Customers will always throw curveballs at you. Customers often present you with unexpected situations. How you deal with these unexpected situations in conversations with your customers is critical to your ability to persuade.

A conversation only moves forward if both people in the conversation agree that it should progress. As we discussed in my last article, Go with the Flow, a conversation is fragile and can be easily derailed. To keep a customer conversation moving forward, you want to ensure that the conversation is a “series of yeses,” a back-and-forth of continual agreement between you and your customer.

There is always something to say “yes” to

Your first goal when a customer presents you with an unexpected or less-than-perfect situation is to keep the conversation’s momentum intact. Words like “no” or “but” are conversation killers. If you resist the situation, you might lose the chance to navigate the conversation back to a place that suits you better. It’s much more productive to say “yes.” Your challenge is to say “yes” to the new situation without saying “yes” to something that you don’t want to agree with.

Let’s say that a customer has asked you for a price decrease. Instead of immediately saying “no,” you can agree with the customer by acknowledging her concerns and asking her to tell you more. As the conversation continues, you may learn that she didn’t recognize the value you were offering her, or that her boss is putting pressure on her to gain price concessions. Maybe you’ll discern that all she really needs is your assurance that she is getting a great value. Or you may learn that she is dead-set on a price decrease. In any case, you will have a much better chance of dealing with the situation successfully by saying “yes” to the situation than by immediately saying “no,” maintaining the conversational momentum through mutual agreement.

Practice: Work with what you are given

As with most things in life, resistance is not always a productive response to undesirable situations. We don’t have to like a situation to acknowledge its presence, and by acknowledging a situation, we have a much better chance of dealing with it.

When a customer presents you with an unexpected or undesirable situation, this new situation is now the material of your conversation. It is all you have to work with. Don’t resist it. When you work with what you are given you will let yourself see the best course of action to take with your customer.

When you work with the conversational material in front of you, instead of resisting or ignoring it, you will find ways to create a series of “yeses” between you and your customer. You will be able to probe beneath the surface and learn what your customer is really thinking and what she really cares about.

Practice: Ensure your customer keeps saying yes

You can focus on saying “yes” in conversations with customers, but mutual agreement also requires that your customer continue to say “yes” as well. If you lead your customer to a place where she says “no,” the conversational momentum can stop just as quickly as if you had said “no.”

Here are a few tips to help you avoid hearing “no” from your customer during a persuasive conversation:

  • Don’t assume anything. Before making a statement, be careful that it won’t put your customer into a defensive mode. If you’re not sure, ask. Don’t tell.
  • Don’t prescribe a solution too early. Your primary job in a persuasive conversation is not to advise the customer, it is to move your relationship forward. Only prescribe solutions when your client is ready to hear them.
  • Keep the conversation focused on your customer, not on what you are trying to sell your customer.
  • Avoid yes-or-no questions. Phrase your questions, when possible, as a choice between yeses, i.e., “Which of these two options seems better to you?”

When you look at a conversation as a series of “yeses,” you keep your conversations moving forward. And conversational momentum is an important piece of successful persuasion.

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