Have you ever left the house, only to remember your mobile phone was on the kitchen table? If you have (and who hasn’t), you probably measured your frustration against the distance traveled before realizing your mistake. If the light bulb went off as you left the driveway, a quick palm-slap to the forehead is probably the extent of the damage to your day. If, on the other hand, you were pulling into the office parking lot and faced a day of meetings when it hit you, your response is probably less suited to sharing with family audiences.
This benign example of risk-analysis is a part of our daily lives. We all tend to measure a fault as it relates to the inconvenience it imposes us. We all form routines to strike the balance between crippling risk-aversion and laissez faire abandon. The costlier the fault, the less autonomic the routine…the pre-flight ritual of airline pilots are a tad more deliberate than our mental checklist before a jog to the corner market for a reason.
We’ve learned, sometimes at the temporary expense of our sanity, the value of time blithely wasted. And, we’ve come to know that wasted time can also extend into wasted opportunity. It’s one thing to make the morning commute twice in order to retrieve your iPad, it’s another thing altogether to consider rescheduling a couple of meetings to boot.
And yet, salespeople do this every day. Every. Single. Day.
Consider the last sale you lost. I know it’s not your favorite thing to do, but, do it anyway. Now, with that sale in your mind, remember why you lost it. Was it price? Or was it politics, perhaps? Maybe it was availability, or a missing feature, function, or, all the above? Whatever the reason(s), sit back and try to reconstruct at what point in the sales cycle it broke the deal…because we know that whatever the stated reasons for a deal going south, it seldom happens in the last moments. Sure, that’s when it becomes clear the deal is lost, but, that’s not when the process was perverted. In actuality it entered the sale sometime back, and gone unchecked from that moment on, you were wasting your time. What’s worse, you were acting as a foil to the ultimate victor, going through your wasted motions as they move in for the coup de gras.
Yep, dead man walking.
The Swordsmanship Seller knows there is seldom the opportunity to dispatch an opponent in one single strike. The fatal moment of most duels is preceded by any number of maneuvers and small wounds that ultimately lead to the final blow. And this is just fine, because any fight worth the spoils will be tough, and requires preparation, patience, and perception. It’s this perception that provides the ability to recognize and realign threats before they set into motion the exploitation of an unrecoverable vulnerability.
It’s no great insight to say that the unseen thrust is the deadliest. Yet despite this, most combatants spend the great majority of their engagement focused only on the threats they can see. And this is a good thing. It’s good because the Swordsmanship Seller is not one of them, and wields that advantage with deadly effect.
These unseen threats are hidden by misdirection, or, stealth. Each cut exploits either a manipulation or, lapse of, perception. The Swordsmanship Seller employs perception as a matter of survival, knowing that to ignore the hidden is to concede defeat. Fortunately, much of what is otherwise concealed can be found hiding in plain sight.
The lessons here are to acknowledge that if the sale is lost, it’s lost somewhere along the way, often well before the closing engagements. And, by failing to recognize this, you not only deny yourself the ability to recoup your contention, but you donate your wasted time to supporting your opponent’s eventual victory.
Perception is a funny thing. Our brains intermediate what our senses collect, and filter it according to evolutionary dictates of advantage. The challenge arises when the advantage criteria we inherited needs to be tweaked to fit a specific situation, like a sales call, for example. Our filters are working overtime in situations where the stakes are high. Consequence is a powerful force on our subconscious, and it activates any number of autonomic sub-routines. One of these routines could be the desire to avoid conflict with the person you are hoping to compel to collaboration and cooperation. These motivations are powerful operators that function behind the scenes. This desire to avoid conflict can compel us to interpret outwardly non-threatening exchanges at face value. Here we can run afoul of our perception operating contrary to our prospect’s reality.
Let’s take the questions prospects ask over the course of the sale. Chances are, you can jot down a dozen of these you know are coming your way regardless of the differences that distinguish one prospect to the next. You hear them all the time, right? Like talk about the weather and traffic, we handle these as a matter of course, eager to get to the real stuff.
The Swordsmanship Seller knows this IS the real stuff.
