Last week I conducted a couple of training sessions with sales teams at two different security companies. (I always enjoy working with salespeople and learn something new from them every time.) If you’ve been through one of my training programs you know I’m a big fan of role playing, so everyone took their turn playing sales consultant and prospect. As we went through this exercise one issue came up over and over: the habit of salespeople to tell prospects what they need to solve their problems.

I only wish I could find an institute that teaches people how to listen. Business people need to listen at least as much as they need to talk. (Lee Iacocca)

This urge to tell prospects what they need is understandable. After all, isn’t that our job as security consultants? Aren’t we professional problem solvers? Don’t prospects expect us to be the experts when it comes to security? Sure. But the point is that how you guide your prospects to those solutions has as much to do with whether or not they accept your ideas as what you recommend.

What’s important to keep in mind is that people love to buy but hate being sold. So the problem with telling is that, to a prospect, it feels like selling. When you tell a prospect what he needs he will instinctively sense you’re trying to sell him something, and anything that causes his “I’m being sold” alarm to go off will create resistance. Even if he thinks your recommendation is a good one, his natural instinct is still to push back due to the way the solution was presented. I’m not immune to this common sales malady myself and find myself biting my lip sometimes when I want to jump to what I think is an obvious solution to a client’s problem.

So what’s a better approach? Don’t tell… ask!

To illustrate, imagine a prospect tells you that one of her biggest worries is that her 13-year old daughter, Nicole, is home alone each afternoon when she gets out of school. After getting that kind of information what will most security salespeople do? That’s right. Make a recommendation: Then what you need is our latchkey child check-in service!

This may indeed be a good idea but, again, telling feels like selling and the prospect is likely to resist. Here’s the better way to go: Mrs. Smith, I can certainly understand your concern. Many of my customers in this area are in a similar situation. Let me ask you a question. When Nicole gets home from school alone, would it give you peace of mind if you had a way of knowing she was home safely, no matter where you were or what you were doing?

Paint “word pictures” for your prospects

Notice how the salesperson painted a word picture for his prospect that got her to visualize one of the potential benefits of the security system. A benefit based on a strong emotion. Second, the salesperson didn’t give his opinion, he asked his prospect for hers. People love to be asked for their opinions. In fact, listening is such a rare art form that when you actively listen to someone, and demonstrate that you’re focused solely on them and interested in what they have to say, they will feel a strong connection and bond with you. He also demonstrated empathy and communicated his expertise in solving her problem without being “salesy.”

When you use this technique you transform yourself from a salesperson into the role of assistant buyer. You’re now on the same side of the table, working on a solution to the problem as a team with your prospect. It’s easy to see why this approach is far more likely to result in a positive response, isn’t it?

So the next time you feel the urge to tell your prospects what they need, stop yourself and rephrase your recommendation in the form of a question. Then be sure to actively listen to the response without interruption. Practice this technique until it becomes second nature. You’ll like the results.