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Did you ever have a conversation with a prospect who suddenly, and for no apparent reason, became unreceptive to perfectly good advice?

It happens to many salespeople. Shortly after we offer advice or insights rooted from deep personal and organisational experience, to be technically correct, we find ourselves in a conversation that loses momentum … or stops altogether. In some cases, the prospect even stops returning phone calls or e-mail messages.

What happened in these exchanges?

Typically, the “good advice” we offer in such situations sounds something like this: “The problem is, Jim, you aren’t conducting assessment surveys on your new hires. You should incorporate a simple online questionnaire into your hiring process. Then I bet your turnover numbers would start to go down.”

Jim may not respond well to a message like that. Why not? Because we’re telling Jim what he “should” do – and that message is not likely to be a welcome one, no matter how much experience we have that backs it up. We’re telling Jim that what he’s doing right now isn’t what he “should” be doing. Even though our advice is sound and well-intentioned, it’s likely Jim will interpret what we’ve put forward as an unwelcome message of judgement. That’s one of the big reasons why prospects shut down and decide to keep salespeople at arm’s length … or even further away!

Messages that communicate judgement or bias (see the list on the left below) about what is right or wrong, good or bad, what one should or shouldn’t do, and what is acceptable and what isn’t, are likely to trigger emotional responses from the listener.  Those responses can range from compliance (which may carry with it some degree of resentment) to rebellion, neither of which are desirable or conducive to the rapport and trust you are working to establish in a sales discussion.

Rather than tell someone what to do or how to act, you can frame the message around a helpful suggestion or a point for consideration.  (See the list on the right below.)

 

Judgemental                                      Helpful

You should…                                      You may find more value in…

You should have…                             Had you considered…?

You shouldn’t…                                  It might not help to…

Don’t do…                                          You may want to consider…

You’re wrong about…                         Your perspective might change if…

You missed the point.                         Have you considered…?

You just don’t get it.                            Perhaps you should think about…

Listen to me.                                       May I suggest…?

 

So, using our example, if you were to say to Jim, “In addition to what you’re doing now, Jim, you might find value in conducting some basic assessment surveys on your new hires. If you were to incorporate a simple online questionnaire into your hiring process, those high turnover numbers might start to go down.”

Consider framing your advice as a helpful, neutral partner, someone who avoids judgemental messages. Using this approach, you may well find that it’s easier to keep the conversation moving forward, easier to make your advice accessible, easier to keep the prospect engaged as a peer, and, ultimately, easier to close the sale.

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