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How to Develop Salespeople

The #1 Reason Your Customer’s Aren’t Opening Up to You: And It’s Not What You Think

All of the best salespeople know that the secret to generating more sales is convincing your customers that your products and services are the best solution to their problems. But getting customers to open up about their real pain points and priorities can be a challenge for even the most experienced salespeople, and that’s because most people are at least a bit guarded and suspicious around salespeople. It’s this unavoidable dynamic that makes being a salesperson particularly challenging. But without getting an accurate understanding of a customer’s real needs, we’re essentially selling blind.

Over the last several years, I’ve been really lucky. I have had the opportunity to work with thousands of sales leaders and salespeople all around the world in a very hands-on way, and what I’ve discovered is that the secret to getting your customers to open up with you is by being open with them. Sounds pretty obvious, right? I know. But my team and I and the master coaches that we’ve trained at our clients have analyzed thousands of documented sales conversations, where their salesperson didn’t get the result that they wanted. And in almost every single instance, the salesperson wasn’t being open and transparent about their real agenda for the conversation.

By missing this first critical step, salespeople are violating the first rule of human relationships, reciprocity, which says if you want to get something from someone, in this case, openness, you first and foremost have to give that something to them. Let me give you an example from someone who attended our breakthrough selling program. He’s a commercial account manager at a pharma company who we’ll call Ben, and Ben had been really struggling to generate more sales at a particular hospital for about six months. This was despite the doctor and key prescriber on the account, let’s call her Dr. Julia, being really friendly and generous with her time. But Ben couldn’t make any headway, no matter what he tried. Every conversation ended with Ben feeling stuck and Dr. Julia continuing to prescribe mostly the competitor’s product.

During our program, Ben realized three really important things. That number one, Dr. Julia’s explanations for why she’s prescribing so little of this company’s therapy just didn’t add up. After all, she said on numerous occasions that she thought their product was superior. Number two, that he had been dancing around his confusion for numerous conversations, for fear of hurting his relationship with Dr. Julia. And number three, that if he wanted to change his results, he would need to change his conversation, and that’s exactly what he prepared for and practiced at breakthrough selling. In the very next meeting, Ben focused on being much more open with Dr. Julia from the very beginning, and let me read to you what he actually said in the first few minutes of the conversation.

“Dr. Julia, we’ve had some great conversations over the last few months and I genuinely appreciate the time we’ve spent together, but I still don’t feel like I fully understand your reluctance to use our product. So I’d like to explore that a bit more with you, if you don’t mind.” She said, “Sure,” and then Ben said, “Your main concern is that our product takes a bit more of your team’s time to administer, but I’m surprised that would stop you from using it, given that you believe it’s the superior therapy from both an efficacy and a safety standpoint for your patients. There’s also ways that we could significantly reduce those timeframes if you want, so is there anything else holding you back that we haven’t had the chance to talk about yet?”

To Ben’s surprise, Dr. Julia finally fessed up, and here’s what she said. “I actually don’t want to tackle the time to administer a problem just yet, because I need to use it as leverage with the hospital to get approval for more staff for my severely overworked team.” Now, this wasn’t exactly the answer Ben wanted. He was hoping to come out of the conversation with more prescriptions right away, but he was actually pretty happy, because he finally understood the reason that Dr. Julia hadn’t been prescribing more of his product. And now, instead of selling blind and making no progress, Ben knows what’s really going on, and he’s put himself in a great position to overcome Dr. Julia’s resistance by helping her solve her real problem, and his company is going to help Dr. Julia make a compelling business case for more staff.

So the moral of the story is that openness begets openness, and that as salespeople, if we want our customers to be open with us, we first better be open with them. Okay. Thanks for listening. I hope you found it valuable and I’ll see you next time.

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