The Number One Thing Successful Negotiators Do Incredibly Well.

Jesus the Christ is an image and a figure that we all know and that we all attach different meaning to. But have you ever thought about him as a master negotiator and salesman?

This is not a religious discussion at all, I’m an avid learner and reader and the Bible is a fixture in my reading schedule because of the practical knowledge and wisdom that I glean from it apart from any religiosity.

When you read about Jesus the Christ, one thing you can’t help but notice is that he was very effective in endearing himself to people, being persuasive and setting forth his agenda. 

Why might that be? Well there’s a lot of things that one can say about that but we really could reduce it to one simple thing, it was his use of questions and the ability to listen. 

But Ant that’s two things….

No they go hand-in-hand. 

You have to be able to listen in order to ask poignant, provocative and relevant questions. That is also what I’ve learned from every top negotiator and closer that I’ve been able to observe and learn from.

One main reason why questions are powerful is because they are simply pattern breakers. What I mean by that is most people approach negotiations and sales from a selfish standpoint whether they realize it or not. Most salespeople are trained to try and find win-win solutions of course, however it’s more common for us to rattle off what our product and service will do, provide features and benefits, and all that happens is that we begin to sound like we’re making it all about ourselves without any real regard to the prospects specific needs. With the right questions, you can position your solution as the only logical next step for the prospect. At worst, you will position yourself as an expert authority and some kind of rapport will be established. Subsequently, the prospect may end up providing a referral for you or come back as a client later on. That is powerful.

So let’s dive a little deeper into the art of asking questions.

First let’s briefly talk about what not to do. I’ll just say simply:

Don’t ask questions that you should already know the answer to or that they have already told you.

Don’t seem as if you are reading off a checklist or as part of a survey.

Don’t ask questions that really don’t further the conversation along aka Small Talk/Time Waster questions. 

The purpose of your questions are to not only reveal information to you but also give the prospect a chance to verbalize aloud their situation, which can have a powerful effect on them.

I’ve read literally dozens of books on selling and by far the one that exceeds them all that I always come back to is an old classic, SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham. It was written in 1988 but it contains time-tested principles making it still relevant. The methodology is based on asking effective questions using a framework called SPIN that will help navigate any sales situation. SPIN is an acronym for Situation, Problem, Implication, Need-payoff. 

So again, you want to ask the questions that first reveal what they say about their specific Situation. If you’re a lawyer who is interviewing a prospective client a good, simple question to ask is “Can you explain to me what brought you in today” , that’s if you don’t already know. Another question, “What can you tell me about___?” or “How would you describe what the situation is?”

A realtor may ask a FSBO owner “When your property sells, where are you moving?” “When do you have to be there?” “I found you on craigslist, what other marketing methods have you used?” “How long will you wait before you decide to interview an agent like myself?”

Now you’ll LISTEN for clues that will help you transition to the Problem line of questioning. This is where you’ll take a deeper dive. You want the full scope of the problem to be revealed not only for yourself but also for the prospect. Avoidance in thought, word and deed is an all too common behavior for us human beings when it comes to problems. That’s what makes this blueprint so excellent when you grasp it. You’ll distinguish yourself from the vast majority of negotiators because you’re the one willing and able to have the difficult conversations. 

When the objection is price, great questions to ask would be “well, is that your only concern?”

Now at that point they are going to do one of two things; they will say yes, which effectively locks them into a position that you can begin to deal with. Or they will bring up other things that oftentimes reveals what the actual major concern is. I can best describe it as sort of massaging the truth out of them. 

Now that the actual problem is out in the open, the Implications of that begin to brew and hover over the situation. The prospect can now clearly see the negative effects that this problem can have over them professionally and personally. If this is a B2B sales scenario, remember, businesses are made up of people who have their own agendas and goals so carefully keep that in mind with your questions.

Some example questions would be:

If {____} doesn’t happen,what will the investors say about that? 

When {___} happens, how does that affect profits?

If you have another quarter like the last, how do you think the partners will feel about that?

Have you planned for {___} if {___} happens?

Now it’s important to understand that the human brain is not always exactly what you’d call rational and in this moment, prospects can revert to behaviors of avoidance, denial and even defensive hostility. To the degree that you can maintain absolute poise and demonstrate genuine empathy and curiosity will determine how likely you are to move towards a favorable outcome. 

Moving towards a favorable outcome usually involves them clearly telling you how your product or service will help them. You won’t have to spell out every single benefit, they will identify exactly which benefits mean something to them. At this point, you only need to be encouraging and positive with your questions. Some example questions would be:

If you could cut the {__} time by this much, what would that mean for your profits?

Why is {__} important to you?

How would being able to {__} help you to achieve {your overall goal}?

If you could improve {__}, how would that change your career?

Lead them to making a commitment to the solution that you have to offer. The simplest way to do this is to assume the sale and attach the benefits that they previously stated to you. You might say something like “I’ll go ahead and send you the authorization form so that we can begin helping you {__}.

How to apply this in your sales life

The easiest way to get into the SPIN selling frame of mind is to do a mind dump and write down as many questions that you can think of for each phase of SPIN that would be relevant to your business. It’s not memorizing a script, although preparation is the key to internalizing the answers to common objections so that they come out effortlessly in those situations. 

Beyond that, remember that SPIN selling is a framework and a blueprint. Sometimes SPIN actually looks more like PINS or NIPS or SNIP or INPS….you catch my drift. You’ll need to be flexible and poised to take back control of the situation. 

Now think about how you can take practical steps towards successfully implementing this proven strategy into your sales calls. Please share your thoughts below.