The 5-Step Approach to Meaningful Sales Conversations


In the hours before I sat down with my client for a sales conversation, here’s what I had been thinking:

  • I’m really busy delivering work right now.
  • I’d like to sell more work in the coming months.
  • I’m tired of traveling and want to get some good sleep.

Here’s what I’m pretty sure the client was thinking:

  • I have too much work to do right now.
  • I’m frustrated with our executives and culture.
  • I’d like to get something hung on the wall after moving offices.

We had an hour scheduled for the meeting. With such different mindsets, what were the chances that the interaction would be meaningful to both of us? Could we really bridge the chasm to align our thoughts in one hour?

In an ideal world, we’d both adjust to align with the other. She’d show genuine interest in my workload, revenue goals and fatigue, and I’d be sincerely focused on her workload, frustrations and new office concerns.

In the real world, though, if we wanted to bridge the chasm of interests, one of us was going to have to bend to the mindset of the other. One of us would have to subordinate our thinking to the other person’s thinking.

One of us.

Now let’s be honest—what incentive does a customer have to submit to the seller? I realized, if it’s only one of us, it has to be me.

So, when we sat down at that conference table together, I pushed my own thoughts aside and opened the meeting by saying, “Let’s discuss ways to gain momentum around your goals.”

It’s not as though I’m lying awake at night thinking about her goals. But I do care about them. And I do want to have a relationship with this person. I want to bring value.

What’s going on in the buyer’s head?

Dale Carnegie conducted fascinating research about the relationships between buyers and sellers, published in the book The 5 Great Rules of Selling. The book explains that, in a selling interaction between two parties, the buyer predictably moves through the following five attitudes.

  1. Preoccupation. Buyers begin nearly all sales interactions distracted. They are thinking about the project on their desk, their child home sick from school and the fact that they need to be guarded with a salesperson.
  2. Indifference. Beyond preoccupation, buyers are usually thinking, We’ve tried this already, I’m happy with our current approach, We have other more important priorities, or I don’t have the time or money to spend on this.
  3. Doubt. If the buyer does acknowledge a need, they will usually doubt whether it can be addressed. They will say, But we’re different—do you have any experience with a problem just like mine? Or I’ve heard this before and it doesn’t work. Or they might think, Maybe my problem could be solved, but I doubt it can be solved by you.
  4. Procrastination. Even if doubt is addressed, buyers will then be inclined to delay. Let me get consensus from the team, they will say. Or We’ll have to budget for this next year. Call me in six months!
  5. Reluctance. If urgency is sufficiently developed, the buyer will ultimately resist change. It’s never been a riskier time to make commitments to a product or service. Buying decisions are saturated with information about the pros and cons. Buyers have limited time to fully consider the information available. And decisions are more transparent and more heavily scrutinized. Status quo can be your biggest competition.

Get outside your head for more meaningful sales conversations

Whether you are selling copiers, accounting services, memberships, an idea, a product or a cause, the way to gain commitment is to bridge the chasm between what’s in your head and what’s in theirs.

You may not know what your buyer is thinking, but you can predict how they are thinking. Knowing how they are thinking gives you the chance to align your agenda to meet them where they are:

  • When someone is preoccupied, communicate in a way that connects to what matters to them, not you.
  • When they are indifferent, collaborate through insights, questions and proactive listening.
  • When they are doubting, demonstrate how you have and will create value for them.
  • When they are procrastinating, develop urgency by confirming agreement and alignment.
  • And when they are reluctant to change, diplomatically press for commitment.

What are your sales conversations like? Can you get outside your own head to build a meaningful relationship for meaningful impact?

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