One of the greatest challenges that all salespeople today face is that our audience’s level of receptivity is rapidly decreasing. Said another way, our customers are becoming less receptive to us and to our messages.
The people who are open to meeting with us, the people who are emotionally open to new ideas, even in existing relationships, are declining in number. There are a number of reasons for this, but research points to two main causes: people are overwhelmed with information and people are isolated. Thanks to the internet and the availability of information, customers no longer appreciate the role of a sales rep – they can do their own research and find their own answers. And because people are isolated, oftentimes, they are only spending time with people who reinforce their currently held beliefs.
These two factors alone are causing a drop in customers’ level of receptivity, which makes a seller’s job even more challenging. How can salespeople break through? What can you do to convert the disinterested?
Tom Stanfill, CEO and Co-Founder of ASLAN, discusses the “3 P’s” i.e. three keys to help sales reps drive influence and receptivity. If you’d prefer to take this topic on-the-go, you can listen to our full conversation on SALES with ASLAN podcast episode 109:
The Fight or Flight Response
When faced with a challenge, for example an unreceptive prospect, our instincts tell us to do one of two things: flee or fight. The more resistance we get, the harder we tend to push. Or, we run away and move onto another opportunity. The problem is, neither of these approaches get us the result we want. Neither of these responses help us to engage our customers.
Our Cornerstone principle that tells us this: when someone is emotionally closed, the more you try to persuade them with logical arguments, the more closed they become. So our instincts to sell harder (to fight), will backfire. When we do this, we are actually pushing our customers away; because the truth is, they are not resisting our solution or our message, they are resisting a sales call.
“Our instincts sabotage our ability to convert the disinterested.” – Tom Stanfill
However, if we flee when we meet with resistance, we will never manage to break through and engage a prospect. We will never close a deal or win an opportunity. We’ll simply run out of prospects.
The traditional sales approach doesn’t work when we are faced with unreceptive prospects and customers. We have to do something different. This is where the “3 Ps” come in: priority, pressure, and point of view.
The 3 P’s
When we encounter emotionally closed customers, instead of trying to amp up our message and sell harder, we need to shift our focus from selling to creating receptivity. We need our prospects to become emotionally open. We need to cultivate fertile soil (emotionally open customers), before we plant the seed (our message).
How can sellers do this? By applying the 3 P’s:
1 – Priority
In any interaction between people, someone is the priority. There are only two options: it’s either you or them. In a sales conversation, the customer typically believes the salesperson is the priority, because there is a commission attached to everything they recommend.
Many of us, in truth most of us, don’t stop to reflect on this fact. As human beings, we naturally default to self. It’s instinct. Therefore, we have to constantly monitor our motive and decide to make the other person (the customer), the priority. They should be the hero of the story.
And then, we have to demonstrate and communicate to our customer or prospect that they are the priority – because your motive is transparent. Your customer can smell “commission breath.” They can sense your motive.
As sales reps, it’s easy to skip this step when we’re so focused on what we need to say and what we need to ask. We get caught up in our own agenda and our own sales process – and most sales processes are built around the seller, not the customer. How can I get them to meet with me? How can I overcome objections? How can I move this deal forward?
But when the customer becomes the central character, the hero of the story, engaging them authentically becomes much easier. Sellers need to stop before every meeting and “reset their compass.” If we don’t, we will gravitate to self, just as a compass always gravitates north. We need to shift our mindset and make a decision, before every interaction, to place priority on the other person. Because in order for our customers to be receptive, they must always be the priority.
This needs to be a conscious action on the seller’s part. Literally stop and take a moment to shift your mindset. Make a conscious decision to make the other person the priority before every engagement. Think about: “What’s going on in their day? What are all of the other things on their plate? Me and my solution are likely not as important to them as it is to me. That’s OK.” The key is remembering to do it, and then communicating it to your customer. You need to be able to articulate why you are there and how you are there to serve them.
The truth is, we are more fulfilled when we serve. You will feel better, your conversations will be more fruitful, your questions will be more effective, and your meetings more rewarding – that’s how you can tell that you’ve successfully changed your mindset and made your customer the priority.
2 – Pressure
When people feel pressure, they will resist it. It’s a reflex. They may resist pressure by avoiding certain subjects, by arguing with you, or by avoiding you altogether. The Tug of War Principle addresses this truth: People resist any pressure to think or act differently if they feel like their freedom to choose is not respected.
“As soon as arguments start, influence ends.” – Tom Stanfill
In a sales conversation, the customer typically believes the salesperson will pressure them because there is a commission attached to everything they sell. This creates tension. Tension over a problem or challenge the customer has to solve is OK. But tension in the relationship is not.
So your job, as a sales rep, is to eliminate that tension or pressure. One way to do this is by communicating (and demonstrating) to your customer that you acknowledge and respect their freedom to choose – their freedom to choose to engage with you, meet with you, listen to you, and buy from you. Or, Drop the RopeⓇ. Think about a game of tug-of-war. When one person pulls on the rope, the person on the other side will automatically pull back. So to eliminate that pressure and tension, Drop the Rope.
Sellers can drop the rope in a number of ways, for example using language and words like “may,” “might,” “could,” “possibly” or “consider.”
By eliminating that pressure your customer feels, you will automatically increase their receptivity.
3 – Point of View
If you can articulate that you understand the other person’s point of view (as well or better than they can), you will cultivate receptivity. You will get more meetings, you will get them to embrace your point of view, and you will strengthen the relationship with your customer or prospect.
Even when someone’s point of view is completely polarized from yours, it’s critical to validate their perspective. Show them that you understand their view and be able to articulate it back to them. Until you do, they will never come around to see your side of the story – they won’t be receptive to your perspective or your recommendation.
If you can’t begin your recommendation with “Because you…” you probably have some more work to do here. For example:
If you are a seller who is recommending a different approach to solving a problem, or you are trying to upsell a product, start with,
“Because you communicated that you…”
If you are a leader and you want to address a gap in performance, begin the coaching session with,
“Because you wanted to move into management…”
If you are a parent who is talking to a teenager about homework, start with,
“Because you want to play volleyball for…”
Doing so will force you to start with the listener’s point of view. And when you do, it will instantly capture their attention, because everyone is interested in and entertained by their favorite subject: themselves.
If you can’t see (and think) from your customer’s perspective, you have some work to do. Either you have to examine your motive (as referenced in the Priority section), or you just haven’t spent the requisite time to bridge the gap from their point of view to your recommendation.
Another way we teach this at ASLAN is by helping sellers craft messages that lead with the decision maker’s whiteboard. Whatever is on their “whiteboard” is what they care about – so lead with that. Be able to articulate their problem or their goal (their point of view), and you will see receptivity skyrocket.
Summing it Up
When we encounter emotionally closed customers, instead of fighting or fleeing, we need to create receptivity. To go back to the analogy of the soil and the seed, we need to cultivate fertile soil (emotionally open customers), before we plant the seed (our message).
The way to accomplish this is by making your customer the priority, removing pressure, and validating their point of view.
Do you and your sales team need help learning to convert the unreceptive and disinterested customer? We’ve designed a program for the toughest challenges in sales.
If you’re interested in reading more, check out unReceptive: A Better Way to Sell, Lead, and Influence by ASLAN CEO Tom Stanfill. The book ships from Amazon on Nov 9. Secure your copy today!
As President of ASLAN, Marc is responsible for all day-to-day operations including our sales and marketing efforts and growing our success in helping our clients be Other-Centered®.