In the past, a time when salespeople were taught to behave badly, you would have been taught several tie-downs that would inevitably lead you to close your prospective client (something you were doing to them, not for them, or with them). If you wondered why the word “sales” has a negative connotation, look no further than the infamous tie-down.
At this time in the history of sales, the insurance salesperson would ask their prospective customer, usually the father, if he loved his wife. It was a closed-ended question, requiring only a yes or no answer, always answered in the affirmative. Having acquired the first yes, the salesperson would then ask if the prospect loved his children, garnering the savvy salesperson a second yes. The third question, invariably a question that required another affirmative answer, sounded something like, “Were something to happen to you, would you want your wife and children to be taken care of? Would you want your children to go to college?”
From there, the salesperson might ask a variety of questions. One question may sound like, “Doesn’t it make sense for you to sign this contract so you can take care of your family, Mr. Cleaver?”
The car salesperson might have asked if the car you had just spent 30 minutes looking at is the car you want to buy. That question would be followed up by a more challenging question, “Am the kind of person you want to buy a car from?” It is difficult for most people to answer this question in the negative because society suggests we be polite. But if someone asks you a question like that to manipulate you, you are free to say no. The salesperson might then say, “Is my dealership the kind of company you want to buy a car from,” as if you knew anything at all about the dealership.
If you are fortunate enough to experience a salesperson using tie-downs like these, you will learn a lot about sales in a short time. Approaches like these have been mostly abandoned and lost to history. We are better and more professional now, though these methods were state-of-the-art at the time.
To be effective in sales now, you need to use a more consultative, permission-based set of questions to gain commitments, none of which require you to be the desperate, smarmy, self-oriented salesperson of yesteryear. That said, there is one question that resembles the intent of a tie-down that is worth knowing.
Words Worth Knowing
In The Lost Art of Closing, I outlined what I called “the ten commitments,” a list of commitments you need to gain to help your clients change. The book supposes that a complex, business-to-business sale is a series of commitments that allows the client to have the conversations necessary to make a good decision and one they can execute.
The Lost Art includes sample dialogue that assumes your dream client is going to resist agreeing to the commitment you ask them to make. More often than not, your client will try to skip commitments and critical conversations, usually to avoid difficult or political topics. Their desire to avoid commitments demands the appropriate language to help explain the value of the commitment you are asking of your client.
If there is one area where you need your client to give you a “yes” instead of “no,” it isn’t at the end of the sales conversation when you ask them to sign a contract. That is an easy and straightforward ask. The more difficult commitment comes during the first meeting. That commitment is the agreement to adhere to a process that allows them to make a good decision following a process that delivers that result.
If one were to use a more modern and permission-based type of tie-down, a question that requires a yes answer, that question would be some variation of, “Would it be okay if I shared with you what works with most of the people and companies we serve when they are where you are now?” There is nothing pushy, smarmy, or self-oriented here. You are instead asking for permission to share a process that will no doubt serve your dream client better than their current method of winging it. You are requesting permission to propose something that will benefit your client in making the right decisions.
Sharing What Works
By asking if you can share what works, you allow yourself to share with your dream client the process that will help them make the best decision, whether they choose you or your competitor. In doing so, you position yourself as a consultative salesperson, one with the experience to know what conversations they need to have (with you and the many people on their team), the commitments they need to make as part of a thoughtful process that increases their odds of success, and a process that ensures they make the right decision in the end.
The conflicts that occur throughout the sales conversation are usually a client’s resistance to agreeing to some of the necessary commitments. They might not want to collaborate on the solution or bring in people who have concerns or who might object to the change others are proposing. You should never be surprised by things that regularly occur in the sales conversation. Instead, you should not only be aware of these challenges, but you should also have strategy and language that allows you to effectively gain the commitments and serve your clients—even when they don’t believe they need help. No, especially when they don’t think they need help.
Control the Process
If you control the process, the series of commitments your dream client makes throughout the sales conversation, you are not only more likely to win their business, they are more likely to make a good decision and achieve the better results that caused them to engage in the process to begin with.
When you allow your prospective client to control the process, you allow them to skip steps, avoid difficult conversations, and make decisions that don’t serve them as well as another decision might have.
If you are going to gain a commitment, make the first one a commitment to consider a process that ensures your client succeeds.
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Filed under: Sales