I don't know about you, but I have never liked being told what to do. I don't think I've ever met anybody who did respond well to that kind of instruction, even when the person in charge-a coach at sports, for example-clearly knew what he was doing if the message is delivered wrong. It doesn't matter if what you are saying is true, if it's not delivered properly. You can be the authority, but no one cares if you can't deliver your message in a way that others can accept. The fact that you have good prudent knowledge, the fact that you're correct, doesn't matter if not delivered properly. Sales professionals who forget this fact of human nature do so at their own peril.
This is especially true today, thanks to technology. The personal computer has empowered the individual in new and unsettling ways. It is now possible for just about anybody to find out just about anything just by going online. This has seriously eroded the authority of experts, but in the process, it has increased the confidence of just about everybody else.
Today, again thanks to technological advances, you don't have to watch commercials you don't want to watch. For advertisers to reach consumers with a message, consumers almost have to invite them in. This, too, has shifted the balance of power between experts and non-experts, and between companies and their customers. This has made people even more resistant than ever before to being told by others what they should think or how they should act.
Ignoring these developments during sales calls could be fatal. Even before the Internet changed the way we respond, prospects instinctively resisted salespeople who were too eager to explain, too often in condescending tones, why the product or service they sold was the only "right" one. Today, that's even less likely to work because prospects don't want to take anybody's word for anything.
That means you have to make them think they've discovered the benefits of what you are selling on their own. This will require you to do less talking and more listening, which is always smart practice. This will also require asking smart questions, which can follow stories about the experience of other customers.
"Many of our customers find that by using our product they can increase their production by 12 percent," you might say. "What would a 12 percent increase mean to your company?"
Once the prospect has imagined what such a boost might mean, you can follow up with even more leading questions. "What would this boost allow your company to do?" you can ask. "What would that mean for you, personally?"
Each answer leads the prospect to the conclusion that they absolutely have to buy what you are selling-a conclusion they have reached all by themselves. Or so it will seem.
They haven't been told what to do, which means they will appreciate how they've been treated. They'll come out of these meetings thinking well of themselves and well of you, which strengthens what should become be a long and profitable relationship.