How Your Junior High English Teacher Can Help You Sell More Effectively

Karl Graf

How Your Junior High English Teacher Can Help You Sell More Effectively

Think back on your sales appointments over the past two weeks. How often did you use each of the following:

  • “is there anything…”
  • “could you…”
  • “would you…”
  • “can I”
  • “I’ll follow up on… does that work for you?”

Each of those questions creates an automatic reflexive (Pavlovian) response in our prospects. The response to the first four is typically “no” and to the last one is “sure (but I won’t answer)”.

Your prospect responds that way because they have been trained by every other salesperson who calls on them who asks the same questions.

This is not unlike movie stars on media tours to promote their new film. After being asked “what was it like to work with <fill in other star’s name>” for the 607th time they develop an automatic response that satisfies the journalist who asked and doesn’t require much thought to say.

To paraphrase one of David Sandler’s rules, if you want to be treated differently by your prospect you must act and sound different than everyone else who calls on them.

The technique to prevent triggering a Pavlovian response in your prospect was taught to you in grade school English. The proper name is “interrogatives,” but most of us know it as the “5Ws (who, what, when, where, why) and a H (how).”

Take the following example. In a meeting with a non-decision maker a salesperson attempts to get a meeting with the decision maker.

Scene 1

  • Salesperson – “would you introduce me to Stephanie?”
  • Prospect – “I don’t think that’s necessary. Stephanie is very busy”

Scene 2

  • Salesperson – “how do we get you and I and Stephanie in the same room?”
  • Prospect – “I don’t know. I know she’s in next week, let me check her calendar.”

In the second scene the salesperson did two things to not trigger a Pavlovian response in their prospect. First they included their prospect in the meeting with Stephanie, which makes the non-decision maker feel important. Second they asked their prospect “how,” which causes their prospect to stop and think instead of reflexively responding.

Next time you finish an appointment with a prospect debrief the questions you asked and make note of where an interrogative might have uncovered more information or caused your prospect to think instead of reflexively respond. If you make this review a consistent part of your debriefing in a short time you’ll naturally use more interrogatives in your meetings.