Forest (Photo: Bloomberg)

One of the many challenges of sales is that we are often forced to pursue contradictory goals. For example, nearly all sales systems advocate some version of building rapport with your prospect. Make them comfortable with you. Begin sowing the seeds for a deeper relationship. Get to know the prospect for who they are before launching into your pitch.

(Related: The Value of Prospects Who Don’t Close)

And then, we have to find pain. In order to make the sale, we have to identify and illuminate the problem that we can solve. That means challenging our prospect to look at the dark corners of his or her business. That means uncovering missed opportunities, exploring past failures, and reopening old wounds of regret.

We typically need both dynamics to move the sale forward, but the transition can feel abrupt and unnatural for the prospect.

I look to the future to both build rapport and frame conversations around opportunity.

Early in my career, I would ask a question like, “What concerns you most about your current financial situation?” That put a stake in the ground and immediately made the conversation about angst and fear. Now, after I’ve shaken hands with the prospect and talked shop about who they are and what their background might be, I ask, “What has you excited about the next three years of your business?”

Eventually, we will arrive at the same place if either question works, but when you make the conversation about the future, the tone you set is far more hopeful. Yes, you will eventually dig into the past to talk about what the prospect could do differently, but beginning that conversation with a look ahead pulls you away from the bitterness of failure and the discomfort of fear. The dialog that you are having with your prospect is not about all the things that have gone wrong. Instead, it’s about what could go right if the prospect makes the right choices in his or her business.

This tone for the sales meeting not only grounds the conversation in a positive outlook, it opens the door for you, as the advisor, to begin building trust as there is a common vision moving forward.

In our world, advisors often struggle to navigate an existing relationship with an accountant. Accountant relationships are often well-established and have been in place for several years, making that individual a trusted confidant for the prospect. For an advisor pushing for a new approach or a different perspective, that accountant can become a sticking point as the prospect falls back on the accountant’s advice at the first sign of discomfort.

With the frame of looking to the future established, you can directly address that dynamic with the prospect in a way that is disarming. You can say, “I get it, frequently what happens this time of year is that business owners sit down with their accountants and look backward at the previous year. That’s important to do, but my work is built around looking ahead so that you can build toward the exciting opportunities you and I just discussed.”

Obviously, taxes play a role moving forward as well. The difference is you aren’t being positioned against the accountant or anyone else for that matter.

When the conversation continues to build on what is possible in the future, even the pain of the past becomes easier for the prospect to address. Like the accountant relationship, you can never leave the past behind completely, but when you are the one who not only helps the prospect look forward but also shows him or her what they can do to reach the heights they dream of, you position yourself to be the opportunity-maker.

Yes, we will solve problems for our clients along the way, but a doctor does not focus a conversation on how painful a broken arm is. Instead, she talks about what you can do to get back on the pitcher’s mound and what you’ll be able to accomplish when you reach peak performance.

Look to the future for yourself and for your prospects, and you will feel the difference in your sales.

— Read 6 Ways to Capture the Rewards Hiding in the Unknownon ThinkAdvisor.


John Pojeta

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.