An Excerpt from unReceptive: A Better Way to Sell, Lead & Influence

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Up to this point, we have explored how to enhance receptivity to the message. Now, it’s time to discuss how to deliver the message in a way that ensures you don’t lose the audience and that will compel them to change their beliefs. It starts with setting the stage. Often, if you allow the customer to dictate the process, you will both lose. This was the case with a very competent seller for a marketing firm.

The rep was from one of two firms given forty-five minutes to make their online presentation. It sounds simple enough, right? The seller did what most sellers do. She said “yes, sir” and “yes, ma’am” and did what she was told throughout the process. She knew her stuff and competently presented the solution. What she didn’t know was that she had lost before she even began.

It turned out the other firm was highly recommended by an existing vendor and, due to a warm referral, had already had multiple meetings with the ultimate decision-maker. Her firm was found through a Google search and came in cold. Receptivity was obviously low. She lost when she agreed to this process and didn’t ask for anything else. It was like she was asked to sing in front of five thousand people with no microphone while the competition had a full band and a killer sound system. Talent and skill didn’t matter, and her preparation didn’t help. She needed to control the stage or not play.

The second presenter knew exactly what to communicate about their solution. Given the rules of the game, as defined by the decision-maker, the first presenter never had a chance. In a forty-five-minute presentation to complete strangers, it was impossible for anyone to unseat the firm that had the inside track. In other words, the rep may have had an amazing voice, but no one allowed her to “perform.”

To change beliefs and win the deal, you need to first control the performance and set the stage. More specifically, you need to determine what information they need so you can cull what information you will share, how much time you require to demonstrate the value of your solution, and who should be there.

Determine The Information Required

All too often, sellers are asked to present to an audience they don’t know, and because they have too little information about the problem or decision drivers, they often deliver a generic presentation. If you have a strong competitive advantage and you are meeting with a receptive decision-maker, you may succeed. If not, this is not just a recipe for disaster but a complete waste of time. You need information to convert the Unreceptive.

Sure, early in the sales process it’s reasonable to offer a generic presentation of “here’s what we offer” to help the customer get a clearer picture of who you are. But if the goal of the presentation is to determine who wins the deal or if you want to change beliefs, unless you are the only game in town, blindly throwing darts at a board will fail a high percentage of the time.

To make the most effective presentation, you need to know three things:

• What problem needs solving and how does the problem affect the business?

• What criteria will be used to determine who will solve the problem (formal and informal decision drivers)? And who created those drivers (it’s obviously helpful to know who is the decision-maker or makers)?

• What’s best way to solve their problem (what’s your recommendation)?

This was covered in chapter 8, but it bears repeating. If you can answer those three questions, you have a good shot at building the right presentation or building value in your solution. If not, don’t perform. Sticking with our music competition metaphor, if you don’t know the purpose of the performance, what kind of music they like, or if the person who chooses the talent isn’t in the room, challenge the decision-making process. We’ll come back to this later. To convert the disinterested, you not only need information but time.

Determine The Time Required

Surprisingly, most decision-makers don’t have the experience to build the perfect process for vetting a solution. So if they lead, you are following someone who is lost. And way too often this results in a lose-lose scenario.

Based on the decision drivers, determine how much time is required to ensure the prospect can adequately assess the solution. If they need to see it to believe it, how much time is required for the decision-making team or decision-maker to “see” it.

For example, if they need to meet the key members of your team or demo a product, determine how much time is required to do just that. Most sellers just take what they can get: “How much time can I have?” Instead, ask yourself, “What do they really need to see, experience, or understand in order to make the best decision?” Let that determine the time required. As Covey said in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, begin with the end in mind.

If the customer, like most, is unclear because they lack experience, then it’s your responsibility to communicate and influence the customer to follow your recommended process, which may require adding steps to their decision-making process. If you are unsure of the right process or the time required, that’s homework assignment number one.

Determine Who’s Required

As mentioned earlier, if the right people or person isn’t in the room, what’s the purpose of the presentation? To equip the attendees to sell your solution? Would you trust the outcome of an opportunity to someone you just met whose only knowledge of your solution is based on a ninety-minute presentation? Therefore, don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions like:

• Who is driving and involved in the decision-making process?

• Who is the person who had the most influence over determining the decision drivers?

• What will happen after the presentation? Do you need to meet with anyone else?

• How will this project get funded? Will the person (i.e., the economic buyer) be in the room?

• Who could kill this deal?

Most sellers are tentative for good reason: they fear damaging the relationship with their main contact, most likely the evaluator. The person who makes it happen but not the person who determines what happens. I get it. It’s a relationship that’s critically important.

The key is to spend enough time with evaluators to ensure they shift from evaluating your solution to becoming an advocate. Simply put, sell them first. Once sold, you can begin working together on how to sell the solution to the rest of the decision-makers.

If you are a late arrival to the party and don’t have the opportunity to build an alliance, you are already in a very weak position. It’s imperative you shake things up a bit and take some risk to win the deal. If not, you are most likely just practicing for the next opportunity.

Position The Why

The key to accomplishing all of the above boils down to answering the “why” question. Why is it in the customer’s best interest to provide additional information, give you the time, add a step to the process, or allow access to the right people?

If you can’t position your request as a way to help the customer make the best decision, it’s seen as a manipulation tactic at worst or groveling at best. As we covered in the previous chapter, spend some time nailing down how to position your request:

“If you can provide more information about ___, I will be able to make a recommendation, not just a presentation. And I can focus my time on only what is most important to you.”

“We have found that if the right people aren’t in the room, we often struggle to ensure the solution will be backed by the executive team. Which, a high percentage of time, greatly diminishes ROI.”

“For you to really assess our solution, or any solution designed to solve ___, you need to see how it works. We have found that the time required to is about two hours. Again, my goal is to eliminate risk and for you to know exactly what you are buying—from us or the competition. There is way too much at stake to shortcut the process.”

If you’re passionate about helping versus selling, your enthusiasm and conviction will be compelling, and the right words will flow. The key is to check your motive—is it to help the customer make the best decision or just win a deal? Remember, your motive will ultimately be transparent.

Taken from unReceptive: A Better Way to Sell, Lead, and Influence by Tom Stanfill. Copyright © 2021 by Tom Stanfill. Used by permission of HarperCollins Leadership.