Here’s a news flash: we sales professionals don’t actually know everything! Sometimes it’s helpful to infuse new ideas or different perspectives from outside the sales literature and blogosphere, and in that spirit, I would like to share a framework that clinical psychologists use to encourage their clients’ readiness to change.
Motivational Interviewing is a method that clinical psychologists use in their conversations with clients dealing with such problems as alcoholism and other destructive habits. The premise is that clients are ambivalent about changing their behaviors, and trying to get them to change before they are ready only increases their resistance. So, the idea is to ask questions and manage the conversation so that the client talks about their own reasons for changing and arrives at their own commitment to change.
It’s no great leap to see how this applies to sales, and this acronym devised by Stephen Rollnick, one of the developers of the approach, is a useful reminder of how we should apply similar principles in a sales conversation:
R—Resist the righting influence
U—Understand your client’s motivation
L—Listen to your client
E—Empower your client
Let’s elaborate a bit on each, as it applies to a sales conversation.
Resist: Have you ever had the feeling of feeling a tantalizing nibble on the line while fishing? It’s so hard to resist the temptation to immediately jerk the rod. It’s the same feeling we get when the client brings up a problem that we just know fits right in our sweet spot—it’s tough to resist interjecting a solution on the spot. That’s wrong for several reasons, but the most important is that the client may immediately go on the defensive, because the dynamic of the conversation has shifted from exploring and diagnosing to “selling”.
Understand: Clients buy for their reasons, not yours. If you don’t spend enough time in the sales conversation gaining an understanding of their motivations, you run the risk of prescribing an incomplete or wrong solution. Even if it’s the right solution, you may underestimate the value it delivers, which can definitely hurt you in the price negotiations to come.
Listen: No rocket science here, of course, but it’s still probably the most-ignored rule in all sales conversations. Paradoxically, it’s often your good qualities that can hurt your listening—you’re enthusiastic about your product; you’re avidly following the list of questions you prepared; you’re eager to show how well-informed and smart you are. Always remember that it’s easy to talk yourself out of a sale, but pretty hard to listen yourself out of one.
Empower: Pushing, or even just suggesting a solution can seem to be an efficient way of closing on the need, but how many times have you had an “agreement” that led to no sale? By guiding the conversation properly, you can make your solution the client’s idea, which is a great way to turn agreement into commitment. That’s why the most effective sales conversations are those in which the client tells you what you want them to hear.
In summary, don’t try to dominate the sales conversation; RULE it instead!