7 Bulletproof Techniques for Getting Even the Most Distracted Prospects to Focus

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Aja Frost
Aja Frost





The average person gets distracted every three minutes. That means during a 10-minute connect call, your prospect’s mind will wander three times. During a half-hour discovery call? You can count on them drifting out no less than 10 times.

Unfortunately, distractions are deadly to reps. It’s challenging enough to get accurate information from someone who’s not listening. Persuading them that your product is a good fit is almost impossible.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way. These seven proven techniques will work on even the most distracted prospects, so you can deliver your proposal knowing they’ve been hanging on to every word.

1) Ask Them to Use Their Imagination

Did you know rewards have a greater impact on our attention and motivation than feelings of pleasure? That’s why Ben Parr, author of Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention, advises keeping someone engaged in your conversation by appealing to their desires.

You can easily do this by asking them to imagine a world with your solution. For instance, you could say:

Imagine never again needing to harass your employees to submit their timesheets. Since their work time is automatically tracked and logged, you can create team and individual reports instantly and in one click. Even better? When you bill clients, your invoices will be more accurate and detailed than ever before -- not to mention far easier to make. How does less stress and 10 extra hours a month sound?

By getting your prospect to visualize this scenario, you’ll definitely re-capture their roaming focus.

2) Change Your Volume and Pacing

Successful public speakers consistently switch up their delivery. In fact, an analysis of several hundred hours of TED talks found a direct correlation between “verbal variety” and audience engagement. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to vary your tone, pitch, volume, and speed when you talk to prospects.

But what if you’re already doing so and your audience still seems preoccupied? This tactic also works in the moment: Simply become noticeably louder, quieter, faster, or slower.

To give you an idea, let’s say your current volume is just shy of loud. As soon as you suspect your prospect’s attention has shifted elsewhere, lower your voice so it’s much softer. Your prospect’s ears will register the change -- and they’ll automatically start listening closer to discover the cause.

Alternatively, if your current speed is relatively moderate, re-engage the prospect by talking more quickly or slowly. Naomi Baron, a professor of linguistics at American University, says famous YouTubers do this to keep their audience’s attention.

(Just don’t take this too far -- if you realize you’re talking in slow-mo or double-time, shift closer to your normal speed.)

3) Say Their Name

How do you get someone’s attention from far away? You yell their name. People are incredibly attuned to their names, so they usually whip right around.

You can use the same principle to re-engage a distracted prospect -- at a softer volume, of course. If you notice their answers becoming shorter and less involved, drop their name into your next response.

Here’s how that might look:

You: What’s prevented you from solving issues with webinar quality in the past?

Adam (the prospect): I don’t know … Not really a priority, I guess.

You: Hmm. And Adam, what’s the average percentage of attendees who stop watching because of poor video?

4) Challenge Them

The best way to grab someone’s attention isn’t to shower them with compliments. On the contrary, your best bet is creating a small degree of tension.

Betty Liu, news anchor for Bloomberg Television, calls this “soft conflict.”

Introducing soft conflict “puts someone on alert,” Liu points out. Plus, since most people are rarely challenged, “meeting someone who knows how to speak honestly and voice an opinion that's different from theirs or others (while still possessing a certain modicum of respect) is a welcome relief.”

Wondering how to put this into action? You might bring back a distracted prospect by pausing, saying their name (see strategy #3), and asking a tough question like, “How important is this problem compared to the other ones you’re working on?” or “Let’s say you don’t solve this issue within three months. How will that impact the company?”

If the prospect really seems out of it, you can connect the dots for them. For example, you could say, “So, [name], based on the information you’ve given me, using a manual dispatch system is costing you $10,000 each month in lost productivity, scheduling mistakes, and unhappy customers. Can you afford that?”

Your bluntness will surprise them in a good way -- and more importantly, kickstart the conversation again.

5) Tell a Story

Facts tell -- stories sell. While it’s easy for prospects to become distracted when you’re reciting a litany of details, they’ll automatically tune in again if you launch into a story.

This technique sounds most natural when you use an example or experience from another customer.

To see how it’s done, check out this sample dialogue.

Before: On average, companies who use our employee engagement platform increase their EPS by 38 points.

After: When BlueSky came to us, their EPS was a dismal 22 points. They used our platform to ask employees which perks they wanted to see, why they were so dissatisfied with the management and leadership style, and how they could boost retention. Simply asking raised the EPS by 15 points -- and once they implemented the survey results, their score skyrocketed to 60.

6) Ask Questions

It shouldn’t come as a shock that people stop paying attention when the rep is talking too much. If you can sense the prospect is only half-listening, there’s a good chance you’ve been dominating the conversation.

Remember, the golden ratio of talking to listening is 30 to 70. Keep your contributions to a mere 30% of the conversation -- the other person should be talking the rest of the time.

Maybe you realize the breakdown has been closer to 50/50, or even 70/30. Show the prospect you’re going to stop rambling by saying, “I apologize, I’ve been talking too much. Do you have any thoughts about what we’ve discussed so far?” or “I know I’ve covered a lot. What do you think about [X point]?”

7) Say, “This Is Important.”

When subtle strategies don’t work, it’s time to pull out the big guns. Tell the prospect, “This is really important.”

Deliver this statement calmly and matter-of-factly, and your prospect is nearly guaranteed to snap to attention.

This hypothetical dialogue demonstrates how it works:

You: … which is why I recommend a 60-day trial. What do you think?

Prospect: Sounds good.

You: [pausing to see if they’ll add anything more] Okay, great. Now I’ve got something really important to ask you.

Prospect: Go for it.

You: What are your expectations for this deal? I want to make sure we’re on the same page.

Looking for a couple alternatives? You can try:

  • Your next answer is incredibly important.
  • The next item is the most crucial one.
  • What our agreement looks like really depends on how you answer this next question.

Unsurprisingly, this device only works once. If you preface everything with “this really matters,” the prospect will quickly stop believing you.

Let’s face it: A sales conversation will probably never be as engaging as the final seconds of an intense sports game or the fight sequence in a great action movie. But that doesn’t mean you should let your prospects mentally wander off. Use these seven tactics, and people will pay attention like you’re, well, David Tyree catching a 33-yard pass for the New York Giants.

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