To Win Deals, Make Your Prospect Feel Smart (Here’s How)

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Aja Frost
Aja Frost




Back in 2005, Neil Strauss published The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists. Almost every dating strategy Strauss doles out in this “manual” is horrible, but among the worst? The so-called Neg.

Here’s how the Neg goes. Once you’ve found someone you’re interested in, you walk up to them … and insult them. Since you’ve undermined their self-esteem, Strauss reasons, they’ll be more vulnerable to your flirtatious advances.

Not only is this technique cruel, but it also sounds like it would never work. And, spoiler alert: It doesn’t.

Yet for some reason, some salespeople use a similar strategy with their prospects -- implying that they’re misinformed or ignorant in the hopes they’ll follow the rep’s advice. As with the Neg, all this does is make the prospect resent the rep.

Ironically, the most successful approach to getting buyers to listen to you is the exact opposite: Make your prospects feel like experts. After all, building someone up makes them like and trust you -- which in turn makes them want to buy from you.

Here are five ways you can pull off the anti-Neg.

1) Ask for your prospect’s advice.

Requesting someone’s guidance makes them feel great -- after all, you’re essentially saying, Not only do I recognize your authority on this subject, but I think I could really benefit from it.

Of course, you don’t want to undermine your own credibility in the process. So seek your buyer’s opinion on something that’s unrelated to your product or the industry. For example, you could say, “Based on your LinkedIn posts, you’ve got a real way with words. Do you have any writing-related advice?”

Some other ideas:

  • "I saw that you have a ton of LinkedIn endorsements for [skill]. When it comes to [skill], I’m a little lost -- [how did you get started, what are your best tips, what do you think about X, etc.]?"
  • "My [friend, niece, former co-worker] is hoping to become [prospect’s profession]. Do you have any advice I can pass along?"
  • "While preparing for our call, I noticed you’re [responsible for X task, knowledgeable in Y area, accomplished in Z domain]. My company is looking for a tool that’ll help us with that -- do you have any suggestions?"

Bizarrely, research conducted by Alison Woods of Harvard Business School shows this tactic makes you look smarter, too. In one study, researchers asked the participants to complete a brain teaser. Half the participants got a text from a “fellow participant” (in reality, a computer) congratulating them on finishing the puzzle, while the other half got a text asking for advice. Those who got requests for help viewed the other participant as more competent.

As Woods and her colleagues explain, “Being asked for advice caused advisers to feel more self-confident and, in turn, to view the advice seeker more positively."

2) Follow their advice.

To really demonstrate you respect your prospect’s advice, don’t just solicit it -- follow it. Maybe your prospect recommended that you become a better writer by jotting down a few lines every day. The next time you talk to her, say, “Thanks for the writing tip! I’ve been writing a paragraph or so each morning.”

If you’ve gotten results, even better. Perhaps your prospect told you about his favorite scheduling app, and it’s had a huge impact on the way you work. You could say, “Thanks again for recommending HubSpot’s Meetings app. I used it to plan four meetings this week: It’s so much easier than sending endless back-and-forth emails.”

Even if your prospect didn’t give you any direct advice, you can still use this technique. Look for a nugget of wisdom they’ve shared in an article, interview, or social media post. Then, when you’re emailing or calling them, add, “By the way -- loved your tip on [website] about [topic]. I even shared it with [relevant person].”

3) Acknowledge the smart things they say.

Thanks to all the information that’s out there nowadays -- and the fact that most people are fairly far along in the buyer’s journey before they engage with a sales rep -- your prospects are likely going to ask intelligent questions and raise insightful points early on in the relationship.

When they do, call attention to it.

Imagine your prospect says, “Your expense management platform seems easy to use. But it only works for credit card transactions, right? What would I do about purchase orders?”

Rather than immediately explaining why your product doesn’t include that feature, begin with, “That’s a really smart question.” Then go into your answer: “Our engineers debated building support for POs. Ultimately, they decided against it because …”

Some alternative phrases that express similar meaning:

  • "That’s a good point … "
  • "You’ve hit upon a really relevant issue … "
  • "Your instincts are spot on … "
  • "Thanks for bringing up such a pertinent detail … "
  • "Nice, you’ve honed in something most people overlook ... "

It’s definitely possible to overuse this technique, so make sure you don’t praise your prospect for every question they ask or objection they raise -- only the ones that truly impress you.

4) Take notes.

People love to see their words being written down, since it shows them the writer truly values what they’re saying (and doesn’t want to run the risk of forgetting what they’ve said!)

If you’re in the room with a prospect, take notes in a notebook -- not a computer. Unfortunately, typing notes can look pretty similar to answering emails or doing other work. Instead of communicating interest, you could give the impression you’re not engaged, and you definitely don’t want to do that.

When you’re on the phone, show you’re taking notes by pausing after the prospect has just finished talking, and then saying, “Sorry -- just writing down what you said.”

5) Highlight their skills or accomplishments.

Finally, show your buyer you admire their abilities or what they’ve achieved with a good old-fashioned compliment. The key is to keep your praise genuine; if people feel like you’re trying to butter them up, you’ll do the relationship more harm than good.

Let’s say your prospect tweeted about the triathlon she just completed. You might say, “Hey, congratulations on the triathlon. I can’t imagine how much mental and physical endurance that would require.” (And if you wanted to incorporate the tip on asking for advice, you could add, “I’m working up to a half-marathon. Do you have any training advice?”)

Alternatively, you can compliment the person on the nature of their job. For instance, if your prospect is telling you about the challenges of his position and how he’s adapted thus far, you could respond, “In my role, I’ve spoken to hundreds of [prospect’s job title], and I’ve discovered it’s a really demanding job that requires a lot of [trait #1] and [trait #2]. It definitely seems like you’ve got those traits.”

Dale Carnegie said it best: “Make other people feel important -- and do it sincerely.” If you want to win friends, influence people, and close deals, implement these five confidence-boosting techniques.

How do you make your prospects feel like experts? Let us know in the comments, or talk to us in real time by joining HubSpot's Slack channel.

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