Five Ways to Sell Anything Better By Breaking Down Mental Barriers

Last Updated May 23, 2011 6:41 PM EDT

If you've ever tried to sell anyone anything, you know that the default answer in the marketplace, particularly in a still-recovering economy, is "no." Getting to "yes" takes a lot of work that involves more than just convincing your prospect that you've got a better mousetrap. According to Peter Sheahan, the CEO of ChangeLabs and author of Making it Happen: Turning Good Ideas Into Great Results (BenBella Books, April 2011), you also need to subtly break down the mental barriers of that immediately go up during the selling process. "There's money, time, and the third currency is mental energy," says Sheahan. When your prospect's mental energy is almost spent, he or she will erect mental barriers that make saying "no" really easy. Here's how to break them down:
  • Get narrow. "Counter intuitively, the more "no's" you're getting, the more narrow you should narrow your target market," says Sheahan. "You're better off getting three people really excited than getting 30 people mildly interested. Have a smaller target list and a more defined niche to which you can genuinely and with depth talk about how your product and service can add value."
  • Do the work. "When you're on the wrong side of the mental barrier, you have to come to the realization that until you get momentum, you're going to get a bad result," says Sheahan. To get that momentum, he says, you'll need to put "disproportionately more effort into getting and hopefully closing a lead than you would otherwise." For example, if you're selling to a big company, read the annual report cover to cover and listen to the quarterly earnings call. "The equity you build in the relationship is more than what you may initially get out of it," says Sheahan.
  • Crack the code. "Every industry has a code," says Sheahan. It may be a set of acronyms, or an underlying concern with big issues that are impacting an industry. "In financial services, the number one issue is regulation," says Sheahan. So you had better know how to talk about Dodd-Frank and fiduciary responsibility. Healthcare? Know the regulatory environment. Accounting? Sarbanes Oxley. "When the default position is no and people are so mentally spent, they are very focused on high need, high urgency parts of their business," says Sheahan.
  • Understand both stated and unstated needs. "You have to read between the lines to understand uncommunicated needs," says Sheahan. And that means asking the right questions. Ask, "If you were to buy X, what do you hope the outcome or value would be?" Listen to the answer, suggests Sheehan, "and then, in your own mind, think of what the opposite looks like and that is very likely to be the situation they're dealing with." In other words, if the answer is " we hope to see increased collaboration," you might infer that isolation and lack of communication among departments has gotten out of control.
  • Address individual mental barriers. "Barriers exist on a company level and on a personal level," says Sheahan. What are the personal fears of the person you're selling to? "We talk too much as salespeople. If we ask better questions and listen more, we can understand the unconscious drive of the buyer themselves." Sheahan recommends asking leading questions, like "is there anyone else in the business that needs to be involved in this decision?" or "how can I help you sell this up the line?" or "what can I do to make it easier for you to get budget?" And then, says Sheahan, "shut up and listen."
What are your best techniques for breaking down the mental barriers of sales prospects?

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  • Donna Fenn

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