Lori told me about some simple techniques she uses in advertising presentations. “Once the other person mentions a problem,” she said, “it’s important to slow down and show some restraint. A lot of sales people are conditioned to pounce on the slightest opening and shift the conversation. They can’t wait to talk about the ways their products can solve the problem. For example, if the prospect says, ‘My advertising is not generating enough raffic on weekends,’ the sales person is tempted to jump in with a suggestion to run more ads on weekends.
“That’s a bad move,” she said. “Although that kind of instant-answer approach may seem like good idea at the time, it’s too early to propose a solution to the problem. So instead of expressing an opinion, I encourage the other person to continue talking. That keeps them on their train of thought. The more they talk, the more I learn. And as a result, I might find out that their weekday traffic has been declining along with the weekend business. That would call for a different solution.
“To keep them talking, it helps to use a minimum number of words, sometimes just one or two,” she explained. “I’ve learned some techniques from sales seminars and books, but I’ve also picked up ideas by watching good interviewers on television.”
Lori knows the importance of looking below the surface. Here are some phrases that work:
1. Say “that’s terrible” or that’s awful,” when a problem is mentioned. Say “that’s good,” when the news is positive. These simple phrases can help you get in step with the other person. “When you agree with what they’re saying, they usually keep right on talking,” she said. “You’re sympathizing with their bad news and giving them a verbal high five for their good news.”
2. Repeat their last phrase as a question. This is a well-known technique that has been around for years. When you hear, “We’re not getting enough weekend traffic,” say “You’re not getting enough weekend traffic?” and raise your voice on the last word to emphasize the question. That’s less formal than saying, “That’s an unusual statement. I’d like to know more.”
3. Say “How do you mean?” instead of “What do you mean?” Although your old grammar teacher would scold you for using “how” in place of “what,” “how” is a friendlier way to ask for more information. “What do you mean” can sound abrupt and defensive.
4. Say “Hmm.” “Crazy as it sounds, this is one of the best ways to keep the momentum going,” Lori said. “Think of all the different things you can express with ‘Hmm.’ With different inflection, you can convey agreement, happiness, surprise, sympathy or sadness.
“All of this is intended to help them flesh out problems. As the conversation moves along, you can ask some questions to tighten the focus and help them see the long-term implications of their situation. Then you’ll be in a better position to propose a solution.”
Hmm. That’s good.
(c) Copyright 2017 by John Foust. All rights reserved.