Chapter 6 - Initiating Change
Sales training is focused on closing, but often neglects to consider opening. It seems to take for granted that the salesman has recognized the potential to sell to a prospect - or worse, it treats the opening as inconsequential: the salesman simply strolls up and starts selling, whether the other person likes it or not.
(EN: Scrolling ahead, it seems the author makes the same mistake to a lesser degree. He's talking about starting the conversation but skipping the step of determining whether it's worthwhile to do so. Another author focused more on this step, as he recognized that the key to effective sales is spending your time wisely, by being selective about whom you approach.)
There are no end of folk sayings about the importance of starting off well and making a good first impression. A few are mentioned.
The author likens the opening to the "topic sentence" of a paper you are writing. It provides an indication of what you intend to discuss in a way that gets the reader to take interest in the material you are about to present.
And as usual, there are no tricks - the author will provide some basic tactics that can be adapted to various situations. He will, however, focus on opening with a prospect who doesn't know you very well because those are the hardest conversations to start, but the same principles apply (and should be applied) to approaching someone familiar.
Starting the Conversation
The author opens with the analogy of a business relationship to a personal one: speaking to someone for the first time can be difficult and awkward. It's no less so after a long relationship in which you have both settled into routines and drifter apart to approach someone about making a sudden change.
Step 1: The introduction
The first step is very basic: tell the other person who you are and what organization you represent - presuming they do not already know.
Then, provide a little bit of information about yourself that will pique their curiosity. Do not overwhelm them with a great deal of information, just one or two points to get the conversation started.
A tip: "The most powerful benefits are the ones people discover on their own." They are more interested in hearing answers to their questions than being lectured.
The challenge of the introduction is to provide just enough information - too much and you bore them, too little and you don't get them to take interest. He offers no practical advice, merely indicates that it is "a rather creative balancing act."
Step 2: The hook
For inbound sales, the prospect is already eager to enter into a conversation with you, and attempting to generate interest is not necessary and possibly damaging if you ignore their interests and attempt to control the conversation.
If you are approaching someone who hasn't shown interest, the best way to gain their interest is to suggest what you can do for them. People are basically self-absorbed and egocentric: they don't care about others unless there's something in it for themselves.
The author calls this "greed" - and his sense is greed makes people predictable and easy to control. If you understand what someone wants, you can position yourself as a means by which they can achieve it. You can then count on their own greed to keep them engaged.
(EN: This seems very negative and manipulative, so perhaps he's using that term for sensationalism. Substitute "ambition" for "greed" and it reeks less. The difference between leveraging ambition ethically and misusing it unethically is in whether you can actually deliver something of value. If you can genuinely serve their interests, you're in the clear - but if you use their interests to mislead them into believing an action will serve their interests when it actually does not, and you're in the grease. This is where it's important to learn about the prospect, and to be willing to walk away if you can't do anything for them.)
Step 3: The process
As a salesman, you must recognize that people don't want to talk to you, and that they assume the worst about your intentions: you want to make a sale, and don't care about their interests.
There's no getting around it, you are "guilty until proven innocent." So you have to very quickly overcome that perception - the author says that it has to happen in the first 45 seconds.
The author suggests telling them about your process. An exact phrase is provided: "I don't want to tell you what to do. I simply want to talk about it, and that means I need to ask questions and listen." This puts you in control of the conversation, and sets the expectation that you are going to interrogate them to gather information.
(EN: I don't see how this effectively addresses the problem that the author opened with or dispels the perception that the salesman has a purely mercenary intent and is unconcerned with the interests of the other party.)
Step 4: The time
Another opening move is to provide a sense of how long the conversation will take. The author recognizes that time is very important to people, and that when you initiate a conversation you are assuming the person has nothing better to do.
Unfortunately, customers have learned that when a salesman asks "can I have a few minutes of your time?" it generally means half an hour or longer. They offer a "quick excuse" as to why it isn't a good time to talk.
(EN: Somewhat annoyed that the author dismisses the reply as an excuse and doesn't acknowledge that there may be a reason it's not a good time, or consider that dealing with a salesman is not a productive use of someone else's time. Seems very disrespectful, and disrespect is not a way to gain trust.)
The only advice the author offers is to be realistic. Ask for "fifteen minutes of your time" - and then to stick to whatever amount of time you have established. Your suggestion about the amount of time it will take is in effect a promise, and if you break that promise they will not trust any other promise you make.
Completing the Opening
Consider the opening to a conversation to be an important task - before you can do anything else, you have to get the prospect to agree to have a conversation with you.
If you attempt to move forward without permission to have a conversation, things ill not go well - so don't shortcut this process.
Write It Out
While the author is not a fan of "scripts" in marketing, he does feel that it is worthwhile to write out your opening and polish it well, because a lot is riding on the first minute of your conversation and you should be very attentive to getting it right.
The opening to a conversation is fairly standard - until you know something about a prospect, you can't really tailor what you say to their specific needs. However, you can often make predictions, identify three or four different ways to start a conversation based on the situation and the person, so you can use the appropriate one.
It's also valuable to have written "talking points" so that you can revise and improve them over time - while your conversation should seem natural, you don't want to make it up on the fly every time.
The process for opening a conversation should always be the same, but the words will be different depending on the occasion. This even remains true when you are meeting someone you met before.
When you meet again, it's useful to reiterate some of your opening points - in the author's experience, people are not offended by this, and it's better to do it than to neglect it. Set expectations for each conversation, not just the first.
Loose bit: a trick to use when you've forgotten someone's name is to remind them of yours - this prompts them to return the favor by reminding you of theirs.
The First Four Words
The author suggests a four-word phrase he has found effective at getting people to converse with him: "I need your help"
By beginning your discussion this way, you are drawing on the moral imperative people feel to be helpful to others in need - and putting them in the awkward position of having refused to help another person if they refuse to speak to you.
(EN: My sense is this is very slimy - it may be effective, but it is manipulative and deceptive. The mark will quickly realize that it was a ruse, and trust will be damaged if not entirely destroyed.)
Value, No Value
When a salesman approaches a mark, he should expect that the mark does not perceive that the conversation will have any value for him. It is for this reason people refuse even to engage with a salesman. And so, you should very quickly communicate that interacting with you has value for them.
The author offers a canned script for this: "At the end of our conversation, you will either find value in what we've talked about, or you won't. If you don't find any value, I ask only that you feel comfortable telling me so. I don't want to waste either of our time going over solutions that hold no value to you. Does that sound fair?"
This trick works because it gives the mark the sense that they have the right to refuse - and that you are not going to be assaulting their position immediately. As such they are less likely to feel that they are being trapped.
Another trick he mentions is asking someone who indicates that they don't want to deal with you for their contact information, so that you can make sure that they are not contacted again. (EN: I don't see how this accomplishes anything, though it would be nice if it were true.)
A third trick is that when someone insists they don't have time, ask them when they do have time - "more often than not" you will get them to schedule an appointment.
The author cautions the reader that "we're very close to that manipulation line here" (EN: it's certainly much further from the line than the previous section, but it also seems to be in the clear because the prospect indicated time was an issue and you are accommodating his schedule - if the reason is something other than time, he should have said so.)
Watch Out for Buzzwords
The author lists four words or phrases that can cause prospects to raise shields, and suggests replacements:
- I want to discuss - Replace with "I want to ask"
- Tell you - Replace with "listen to you"
- Just a few minutes - Replace with a specific and accurate number
- I want - replace with "I need your help"
(EN: Naturally, the wordplay here is a means of rephrasing an entire sentence, and taking an entirely different approach.)