Moving Conversations Beyond Product and Price
Sales conversations inevitably follow a specific course, down one topical trail. It’s a well-worn and often quite predictable track called “product and price.” To improve the chances of gaining a new customer, you try to steer the conversation in a more solution-targeted direction. Your intention of course is to engage the buyer in a higher quality discussion that addresses their unique challenges and objectives rather than your features and specs.
Much like a horse’s natural tendency to head back to the barn, buyers instinctively and habitually attempt to maneuver the conversation back in the direction of product and price. They do this for a couple of reasons invariably because of apprehensions that arise from moving into ‘unknown’ areas.
The first reason buyers focus on product and price is that it helps them quickly grasp the fundamental scope of what the product actually does so they can determine whether they really need it. Then, they can quickly establish and ultimately justify whether or not they can afford it.
The second reason buyers focus on product and price—once they determine a need—is because it’s the easiest way to compare options among the solution providers fortunate enough to have made their shortlist. These two reasons are indeed “reasonable” and it would be tempting to acquiesce on the matter as a result.
It is the crucial ‘third’ reason that reminds us sellers why we mustn’t acquiesce and instead, must pull the buyer’s reins in a different direction. Buyers focus their attention on product and price because that is what they know to ask about, as opposed to what they should be finding out about. Product and price questions are familiar and virtually generic topics to them. Simply put, the two together are the most comfortable, and as a result, that’s the direction they head with fierce determination.
As sellers, it’s our job to inspire the buyer enough to feel both comfortable and eager to follow a different conversational course. The best way to do that is by asking questions, and not just any questions will do. Qualifying questions, for instance, help you understand whether you should be expending your valuable time and effort talking with the buyer. But they do nothing in the way of helping the buyer understand whether they should be talking with you.
If you want to lead the prospect in a meaningful and productive conversation you must ask questions that illuminate, illustrate, and stimulate ideas. To give you a better feel for questions designed to promote a more substantive level of thinking, here are a few examples we ask our own prospects:
- “What percentage of calls results in an appointment?”
- “What are your best performing reps doing differently from your under-performing reps?”
- “Which conversation starters perform best?”
In many cases, our prospects don’t know the answers. Up to this point, they have never been asked to really focus on these critical, performance-based issues. The fact that they don’t know the answers is what makes these and other questions like them so powerful. By helping the prospect to engage and participate in a more problem-recognition-based conversation, they will soon realize that it’s their responsibility to know the answers, and just as quickly realize the ramifications of their not knowing.
Your buyer will quickly shift their focus back from product and price to the genuine and indeed more pragmatic issues at hand:
- what do we need to do that we aren’t doing?
- what are we doing that we shouldn’t be doing?
- what do I need to know that I don’t know?
When the buyer crosses this important threshold, they’ve entered into a more trusting and certainly more valuable relationship. They’ll be more enticed by the world of possibilities than by the comfort of the barn. That you opened the door for them and stand ready, willing, and able to present solutions will differentiate you from other sellers. After that, you’re on the path to a mutually beneficial relationship. And that’s a conversational destination that ‘product and price’ alone rarely arrive at.