How to Be Persuasive with Customers

Molly Gilson
Molly Gilson



"Let me tell you why I'm right … "


While most people aren't as direct as this, but when trying to persuade someone to see your point of view, people often fall back on simply telling you why their point is right. I'm sure you've seen this before, right?

Think back to your last political debate, the last time you were trying to decide on a restaurant with a big group, sell someone a product, or convince a customer that your solution is still the right solution for them: People often talk at you when they're trying to persuade you.

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As a consultant for HubSpot's Customer Success Team, my job is focused on driving value for customers. So, how to drive value for customers? Learn what matters to them. And to do that, I need to persuade customers to tell me what matters to them.

It may sound paradoxical to say I have to persuade someone to tell me what matters, but understanding someone's goal takes trust and time. We're all busy, and if my customer wants to cancel their HubSpot subscription, they may question my good intentions to keep them on the phone as a way to talk to them out of canceling. This is why it is so critical to understand what matters to a customer and their company. Getting this understanding requires some persuasion because people rarely tell you how they really are feeling the first time you ask.

In "Six Keys To Becoming a Great Persuader," Joseph Folkman says,"By listening first, leaders understand the disagreements and concerns of others. This gives them the opportunity to either modify their proposal or at least empathize with the concerns of others." Similarly, I'm here to argue that the most persuasive people talk less and listen more. How did I reach this conclusion? Mainly from listening in on calls with some of the most persuasive people I know: sales reps. By learning about their strategies for being persuasive and effective, I distilled lessons that customer success managers (CSMs) and customer support reps can use when confronted with customers who might be thinking of canceling or not renewing.

(Of course, if your customer has made it crystal-clear that they want to cancel a product subscription immediately, don't waste time trying to talk them out of it if they've made it clear they want out, no matter what -- that might frustrate them and exhaust you. These are suggestions for when you're managing a longer-term customer relationship).

1. Focus on having a real conversation, instead of simply telling customers what you want them to do.

My first conversation was with Kaitlin Kaster, a Sales Account Executive here at HubSpot. After listening to me talk about how I need to prove value to these customers and persuade them to keep working with me and with HubSpot, she pointed out that any call shouldn't be about what I think matters. It should be about what the customer values … and it should also be a conversation.

I sat there and honestly wondered, "But how do I have a conversation?" Kaster reminded me that conversations are just talking to learn about the other person. Great conversationalists actively listen, often summarize what they are hearing, and then ask more questions to understand the issues at a deeper level. Everyone has experienced trying to cancel a service, say with an internet provider, and in order to cancel you have to answer what feels like 1,000 questions.

Instead, as a customer service consultant, you can ask your customer about their reasoning for canceling in a thoughtful and respectful way. By having an empathetic conversation, you can prove that you care about the customer and their business -- even if they end up choosing to cancel.

Listen to Customers Instead of Saying Your Script

So how does this work? In this example, my customer tells me that "they don't see the value of HubSpot."

CSM: Hi Customer, thank you for letting me know that. I'd love to take a step back and understand why you originally purchased HubSpot?

Customer: I was not involved in the original purchasing process.

(This is not where the conversation ends -- this is a great opening to ask more questions.)

CSM: Totally understand, would you mind explaining to me what you were doing before this role?

(Your goal here is to understand what your contact's role is (ie find out what matters to your contact.)

Key Takeaway: Ask questions to understands what values to your customer. It doesn't matter what you think is important, what is important to you should be your customer.

2. Objections are opportunities to learn what the customer values, so lean into objections with further questions.

Now that I feel more comfortable actually having a conversation, how do I handle objections that prevent the conversation from moving forward?

Entrepreneur Kevin Duam recommends getting to know the other side: “Amazingly persuasive people are constantly listening to you and not themselves. They already know what they are saying. You can't persuade effectively if you don't know the other side of the argument."

