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(Un)conventional wisdom for building a powerful sales conversion strategy

If we’ve learned anything at EMyth worth teaching business owners, it’s that the systems you build—if they’re to create real value—need to generate consistent, predictable results. Consistency and predictability eliminate chaos, reduce stress, drive growth and make it possible to build a business that doesn’t depend on the owner to do everything and be everywhere. And if there’s one system at EMyth that reflects the value of consistency and predictability for a company, it’s our sales process.

We’ve refined our sales process over time as we’ve learned about the needs of business owners in every size and industry, and improved our coaching program to better address those needs. And in the process, we’ve discovered how to communicate with prospective clients in a way that invites them to say yes—not just to the EMyth Coaching Program, but to transforming their business and, with it, their life. It’s a lofty mission and it’s what everyone at EMyth is dedicated to.

The way we’ve taken our sales process to a high degree of consistency and predictability in conversions is by breaking some of the conventional rules of selling—and creating some of our own. New employees, with and without a sales background, regularly say they’ve never seen anything like it. Prospective clients often tell us they never once felt “sold”. That feedback means a lot to me. I want to make it as easy and natural as possible for the business owners we talk with to commit to changing their business—and just as importantly, their relationship to their business—so they can build a business and a life they truly love leading. I can’t imagine any way we could serve them better.

So, for the first time, I’m pulling back the curtain to share some of the unconventional aspects of our sales approach that produce consistent and predictable results. 

1. Skip the small talk

In many sales trainings, building rapport is Sales 101: Start with small talk. Find common ground. Build trust. I’m not a fan of that approach. 

In my experience, prospective customers are busy people with a thousand things tugging at them. Do they really want to spend even a minute talking about their day, their weekend plans, the weather with a stranger? I don’t think so. While a prospect may feel obliged to engage in small talk on a sales call—that’s just what everyone does, right?—what they really want is someone to invite them to describe a problem they want to solve (or a desire they want to fulfill). They want someone to hear and genuinely understand them, and to provide solutions with caring authority. Rapport building is a poor substitute for the real thing.

If you want to make a powerful first impression, go straight from your initial greeting (i.e., Hi, [FIRST NAME], it’s good to meet you.), to true interest and care for the prospect’s problem or desire. Engage your prospect right away in something that matters to them. While engagement looks different in different industries, here are a few ways to begin a conversation with a prospect that you can adapt to your own.

Let’s spend a few minutes talking about what we’re going to accomplish today. [MAKE SURE YOUR AGENDA REFLECTS WHAT THE PROSPECT WANTS TO HEAR.]

I noticed on the form you filled out on our website that you’re looking to [NAME THE PROBLEM THE PROSPECT WAS LOOKING TO SOLVE]. Tell me more about that.

I talked with [FIRST NAME OF CUSTOMER SUPPORT PERSON WHO FIRST SPOKE TO THIS PROSPECT] about [her/his] conversation with you last [DAY] and I understand you’re interested in [GENERIC PRODUCT OR SERVICE]. Tell me a little more about what you’re looking for.

Your prospect may register that you skipped the small talk, but they’re likely to feel relieved that you’ve excluded everything from the conversation that isn’t about the result they’re looking to achieve.

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2. Connect with your prospects by helping them connect with themselves 

Salespeople understandably want to connect with their prospects, and too often they confuse connection with being liked. Connection, in a sales context, isn’t about being liked—it’s about helping prospects connect with themselves. If a salesperson can help a prospect do that, the connection between them will organically and authentically emerge. 

These are some of the ways salespeople try to connect:

  • Making small talk 
  • Talking about themselves in response to something a prospect says that’s relatable 
  • Laughing at something a prospect thought was funny (but isn’t)
  • Disingenuously agreeing with a prospect about something
  • Letting a prospect go on like a runaway train even though nothing productive is happening
  • Keeping things “nice” at all costs 

These kinds of strategies are not only often ineffective, they turn connecting into a burden. 

The best, most genuine way to connect with prospects is to stop trying to create a connection with you and instead help prospects become more connected with their own experience, their own reality. When you guide someone to find a deeper understanding of what they think, what they feel—what’s true for them—they naturally feel more visible, more alive and more connected to whomever they’re with.

3. Ask vertical versus horizontal questions

Asking good questions is a powerful selling tool. A good question is one that helps prospects better understand what’s true for them. Not all questions take prospects there. Some questions keep conversations on an unproductive, superficial level where the prospect is unlikely to discover anything new or inspiring. At EMyth, we call these horizontal questions. In contrast, vertical questions take prospects deeper into their experience and produce a realization, a new awareness, a shift in perspective. Horizontal questions are safe. Vertical questions require some vulnerability—the willingness to enter a conversation without a predictable outcome. Horizontal questions make prospects feel invisible and disconnected. Vertical questions help prospects feel seen and connected.