These routine questions are, effectively, tests of your defenses. Many of these are salvos born of an effort to disqualify you. Not out of any particular prejudice, mind you, but as a matter of course by the prospect; they don’t want to waste time with an unqualified seller. Others are specific to the routine efforts of the usual suspects, the inside and outside forces working towards their own ends. The better you address these questions, the more worthy of trust and confidence you prove. And what better opportunity to reinforce your worth than by having your responses reflect the fact you’ve already been there and done that, with your preparation and experience center stage and on-target.
Now, consider the further advantage of establishing your habit of qualifying the prospect’s questions early, and to do so in the context of otherwise routine conversation. You won’t be faced with the hurdle of switching dialogue style when the tough talk gets going and nothing can be left to be assumed.
So there’s a lot to be gained by taking a look at how we handle routine questions early in the sale.
Okay, how is the Swordsmanship Seller’s perception enhanced? By knowing what questions are likely to be asked, and having an intimate command of your practiced and refined response, you free up your conscious recognition of the nuances behind what used to be hidden by routine. We free our cognitive horsepower to dedicate to the task of seeing past the obvious, to see the unspoken dialogue where the truth of the matter resides.
Think about it. When your prospect asks about, for example, your references, something any buyer is likely to ask, how do you answer? If you’re well versed in qualifying the prospect’s questions, you might reply, “Of course, customer satisfaction is an important consideration for a project like this…tell me, what aspect of the customer experience rates as most important to you?”. From here, you’ve invited your prospect to elaborate, and you in turn can frame your reply to best address the needs behind the question. Textbook, right?
Well, consider this. You have an idea what competitors are most likely to be in the mix, don’t you? Even if you don’t, you do know which competitors have the best win/loss against you. Whichever the case, you have an opportunity to address your prospect’s question, while at the same time parry what might be a hidden thrust, and, riposte with a thrust of your own.
Let’s look at this question again. You’ve been asked about references. First of all, most of your competitors will default to, “Oh, of course, not a problem. We have a gazillion happy customers. In fact, our customer satisfaction scores are some of the best in the industry. I’ll send them to you.” They’re just going through the motions, and probably won’t pose a real threat. The more dangerous opponent’s will qualify the question as we’ve already noted. In either case, the Swordsmanship Seller has already seen the opportunity coming, and is prepared.
You know which competitors are most likely to have a story to tell about references, especially a story that can be spun to appear as an advantage over your company. You can bet that at some point in the sales cycle, that competitor is going to roll out the big guns and hit you with their purported advantages. You want to weaken them while providing value to your prospect. So you’ve asked yourself what aspect of their references story will they spin as an advantage? Pure numbers? Quality of customers? Industry relevant? Whatever it is, your reply will both parry their thrust, and, return with your own cut.
For this example, we’ll say your strongest opponent boasts of the biggest installed base in the industry, or some equivalent value…so, when the question of references comes up:
“Of course, customer satisfaction is an important consideration for a project like this…tell me, what aspect of the customer experience rates as most important to you? For example, how important is a large installed base?”
This brings into the light the importance your prospect assigns to such a feature. With one simple question, you’ve gained an insight to how this aspect of your competitor’s appeal aligns with your prospect’s regard. Regardless of where prospect rates the importance of a large installed base, you’re prepared to ask a question that positions your strength against theirs, because you already know how your client list relates to this prospect.
“Right, so with a large installed base near the top (or the bottom), where would you place the importance of reference customers that are in your industry?”
So, with a routine question you know will nearly always come up in any given sale, you’ve gained an important incremental insight to the lines of attack and defense. Because you’ve practiced this enough times the exchange becomes second nature, and you could listen between the lines. Your perception was alert to how the question was asked, and answered, and with that perception you’ve moved one step closer to understanding your prospect. It’s with that understanding, that step closer translates to value for both your customer, and your competitive advantage.
That simple step closer, is also one step you won’t be taking down the path to defeat, unaware you’ve been mortally wounded, and walking like the dead man you are. That’ll be your opponent’s job.
Sell fearlessly, my friends.