Matt Hambor, a Sales Manager at HubSpot, taught me that an objection is not a roadblock, but a fork in the road that leads to me better understanding my customer. If someone says, “I haven't seen ROI from HubSpot," it's not helpful for me to counter with, “But I see you generated 50 new leads last month!" Instead, it's an opportunity for me to understand what ROI means to the customer. 

Use Objections as Opportunities to Learn and Probe Further

Customer: “I haven't seen any ROI from HubSpot"

CSM: May I ask, how do you measure ROI? What does success look like for you?

Here, you need to find out the answers to a few questions:

  • What does success mean to the customer?
  • How are they measuring and tracking success?
  • How are their goals connected to ROI?

CSM: So knowing that you were looking to accomplish X goal, but using HubSpot has not accomplished this, are you still looking to accomplish this goal?

Customer: Yes, but we're still looking to generate more leads

CSM: Okay, why do you think this goal was not accomplished?

Key Takeaway: By viewing objections as opportunities to learn, they are less of a roadblock and become a path to move forward in a conversation. The focus of a call is to understand what the objection is -- and why it matters to your customer.

3. Move the conversation forward by solving problems with the customer.

Okay, so I know questions help me understand what matters to a customer -- but how do I keep moving the conversation forward?

This question led me to Barrett King, a former Sales trainer. He introduced me to the Feel, Felt, Found strategy: a sales tactic to demonstrate empathy and understanding, while also moving forward with possible solutions. It's important to know that your solution needs the customer's buy-in -- you can't just offer one up without seeing if it is a good fit.

Ask Empathetic Questions to Show Your Customers You Care

So, how does this work? In this example, I am mid-conversation with my customer and I know:

Their objection: Customer is upset the marketing agency they hired did not deliver on the promised amount of new leads

Their goal: To generate 20 new leads a month

CSM: I'm really sorry to hear that you had a poor experience with Agency Name. That is certainly not the experience HubSpot wants our customers to have. I do understand how you are feeling, in fact, I spoke with a similar customer the other day who felt the same way about their experience. At the end of day, that customer found that there was some misalignment between them and that marketing agency. They had shared with me more information about their specific experience and we were able to identify a different marketing agency who was better suited to execute on their goals.

Key Takeaway: No matter what way you convey it, it is important to show your customer that you care and you empathize with whatever situation you are dealing with. By being genuine, you create trust.

4. Tone and phrasing matter, so make sure your words are empathetic to build trust.

So now that I know to ask more questions, how to better handle objections, and how to move the conversation forward, I should be good to go, right? Well, maybe. I still need to get buy-in from my customers.

My conversations started with Sales, but I also spoke to other CSMs, one of whom really helped me see the value of language. Hadar Duek, a Principal CSM at HubSpot, is a fierce customer advocate, and her relationship with customers is based on her caring deeply about their success. To understand what matters to her customer, Hadar uses specific language to get buy-in from customers so she can provide value.

Choose Words and Tone Carefully to Build Trust

You can use language to provide value and inspire buy-in by:

  • Asking permission

CSM: I'd like to start our call today by asking you a few questions to better understand this situation? Does that sound alright?

  • Acknowledging the issue and show you're on the same side

CSM: It sounds like this situation has been really stressful and you did the right thing by reaching out to me. I'm here to work through it with you.

  • Challenging politely

CSM: It sounds like you still want to generate more leads, but you do not plan on doing any marketing. With that in mind, what is your plan for generating new leads?

Key Takeaway: Be a human. Speak to your customers the way you would want someone speaking to you. Listen to understand, not to respond.

I'll leave you with a quote from Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People: “The only way on earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it."

Listening is powerful, and asking questions will help you with any type of conversation you have. For your customers, questions allow you to fully understand their business, and their unique challenges and pain points. If you put yourself in your customer's shoes, you'll also be able to understand how to help them better. When you ask questions and speak with empathy, you're able to show that you genuinely care about your customer and, just as importantly, that you care about what they care about.

To learn more, read about how to say goodbye to customers next.


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