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According to Tim Sanders, former CSO of Yahoo, your biggest enemy isn’t your competitor: It’s the status quo.

“When I go through a sales team’s CRM and look at all the deals they didn’t close, 80% of them are marked ‘no decision,’” he explained at an Enterprise Sales Meetup event on Aug. 3.

“The prospect didn’t go with the competitor -- they decided not to buy anything.”

When you correctly diagnose buyer pain and show them how the cost of not changing, they’re eager to disrupt the status quo. Take a look at these four powerful ways to open the prospect’s eyes and get them to admit their pain.

1) Use Third-Party Examples

You might be tempted to come right out and tell your prospect their current way of doing things isn’t working. But that won't always be effective -- many people (understandably!) dislike hearing that they’re wrong, especially from someone who has a vested interest in convincing them to change their ways.

To make your point convincingly, share an example of a similar company that's seen success.

Imagine you sell timesheet software, and you’re talking to an agency principal who uses a paper timesheet system. While he’s open to the possibility of digital timesheets, he clearly doesn’t think the current set-up is that bad.

Wrong: “Using paper timesheets is inefficient and time-consuming. Plus, they lead to a ton of expensive errors.”

Right: “I helped another agency around your size transition to online timesheets. They were spending far too long reconciling the timesheets -- around 10 hours per week. Now, the software does the same thing in seconds. And there’s also been a 45% increase in accuracy.”

By using a third party to point out where your prospect is falling short, you open the door for their “Eureka!” moment without criticizing them.

2) Give Them a “Pain Menu”

Need a more direct approach? Give the prospect a couple options of pain they might be experiencing.

For example, you could say to the agency owner:

I’ve worked with many firms who use paper timesheets, and most of them struggle to bill clients accurately, estimate how long projects will take, and pay their team members quickly and easily. Do any of those issues resonate with you?”

Even if the issues you named don't resonate, you'll get your prospect's mind working. He might say, “Now that I think about it, we’ve been having trouble meeting deadlines,” or, “No, we’re not having those issues -- but getting my employees to submit their timesheets is a major pain.”

Either way, he’s acknowledged the current system is flawed. Now you can explore potential solutions.

3) Explore the Consequences of No Action

They say that if you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it’ll immediately hop out. But if you put the frog in a pot of room temperature water and slowly turn up the heat, it’ll stay in there until it’s boiled to death.

Right now, the prospect is the frog. They need to understand the negative consequences of doing nothing -- before it’s too late.

To open their eyes, ask them what will happen if nothing changes. For instance, you might say, “If [process] stays the same, how would that impact the business in one year?”

Follow up with, “How would that impact you personally?” or “How would that impact [you/your team’s] ability to accomplish [priority or goal]?”

4) Dig Into Their Current System

Telling someone to think a certain way usually doesn’t work. For your prospect to fully believe they’ve got a problem, they’ll need to draw their own conclusions.

You can lead them to the right conclusions by asking about their current system. They might get defensive if you immediately probe into its weaknesses -- so start with its strengths. Once they’ve shared an issue or two with you, dig deeper.

Here’s an example:

Rep: Right now you’re using two free apps to send surveys to your customers -- one for text and one for email. What are the benefits of that system?

Prospect: It’s definitely budget-friendly. Plus, both tools are pretty simple. I just type in my questions and press “send.”

Rep: Alright, so ease of use is important to you. What are the drawbacks?

Prospect: Compiling the data from both platforms is annoying, so half the time we don’t do it. I also wish I could send longer surveys. The email app limits you to five.

Rep: Tell me more about what you’d accomplish with longer surveys.

As you can see, this method subtly moves the prospect toward recognizing their pain.

What if you try these strategies and the buyer still refuses to admit anything's wrong? It's probably time to move on. After all, you can’t help someone who doesn’t think they need it.

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Originally published Aug 12, 2016 7:30:00 AM, updated February 01 2017

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Creating Urgency in Sales