Selling Power Blog

News & Insights for B2B Sales Leaders

January 9, 2017

The Number One Barrier to Prospecting (Its Not What You Think)

By Tom Stanfill, Co-founder and CEO, ASLAN Training & Development

I think we need to hit the pause button on prospecting. It’s not working.

Here’s the source of the problem: In sales, we were taught to make plausible arguments for why our solution benefits the customer. The flaw in that strategy? Decision makers aren’t avoiding a solution – they’re avoiding a sales call.

Most everything we’ve learned about selling sabotages our chances of engaging a new decision maker. The number one barrier we face from prospects is emotional resistance. To succeed, we must shift from selling our solution to creating receptivity, from focusing on the message to creating receptivity to the message.

Principle of Receptivity

The real decision makers – the ones who control the money and strategy – avoid sales reps like it’s their job. They are emotionally closed. Here’s the principle most sales reps have missed:

When people are emotionally closed, the more you try to persuade them with logical arguments, the more closed they become.

Simply stated, if someone is emotionally unreceptive, the truth doesn’t matter.

A seed that lands on hard Georgia clay rarely germinates. If the soil isn’t fertile, the quality of the seed just doesn’t matter. In fact, we’ve learned during the past 20 years of studying sales conversations that the receptivity of the audience has more impact on influence than the most persuasive message.

We’ve simply missed a step. Creating a fertile soil always precedes planting.

Embracing this truth opens the door to a radically different way to engage the 90-plus percent of people who are unwilling to even consider your message.

Lead with Their Whiteboard: the RAS

Our brain has a built-in filter for sifting through more than 5,000 messages we receive every day. It’s called the reticular activating system (RAS). The RAS acts as a gatekeeper between the subconscious and the conscious, and it ultimately determines if we click “delete” or open the message. When the RAS is activated, we notice two types of messages:

  1. Messages related to a perceived need.
  2. Messages we don’t understand.

This explains why information about your solution is ignored – because the RAS only tunes into perceived problems or needs.  Prospecting needs to be about alignment, not selling.

The first step should be to shift our focus – from our whiteboard, agenda, and solution – to the prospect’s whiteboard. If you want to get the attention of a new decision maker, start by setting your agenda aside and articulate something that’s on his or her list of priorities. And the more specifically you articulate the perceived need, the more effective you’ll be.

Grow revenue, reduce cost, blah, blah, blah…Everybody says that and the message gets quickly labeled “marketing hype.” Delete.

Saying something specific to a decision maker’s pain point, in their vernacular, activates the RAS and moves your message to the front of the line.

If you lack the information, your first assignment is to become a student of your customer’s whiteboard. Every time you meet with similar decision makers, ask about their most important initiatives and challenges. You will quickly see the commonalities and identify a handful of RAS-worthy pain points.

An option for strategic opportunities is to ask those who know the decision maker. “If I sent Sharon an email, what would get her attention?”

Once you get their attention by aligning with a perceived need, create curiosity by communicating an unexpected insight or benefit your solution offers. Offer just enough details to indicate further discussion is warranted.

Drop the Rope®

As soon as the decision maker recognizes it’s a sales call, he or she feels the tug of war. You want a meeting; the prospect wants to avoid a sales call. You want to keep them on the phone; they want to dodge the call. And when they sense they are being pulled, they pull back.

Here’s the unintended consequence: when the decision maker perceives the rope is being pulled, the tension takes center stage, distracting them from the value of your solution. So, instead of upping our game and attempting to win the argument, Drop the Rope by communicating what you both already know is true:

  1. You have no idea if what you’re selling is a fit for the decision maker.
  2. They have permission to exit the conversation at any time.

If you pause and think about it, can you make a prospect stay on the phone or talk to you in the hall or stay in a meeting? Do you really know in the initial stages of the sales process that your solution is exactly what they need? Even if that’s true, the more you pull the more resistance you will encounter. So communicate that you aren’t sure if your solution is a fit.  Ask permission to continue the conversation. Find a way to take the tension out of the call or meeting.

Leading with the decision maker’s whiteboard (instead of your solution) and Dropping the Rope may go against every selling instinct you have, but consider this: If you do what no other sellers are doing, you might see prospecting results no other sellers are seeing. 

Headshot of Tom Stanfill

Today’s post is by Tom Stanfill, co-founder and CEO of ASLAN Training & Development. Tom has more than twenty years of experience consulting and developing training programs for the sales organizations for some of the largest and most respected companies in the world.