I've always been a fan of classic movies, which I define loosely as those in black and white, made in my grandparents' era, which was the 40s and 50s. Movies like On the Waterfront, Key Largo, Twelve Angry Men, and The Sting (yes, I know that wasn't in black and white, and wasn't made in the 40s or 50s. But I did cover myself by saying "loosely"!) What I like about this genre of movies - other than the great acting and superb plots - is that they get me wondering what's going to happen next, imagining how it will play out. They created anticipation. In short, they engage me. In the final phase of The Sting, when they were about to make a pinch on the mark, we speculated how it was going to happen, when it was going to happen, and who exactly would do it. In Twelve Angry Men, we waited with baited breath to learn which, if any, of the other 11 jurors would vote "yes" in support of Henry Fonda, the lone holdout. Contrast these movies with today's, in which too many writers feel they need to show us everything, leaving nothing to the imagination. Frankly, such movies bore me to tears; my interest level in them is much lower, as is my desire to watch them to the end.
Moving from the movie theater to the theater of sales, let's see how we can apply concept of engagement to our jobs. One of the biggest challenges we face as sales people is setting up appointments with prospects. We're often unsuccessful at getting their attention (they rarely answer the phone, don't return voice mail, and don't reply to e-mail). When we manage to get through, we can tell they're listening reluctantly, feigning interest. Even when we are able to generate interest, that interest often doesn't rise to the level of desire to have a meeting ("send me some information and I'll get back to you"). To move the ball forward, take a page from the playbook of writers of yesteryear: get your prospect actively involved by getting him to speculate, wonder, imagine what life might be like with your product or service. Do this by asking thought-provoking questions that get him thinking about his current state, and what a better future state might look like. Examples of these questions include,
"I imagine you have a lot of responsibilities. Can you share with me what the top two or three priorities on your plate are? Why those?"
If one of those priorities aligns with your solution, you can continue with something like,
- "Can you tell me more about ___________? What's going on?"
- "Why do you suppose things aren't going as you'd like them to?"
- "What have you tried in order to deal with this issue? How successful have your efforts been?"
- "Based on what I'm hearing, I suspect we might be able to come up with a workable solution. Imagine how much better off you'd be if we could. Do you agree it might be worth investing a half hour or so exploring whether we can?"
What if none of those priorities aligns with your solution? Try using this:
"I can see why those are high priorities. Have you ever thought about [area of opportunity that using your offering would provide, or area of risk that using your offering would mitigate], and considered the ramifications of not taking advantage of/addressing it? No? Well, I have some thoughts and ideas around that - how about we get together and bounce them around?"
The advantage of this approach over that used by many sales people is you are creating a dialogue (as opposed to a monologue) with your prospect, which gets them engaged. And engaged prospects are more likely to want to learn more (additional examples of questions can be found in a previous issue of The Sales Solution. And for a more expansive list of questions designed to encourage engagement, click here.
Grab a colleague of yours and set up a role play, using a prospect or two with whom you've been unable to secure a meeting. Have your colleague play the role of prospect. "Call" the prospect and proceed with your current introduction, and observe his or her instinctive reaction. If the reaction is an enthusiastic one, great - stick with it. If it's not, "call" the prospect again, using these questions. You should find yourself doing two things most sales people don't do on an initial call - listening, and engaging in a dialogue - and getting one thing you may be struggling with: an appointment.