Challenge the status quo thinking with new insights and a relatable story around a business problem to truly engage your customer

Your first challenge in a conversation with a prospect is to address this question: Why Change? If your prospect sees no reason to revisit this issue, there won’t be any real interest in what benefits your solution can provide or even what differentiates your company.

Your prospect is psychologically stranded – uninterested in questioning basic assumptions about the status quo. That’s why it’s necessary to challenge this status quo thinking with new insights that widen the frame around a business problem or otherwise cast a new light on current thinking.

Drawing on our experience in customer messaging, here are five essential elements to sequentially incorporate in your conversation that both present engaging insights and unsettle existing thinking.

The Icebreaker
This is your opportunity to present data points or research findings that demonstrate that the current environment is unsafe, unstable or unsustainable. This is what we think of as the “uncontrollables.”

They are uncontrollable because they are outside your power to change. They are simply facts that reveal a coming change. It may even be a single, inescapably powerful fact. You might cite a research firm – like Gartner or Forrester, for instance – that shows smartphone shipments are decreasing dramatically because consumers are extending the life of their existing phones. It might reveal that disruptive innovation and college debt concerns are tied to the expectations that up to 50% of colleges and universities will close within 15 years. Whatever the case, such data points should grab attention right off the bat and open the door to the next point of conversation.

The Breakdown
This is where one delves deeper into the potential costs and consequences of standing still. What happens if your prospect continues on the same trajectory? What have others like them experienced? What are they experiencing now? These potential “pain points” are key to one’s motivation around change. The question is whether they resonate with your prospect.

What’s notable here is that these issues are “controllables.” If they exist, then they can be controlled, addressed – even overcome. What happens if you don’t adapt to a world in which overall sales for smartphones are slumping? What are the risks of a new capital campaign designed to grow the physical infrastructure of the existing university in an environment that portends sinking demand in the student population? What are the potential implications for the company and for the careers of people you are engaging?

The Turn
The point of the conversation is not merely to create concern or illuminate unseen or insufficiently recognized problems – though that’s important. The conversation also should guide your prospect to a potential alternative and lay the foundation for exploring it more deeply. You want them to imagine a new direction and ask themselves: What If?

This is where you present key actions that are superior to and different than those applied in the current state. These are essentially your positioning statements. You want to lodge them in the mind of your prospect and create interest in what change could accomplish. That leaves them to imagine what it would be like if they took action and moved ahead.

“You want your prospect to imagine a new direction and ask themselves: What If?”

The Breakthrough
Here’s where to present a new approach or solution that addresses the problem or problems raised in your discussion of the Breakdown. Clarity is achieved through contrast. You must vividly demonstrate how this new approach will reduce expenses, increase revenue, reduce risk – or some combination of these factors.

The temptation among salespeople often is to leap to this part of the conversation without sufficiently having addressed the current state and its implications. But you can’t really show contrast that celebrates “the fantastic future” without ensuring there is some agreement upfront about the potential risks or likelihood of pain in relation to “the unpleasant present.” That said, you are in a good position to present the payoffs and business impact of your solution if you have handled the conversation in a skillful manner.

Proof Point
Finally, you’ll want to leave your prospect with evidence of your business impact — a proof point (or perhaps several) demonstrating that you have achieved the results you’ve described with others like them.

This is where a vivid case study or success story can put a powerful exclamation point on the discussion you’ve had. You complete the arc of your overarching value story with a customer story that ideally illustrates the human dimension and impact of your work with others.

By utilizing these 5 elements in your sales conversation, you set the stage for addressing questions that arise deeper in the buyer’s journey. Your prospect will want to know what’s different about you. They will want to explore your experience and expectations around implementation. They may have questions concerning financing options. But none of those late-stage questions will be raised in all seriousness until your prospect believes that change is necessary.

At Visible Impact, we’ve successfully applied this approach time and again in our messaging work with clients. In turn, they apply it in Executive Briefings designed around compelling insights – raising the level of conversations with prospects and customers.

Contact me to explore how this approach might apply to your messaging, marketing, and sales enablement efforts.

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