Here’s a simple illustration of horizontal movement in a sales conversation between a remodeling contractor and a homeowner interested in remodeling her family’s kitchen.

Homeowner: I’ve been thinking about remodeling our kitchen for probably a decade, and now we can finally afford it. But I’m not very good at making decisions and I’m afraid I won’t be able to figure out what I really want.

Salesperson: Oh, how much are you planning to spend on the remodel?

In this instance, the salesperson asked a safe question. It was tangentially related to what the prospect was speaking about, but missed the chance to draw the prospect out and share more about her real issue: her lack of confidence around making design decisions. So, the conversation continued but the moment of connection was lost. 

Here’s how the conversation could have gone in a vertical movement:

Homeowner: I’ve been thinking about remodeling our kitchen for probably a decade, and now we can finally afford it. But I’m not very good at making decisions and I’m afraid I won’t be able to figure out what I really want.

Salesperson: I understand. Tell me more about your fear of making the wrong choices.

In this case, it might feel like you’re opening up something you can’t control—that’s true, at least until you get more skilled at it. But it’s also where the opportunity for real connection lies. Your prospect will feel your interest in bringing out more of their reality related to the transaction, creating more connection between you and your prospect.

4. Help your real prospects make an emotional connection

It goes without saying that not every prospect you meet with is going to feel the need to buy from you. Some prospects are just looking. Some will never believe that they can afford what you’re selling, or that what you’re selling is worth it at any price. Some will discover in speaking with you that they actually want something else. And so on. One of the wonders of sales is that the nos are actually part of the process of finding the yeses. A carefully crafted sales process is one in which you’ve discovered how to maximize the percentage of yeses (versus the nos), and generate that percentage consistently and predictably.

To maximize the yeses, your prospects have to connect emotionally with their need for your product or service. People make buying decisions emotionally. You can’t make someone buy something they don’t need, but you can guide prospects who do need what you’re selling—your real prospects—to connect emotionally with their need through vertical movement in a sales conversation.

Asking vertical questions will help prospects connect emotionally with what’s missing for them that your product or service addresses. When your sales conversation gives your prospect the experience of feeling something they don’t know, something they don’t know how to do, or something they don’t have, they’ll feel moved to buy your product or service to bridge the gap between where they are now and where they’d like to be.

You may be thinking, “Why does a prospect need help to feel something they actually already feel?” The answer is this: For most of us, our feelings of vulnerability are uncomfortable. We’ve all developed strategies to avoid actually feeling something that’s missing in our lives. We may know it intellectually, but feeling it is another story. Because those emotions are usually just beneath the surface, it often takes only simple, vertical questions for a prospect to feel something that’s missing. And, just that brief emotional experience is likely enough for the prospect to connect to their need for what they believe your product or service will do for them.

The most generic and customizable vertical questions include:

  • Can you tell me more about that?
  • What do you mean by that?
  • What’s an example of when that occurs?
  • How often does that occur?
  • What price are you paying for that?

This is pretty straightforward. Your vertical questions can draw out answers from your prospect that connect them emotionally to something they want and don’t have—which can, in turn, connect them emotionally to their need for your product or service. A prospect who can feel something that’s missing for them is very likely to feel their need for your solution. All other things being equal, it’s this equation that produces a yes, consistently and predictably.

Building trust and creating connection is at the heart of a sales conversation. And, the path to getting there for the salesperson is through the attention they give to the most meaningful specifics of the prospect’s experience. 

If something here has resonated with you, please share your thoughts in the comments below—I’d love to hear from you. And if we can help you on your journey to refine your own sales process, please reach out.

Ilene Frahm

Written by Ilene Frahm

Ilene joined EMyth in 1982. During her 17 year marriage to Michael Gerber, she collaborated with Michael on "The EMyth Revisited" and served as his editor and publishing agent on it, as well as on a number of his other books. Ilene spent more than a decade working on EMyth (not just in it) to build a company that didn’t depend on her. Except for one short stint, she hasn’t held a position in the day-to-day operations of EMyth since she retired as its President in 1999. Ilene and her husband, Gerrit, spend two months a year at their cottage on the north coast of Spain. The rest of the time, she does what she loves: mentoring staff, training salespeople, and supporting everyone in the company, at every level, in their leadership.

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