Nearly every sales system or methodology addresses the complicated relationship between prospects and the truth. Put gently, prospects will often tell us what they think we want to hear. More grizzled sales veterans, however, often go as far as to bluntly say, “Prospects lie.”
Although that might be the objective fact of the situation, the reality is a bit more nuanced, and we need to understand that nuance to make our sales techniques more effective.
If we pull back and look at our own lives, we can see why well-intentioned prospects might distort the truth during a sales conversion. Think about when you shop. If you are like the average person, you might go to the store with an item in mind that you’d like to buy, but you also have no desire to talk to the plucky teenager who spots you as soon as you enter the door and starts sauntering your way with a big smile.
“Looking for anything in particular today?” she might ask.
“Not right now. Just looking.”
We do it all the time. And we use the same response in a variety of situations. No one says, “Yes, but I know where it is and just want to be left alone” or “Actually, I have no intention of buying anything, but I have 20 minutes to kill and Starbucks was too busy.”
Our response is not meant to be malicious. We don’t want to be the person who brings turmoil to this new person in our lives, so we say something that sounds appropriate for the situation, even if it twists the truth a bit. For advisors, that means we need sales tools to address these half-truths and white lies when we talk to prospects. Like doctors who tell a cardiac patient, “No more smoking and no more drinking,” we should not be surprised if they say, “Of course,” and end up doing the opposite of what was recommended.
To get through these smokescreens, here is what we tell our advisor clients to do.
Push the prospect to be specific. If you ask a prospect how their benefits plan is performing, you might hear some variation of “It’s doing fine” or “We are happy with it.” You could accept that response at face value and move on. However, if you encourage the prospect to be specific, you might unlock some worthwhile insights into what is really happening in their business. For example, if the prospect says, “It’s doing fine,” follow up with, “In your world, what does ‘fine’ look like?” When you nudge the prospect into speaking more concretely, you often get closer to the real truth.
Counter with an example of what you often hear. If you feel that the prospect is not being totally transparent, use a hypothetical approach to draw them out of their shell. The model you can follow for this is “When I hear prospects say X, we often discover Y when we look deeper.” In practice, that might look like the following: “When I hear prospects say they are happy with their advisor’s responsiveness, we often discover that the advisor checks in only twice a year and almost never provides direct employee education.” Framing the conversation this way makes it more difficult for the prospect to avoid the truth or, perhaps, illuminates a problem the prospect didn’t see initially.
Skip past the smokescreen and address the real truth directly. Like the doctor who knows his smoker patient will likely pick up a cigarette shortly after leaving the hospital, you can skip over the part where you give the prospect the opportunity to lie and instead address the reality. The advisor’s version of “Look, I know you might struggle to quit smoking, so here is an addiction counselor as well as the plan we have seen work most often” might be “We find when individuals like yourself are being honest with us, they are struggling with 20 percent rate increases and higher on health insurances but they don’t really know what to do about it. How about we discuss some ways to address that reality?”
Remember, most prospects are not lying to you out of any intentional desire to do you harm or to waste your time. Sometimes, they are trying to be nice, and in other cases, they are simply unaware of how they should go about answering the kinds of questions you might ask. Instead of accepting every answer you receive, use these tactics to dive deeper. When you get to the real truth, the productive parts of the sales conversation can begin.
John Pojeta is the vice president of business development at The PT Services Group. He previously owned and operated an Ameriprise Financial Services franchise for 16 years. John may be contacted at [email protected].