently, Challenger Sale (take control, lead, teach, challenge the customer). All of these are important methodologies, and I agree with all of them. But here’s the problem: none of them convert the huge population of customers that are unreceptive.
And here’s the truth about receptivity: when customers are unreceptive, the traditional approach to selling fails.
What do I mean by traditional? Think about going to court. You attempt to make your argument, prove your point, win your case. The best argument wins. In sales, this translates to a seller positioning their solution, coming up with the best argument, the best benefits, case studies, value proposition, etc. – and the belief is that the best logic will win. But here’s the problem: nobody’s in the courtroom.
This approach isn’t working. In fact, not only does the traditional approach to selling not work, it backfires. It creates more distance between customers and sales reps, between buyer and seller. The traditional approach to selling sabotages our ability as sellers to convert the disinterested.
Here’s the principle that applies: when someone is unreceptive, the more you try to persuade them with logical arguments, the more closed they become.
The more you try to convince or “sell” your customers who are already unreceptive, the more closed they become. If you sell you lose, and if you don’t sell you lose. This is why so many salespeople are so frustrated, and why so many reps are not hitting their quota.
So what’s a sales rep to do?
What we need to learn from this is that the receptivity of the customer is far more important than our message.
Here’s a simple Word Picture to illustrate:
Imagine you’re a farmer trying to grow a healthy crop. There are two factors – the soil where you plant and the seed itself. If the soil is not fertile, the quality of the seed doesn’t matter – it won’t grow.
The same idea applies in sales. If the customer is not receptive, your value proposition doesn’t matter. Therefore, we need to shift our focus from selling to creating receptivity.
How can sales reps create receptivity?
When we’re attempting to gain influence in a conversation with another person, there are usually two points of view – two polarized perspectives. This is what we are paid to do as sellers: to influence our customers and change beliefs.
How does one influence? How do you get someone to see (and embrace) your point of view?
It’s all about receptivity, which begins with two things:
- An Invitation – We’ll address this one today.
- Validating their Point of View – We’ll unpack this step in our next blog.
How to Get The Invitation
Until someone says, “Tell me what you think about___,” until they ask for your perspective, you don’t have influence.
So let’s talk about four keys to getting an invitation.
#1 – Your Objective = Their Whiteboard
The first thing we need to do to get an invitation is to change our objective. We need to make our customer the hero of the story.
In order to do this, our objective needs to be their whiteboard. On “their whiteboard” are simply things that they want or barriers to getting what they want. And if it’s not on their whiteboard, customers don’t care about it.
When we shift into the role of influencer, we need to make it clear that our focus, our motive, is to help them get what they want. We need to communicate why it’s in their best interest to talk to us. Again, the customer needs to be the hero of the story and to know that they are the hero of the story in your eyes.
One great way to accomplish this is to start your sentences with, “Because you…” If you can’t begin your sentence with “Because you…” you’re not going to get your customer’s attention. Think about it: if you show someone a picture of themselves, they will look at it 100% of the time. If you show someone a group picture, they’ll always look at themselves first. It’s guaranteed to get their attention.
So lead with them. Focus on their whiteboard, their problems, and you will get their attention.
This may sound obvious, but it’s critical to articulate your motive: to serve them. It will change the emotional temperature of the interaction – your customer will be much more receptive and open to embracing a new point of view.
#2 – Drop the Rope
The second key to getting an invitation is to Drop the Rope. Any time you’re in an interaction with a customer or prospect, there’s an invisible tug-o-war happening. There’s a certain tension that naturally exists between customers and anyone with “Sales” on their business card. Even if it’s not the case, your customer may believe that you want to pressure them towards a particular outcome, one that benefits you. They smell “commission breath.”
With this dynamic, if a customer feels pressure (i.e. you pulling the rope), they will instinctively pull back. It’s human nature. You cannot lead by force.
To remove this pressure and tension, we simply need to Drop the Rope. We can do this in a number of ways, specifically by communicating that our intention is not to pressure them. It could sound like, “I may not have the best solution for your business.” Use words and phrases like “might,” “maybe,” “could,” or “it may be helpful to consider,” to relieve that pressure from the sales situation.
When you release that tension, the focus shifts from the tension to the truth.
#3 – Create Contrast
The third key to getting an invitation is to create contrast between your solution and others. Either how you solve the problem, who solves it, or another factor that makes your offer unique. It could simply be your philosophy or approach to addressing their challenge. But there has to be a compelling reason for them to engage.
By focusing on their whiteboard you’ve gotten their attention and drawn them in by making them the hero of the story, and by Dropping the Rope you’ve eliminated resistance and created receptivity. Now you have to give the customer a logical reason why they should spend their valuable time with you. So create contrast.
Essentially, communicate something you offer that’s different.
#4 – Ask Permission
Last, but certainly not least, be sure to ask permission from your customer. Until they say “yes,” the emotional shift to receptivity has not occurred – they’re not yet open.
You may be thinking, “What if they say no?” That’s fine. You don’t want to waste your time, or theirs, trying to work with someone who is emotionally closed. Because if they are unreceptive, everything you say or “sell” them on is going to backfire anyway.
The best way you can get someone from a “no” to a “yes” is to accept their “no.” You can simply reply, “Okay. Well, I would love to help. Again my goal is to help you achieve whatever’s on your whiteboard. If I can ever be of service, I’m available. As I communicated earlier, we have something that’s really unique and may be a fit at some point. If that’s ever the case and you’d like to learn more, I’d be happy to do that.”
This response in and of itself releases tension. When you ask permission and they say “no,” it could be a test to gauge your response.
Until the customer says, “I want to listen to you,” you are wasting your time. Until the soil is fertile, you cannot plant the seed.
Stay tuned for our next blog on what to do after you’ve gotten the invitation from your customer, and additional ways to cultivate receptivity before you sell.
If you want to learn more about reaching and converting unreceptive customers, check out unreceptivebook.com.