If there was a vote about what everyone’s favorite word is, I believe I know which one would win. It’s certainly my favorite word, and that of every leader, team member and most especially every salesperson I’ve worked with. The word: YES.
YES is almost always the answer we are looking for isn’t it?
When working with a customer: “Shall we move forward with working through the details to get things started?”
When implementing changes internally: “Can we make the changes in time to implement them for our new customer?” When a team member is making a request: “Will we be able to get additional headcount to work on this, in order to make the deadline?”
Getting to YES has gotten harder and more complicated in recent years. Especially when it comes to winning business. Most often we hear answers like, “I’m happy with our current provider”, or “We are under contract with another company right now”, and “It isn’t a good time to execute these changes”. Often these kinds of answers end a conversation because they sound very certain and final, making follow up questions hard to ask without sounding like a challenge or even impertinent. But they don’t have to!
It is very easy to go from sounding like you are challenging a customer’s statement, to being interested in learning more about their business, by using one of two phrases to frame a follow up question:
“Can you help me understand …” and / or “Just out of curiosity … “
Consider this example of a conversation with a customer:
Salesperson: “Shall we move forward with working through the details to get things started?”
Customer: “We’re happy with our current provider, and it’s not a good time to be implementing changes in our organization.”
Salesperson: “I understand. Just out of curiosity (pause) what provider do you work with now? Can you help me understand why it has it been such a good partnership for your company?”
And the next question … “Can you help me understand what’s happening to make this such a challenging time for change?”
It Works with Team Members Too
Members of your team are customers too! They are internal customers. Trying to understand their objections works the same way as with an external customer. When you come up against resistance to a suggestion or request, instead of pushing back and risk escalating the conflict, ask them, “Can you help me understand why finishing the project by Thursday is too aggressive for your team?” When team members know you care about what’s working and what’s not – they are open up to understanding why you need it the way you asked for it, and will help you find a solution rather than throwing up obstacles.
The Reason it Works
These phrases almost always afford a way to naturally continue the conversation because it provides a natural transition for asking a follow up question, a cue for the customer to expect that one is coming, and indicates that you are genuinely interested in learning more about their business.
IMPORTANT CAVEAT: This only works if you truly are interested in learning more about the customer and their business, otherwise it will almost certainly end up sounding “sales-y” and insincere.
What techniques do you use to get to YES?