Problem: 95% of salespeople are at the prospect’s mercy. That’s right, the prospect is in control because he’s got his rules, and he gets you to play by them. He’s like the all-powerful conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, and you’re playing the tune HIS way. And it’s costing you money, not to mention how it’s messin’ with your head.
Analysis: The vast majority of sales opportunities are orchestrated by the prospect, keeping him in control from start to finish. He’s calling all the shots, and most of you are simply going along for the ride as if nothing’s wrong. And he’s doing it, not because he’s a bad guy, but simply to protect himself just in case you’re one of those stereotypical sales types that everybody hates.
Just to make sure you know the prospect’s rules, here they are (in the prospect’s own words).
- “I’ll dangle the carrot in front of you so you think there’s a possibility of really big deal.”
- “I may not be totally honest with you about my situation.”
- “I’ll pick your brain and get as much information as I can.”
- “I’ll decide if I want to move forward with you and under what circumstances.”
- “I’ll shop your proposal around to see if I can get a better deal somewhere else.” (And I won’t even say, “Thanks for your help.”)
- “If I don’t want to talk to you, I won’t return your calls.”
- “I’ll keep you twistin’ in the wind for as long as possible if it suits my purposes.”
- “I won’t place any value on your time.”
- “And I certainly won’t feel any obligation to treat you as an equal.”
The conventional seller’s wisdom says this is just the way things are, not much I can do about it. I’ll get my fair share of the business. But that’s a loser’s mentality. If you want to be on the top of the heap, if you want to get more than your “fair share,” you’d better stop playing by the prospect’s rules. You’d better take charge and set the rules yourself.
Solution: In athletics, they call this “home field advantage.” You can’t win the game playing by someone else’s rules on their home field. At the beginning of any sales opportunity, you have a chance to suggest the “rules” to the prospect and at least, get the conversation on to a neutral playing ground. The first offensive move the prospect makes is to ask you, “So show me what you got?” Don’t fall into the trap of explaining how great your products and services are. Instead, tell him that you’re there to see if he has a problem that you can help him with. Get permission for you to ask questions about his situation so you can really understand the problem, how it happened, how it’s impacting the company (and him personally), and to find out if it’s important enough to seriously consider investing in a solution. Tell him that you’ll need to discuss budgets and how he/they make decisions to bring in someone like yourself to help with problems like this. And tell him you’re not there to make a sales pitch because it’s inappropriate this early in the dialogue. Finally, tell him that if either one of you determines that there’s not a fit, you’ll close the file and move on.
Most prospects, that you will want to work with, will agree to these “rules.” After all, they are in his best interest. So the choice is up to you. You can play by the prospect’s rules or yours. Yours are in the best interest of both parties.