In my last article, How to Start a Sales Conversation, I focused on the first two Ditch the Pitch sales habits, Be Alert To Be Quick On Your Feet and Size Up The Scene. These two habits will help you notice what is going on in a customer interaction and interpret what you notice, preparing you for an effective, powerful sales conversation.

This is a point in a customer interaction where many sales people believe their job is to start telling their story. It isn’t.

As you take stock of what is happening in the interaction, your next move is to propel the conversation forward. Before any story can begin to emerge, you must get the conversation flowing first. You need to create a rich back-and-forth dialogue that builds and continues to engage you both deeper into the conversation.

How do you create this rich back-and-forth dialogue? Let’s explore the next two Ditch the Pitch habits, Say Yes andExplore and Heighten.

Habit 3: Say “Yes”

The quality of your sales conversation depends on how well you and your customer are moving in sync together, like two surfers on one surfboard, riding the same wave in a flow of mutual affirmation and agreement.

To understand this fluidity, look no further than your everyday conversations. How does a conversation that is based on mutual affirmation and agreement feel different from one that is either contentious or disconnected?

As I have written before, saying “yes” is the core, fundamental principle of stage improvisation, that magical art where actors are able to create a compelling, spontaneous scene with no prior planning or discussion. By affirming and agreeing with every move each other makes, the ensemble is able to create a “slice of life” out of nothing. As the scene unfolds, an audience member is able to see this flow of mutual affirmation and agreement turn into an interesting scene.

How does “the scene” work in a sales conversation? Are you supposed to say “yes” to everything your customer wants?

Of course you can’t. But 100% of the time, you can say “yes” to the situation. You can always agree with the direction your client is moving in. You can always affirm and validate what he or she says.

Don’t force topics into your conversation before their time, if your customer clearly wants to talk about something else. Protect the flow of the conversation.

If you create this flow of mutual affirmation and agreement, your customer will be much more likely to move with you in the direction you want to go. You will be in sync, moving together.

Say “yes” to the situation. Say “yes” to where your client wants to go.

Habit 4: Explore and Heighten

Once you are in a flow of mutual affirmation and agreement, the next move is to take the conversation to a new level. This is the time to explore and heighten the subject of the conversation.

Everything you and your customer talk about has the potential to go to a higher — or deeper — level. Everything can be explored. Everything can be heightened.

For example, let’s imagine you are selling furniture, and a customer shopping for a couch tells you she has seven cats. You start to explore this piece of information, and you discover that she doesn’t believe that cats should be declawed. You are now able to zero in on your toughest, tear-resistant and stain-resistant fabrics, heightening the conversation by focusing on what is most important to her.

Or, let’s say you sell HR consulting services. A client mentions, almost off-handedly, how difficult it is to keep good employees, saying, “We just lost another good one today. Oh well, there’s nothing we can do about it. We’ve been trying to fix this problem for years, but nothing works. Just have to live with it.”

Your first reaction is to say, “No, I don’t agree with that; there is always a solution,” but you want to say “yes,” not “no.” Instead, you go with the flow of the conversation and ask about the employee who just resigned, exploring what happened in this particular case. As the client answers, you explore the issue further, asking about other employees who have left, learning about the patterns of resignations, heightening your questions in your quest to learn more. As you explore and heighten this issue it begins to become clear to you, and you start to see new ways you could help this client. And, throughout this whole process, you never had to say “no,” even though you disagreed with the first premise put forth by your client.

One of the best ways to explore and heighten an issue with a customer is to dig into the issue’s specifics. If a customer says his international business is down, engage him in a dialogue to find out the details of why this business is down.

If you were a house painter and a potential customer started nostalgically describing the time he and his dad painted his parents’ house when he was a teenager, explore the issue and find out the details of what he remembers of the experience; you will be certain to find a way to better connect with him, all the while giving him a chance to reminisce about the experience.

Be curious… explore and heighten during your customer conversations. It will provide you a great way to affirm and agree with your customer, while also giving you insights into how to best sell this customer.

In our next issue, we’ll explore How to Turn a Sales Conversation into a Shared Story, giving direction and purpose to the conversation that we have learned to propel forward in this article.

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