(Related: The Value of Prospects Who Don’t Close)
If I were to ask you if you have an open mind when you enter a sales conversation, you would likely nod and think, “of course I do.” Most sales people would, but an open mind is not so simple, especially as the value of a potential sale climbs higher and higher.
A first meeting with a prospect can become a complex juggling act of agendas and concerns as you and your prospect both do your best to determine if continuing the conversation is worthwhile.
As the value of the prospect increases—which means the competition for that prospect’s attention increases in tandem—creating an engaging, thought-provoking meeting becomes more and more critical. The prospect already has an advisor, and she fields pitches from your competitors on a regular basis. To win the business, you have to stand out, and that means having a different kind of conversation.
Here is what most advisors don’t do when they enter a meeting: Listen.
The sales instinct is to talk. You launch into value points and competitive differentiators and work through your agenda step by step, often asking the prospect clever but simple leading questions to which you already know the answer. When you approach the first meeting this way, your agenda and rigid commitment to your predetermined structure can close your mind, even if you consider yourself an open-minded individual.
Making this more challenging is that many advisors still have the belief that what they’re selling is a universal need. Not all prospects automatically need what you offer or are a fit for how you work. That’s the reality of the market we are in and the nature of our business. That’s okay, but when we make the assumption that the prospect is destined to be a customer, we ignore a great deal of what a prospect could contribute to a conversation.
If you instead step back and treat the conversation as a true exploration, where you aren’t sure what you’ll find and are genuinely curious to find out, you set a unique tone to the dialog that pitch-heavy advisors can’t achieve. When you aren’t sure where the conversation will go, you have no choice but to listen and to ask genuine questions. Those questions, in turn, lead to more questions. With this approach, the prospect feels heard instead of sold-to, and the interaction can establish a mutual respect that pays big dividends later.
This can be hard to do because it feels counterintuitive at first. We feel as if we have to talk a lot to prove our value, but the real hook for a worthwhile prospect is when they are able to drill down and express a frustration or a concern that they perhaps were never able to articulate until they spoke to you. To get to that point, you need to focus on asking questions and paying more attention to what your prospect says than on thinking about what you have to say next.
But most importantly, you have to keep an open mind and accept that you might not know the prospect’s true need or what actually sets you apart from the incumbent advisor.
Here’s how you can keep your mind from inadvertently closing:
- Resist the urge to overprepare. Every salesperson has a different approach, and I respect that some may need to research prospects extensively before taking a meeting. For me, I cover the basics and go in with a blank slate so that I don’t fall into the trap of showing off my research instead of asking good questions. Regardless of the exact approach you take, you should be wary of the preconceived notions your process might create and be careful not to bring those notions into the meeting.
- Be okay with not knowing an answer. When you enter an open conversation, you will encounter unexpected twists. It’s okay to be surprised, and it is okay to admit if you do not immediately have a response to a question. Embrace those moments instead of hiding from them. You don’t have to know everything, and you shouldn’t fake it when you genuinely don’t have the answer. Prospects respect you when you say “I don’t know” if they have overall confidence in you.
- Give your prospect space to talk. If you wait to speak, your prospect will often continue talking and go deeper. If you need to, a prompt of “tell me more about that” can be enough encouragement to get your prospect to share more. With this approach, your prospect will often share what truly bothers them without you feeding them a script.
- Check your bias at the door. As you sell with this mindset, become more mindful of the assumptions you’re making about the prospect. After years of sales experience, we can start to jump to conclusions that are not accurate and cloud our ability to have an open conversation.
Approaching sales with an open mind can be deceptively difficult. After all, most advisors would consider themselves open-minded individuals. If we don’t address the subtle influences that start to narrow our thinking, however, we will miss out on potentially lucrative sales.
— Read 6 Ways to Capture the Rewards Hiding in the Unknown, on ThinkAdvisor.
John Pojeta is vice president of business development at The PT Services Group. Before he joined PT, he owned and operated an Ameriprise Financial Services franchise for 16 years.