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Challenge Your Prospects' Perspectives

By Jill Konrath, author of SNAP Selling and Selling to Big Companies

When was the last time you made your crazy-busy prospects really stop and think? If you’re just spouting self-serving sales talk, the answer is probably never. But if you’ve developed at least some level of expertise in your field and aren’t using it, you’re letting opportunities slip by.

I’m not talking about doing this like a know-it-all who one-ups everyone. Nor am I talking about being a boorish churl who drones on endlessly.

When you have expertise and want to provoke your prospects’ thinking, do so carefully. You have to approach them as if you were already in their service and 100% committed to helping them achieve their goals. Otherwise, you’ll just com across as being a smart aleck or jerk.

Using provocation is especially important when their perspective is limited to their own experiences or their stuck in only one way of seeing the situation.

For example, recently Nina Millhouse, who sells into the hospital industry, made a gutsy move. She challenged her prospects’ thinking with a study done by a big accounting firm:

In today’s ailing economy, when every dollar counts, hospitals are looking for ways to improve their bottom line. One option is to add $11.7 million in revenue. The other option is to reduce operating costs by $100,000.

According to Deloitte and Touche, these two options have the same impact, but clearly one is more achievable. That’s what I want to talk with you about today.

Now that’s a jolt! She knew her prospects might consider her offering “trivial” in light of all the other crises facing hospitals today. So she shared a new way of looking at what she could do for them by comparing the top line revenue growth needed to match the $100,000 savings she could deliver.

Don’t be afraid to let your prospects know when you think they’re making a mistake either.

Sometimes when my prospects tell me what they’re doing to achieve their objectives, a little indicator light goes off in my head that says, “Huh? That doesn’t seem quite right.”

In the past I’d let it go, thinking perhaps I’d missed something or didn’t understand. Now I always speak up—but often very gently, even if I know they’re wrong. I don’t ever want a prospect to feel stupid or embarrassed.

Nor do I want to come barreling at them like a bull in a China shop. That only makes people more defensive of what they’re doing. So, I might say something like:

Eric, I know that your primary strategy to drive new customer acquisition this year is to get your salespeople to make more calls. I’d like to challenge your thinking on that a bit.

My experience in working with sales teams across the country shows me that the quality of the call has far more affect on success than the quantity.

In fact, if you really want to have a significant impact, your salespeople need to have easy access to sales intelligence tools. Can you tell me what you’re doing in this area?

More often than not, these gentle provocations open the door to interesting dialogue that enables me to make suggestions, offer advice, and provide guidance—nicely, and as a potential partner who cares about their success.

Provocation is particularly important to use when your prospects currently don’t have money in their budget for your product or service.

Whether you offer a contrarian perspective, fresh insights, new visions of the future, or missing information, it helps crazy-busy buyers see beyond the status quo to what is possible.

You’ll be amazed at how often money or funding for what your selling emerges out of thin air.

Is it a miracle? Perhaps. But I’d wager that it’s because your provocation got your prospects thinking in new ways.


Want to learn more about the new rules of selling to crazy-busy buyers? To get four FREE sales-accelerating tools and download two chapters of SNAP Selling, visit or email

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