Perhaps the greatest secret to success in professional selling is the often preached, yet frequently misunderstood, use of commitment questions.
I call it a secret for the simple reason that in 10 years of selling, talking to salespeople in numerous and varied industries, and teaching the skills of professional selling, I have yet to encounter anyone with a specific understanding of the physiological mechanisms behind the use of commitment questions and how to most effectively use that knowledge to influence and persuade. It goes without saying that commitments are a topic of discussion in the sales community. They are written about in sales literature almost as far back as sales literature exists, and are talked about in many a sales meeting both formal and otherwise. The concern is not that the conversation about commitment questioning is not taking place, the concern is that the conversation falls far short of delivering on the real power of commitments and guiding professional sales people to develop and use them correctly.
Here is the common understanding of commitment questions in professional selling:
- They are asked of the customer during a sales presentation to gauge the prospect's interest in the product.
- They serve to summarize the sales discussion and the prospect's agreement on the suitability of the product or service.
- They are are a singular questions that seeks to gain a 'yes' commitment.
- They are like tie-downs, only a bit longer, usually an entire sentence.
- The transference of the source of conviction from the sales representative to the customer where commitment ownership occurs.
- The shift of the buying decision from an evaluation of price for features and benefits to an evaluation between price and desire for ownership.
Transference of the Source of Conviction
A sales conversation involves two parties; the salesperson and the decision maker. The premise of this conversation is that the salesperson will try to present the decision maker with features and benefits to create a compelling reason for him to make a buying decision. On the other side of the conversation, the decision maker will evaluate, most often with some degree of skepticism, the benefit of those features to him. It is assumed, of course, that as part of this process the salesperson will present his product in the best possible light, and the decision maker will attempt to see through the favorable 'spin' to determine the real and accurate value of the product or service.
In this is an inherent conflict: The salesperson trying to convince a prospect, and the prospect trying to resist being convinced.
As long as this premise is allowed to define the sales conversation, the effectiveness of commitment questions is limited to their ability to gauge how much the prospect believes the information given by the salesperson. The commitment question tells the salesperson if the prospect believes him or not, and the extent of the credibility with which his product or service is being received. In other words, a commitment question determines the credibility gap between the message of the salesperson and the belief in it by the prospect.
So, the question then becomes-- how do you close that gap? Several sales techniques can be applied to answer that question, from belief transfer, to image impression control, to limitation honesty, and all will work to some degree. The problem, however, is that while all of these techniques will narrow the gap, none of them will close it completely.
The only way to close that gap entirely, is with the very technique that most sales people use to gauge it-- the commitment question!
Here's how it works. You build a commitment question sequence that shifts the source of conviction away from your belief in the benefits of your product, to your client's. In other words, rather than trying to convince your prospect to believe what you say, you will allow them the opportunity to convince themselves of their belief in your product, which they will never again doubt. If you can do that, and I will show you how in just a minute, the source of conviction in your product or service is no longer a belief in you, but rather a belief in themselves. This is a belief that is never questioned once it is formed and one that will lead more customers to buy than you ever could by trying to get them to believe directly in what you say.
Here's how you do it: After each major topic of your sales presentation (company, product, service, etc) you ask the client three things.
- If they have any further questions about that topic: When you ask if they have any other questions you give them the opportunity to say that they don't. The act of doing so subconsciously signals to the prospect that they have no unresolved concerns and allows them to move on without residual anxiety over having forgotten something.
- Ask if, based on the information you have just shared with them about the company, product, or service, they would be completely comfortable choosing your company. This is a traditional commitment question, but in the context of the commitment question sequence it is used to set up the next question which it is only logical to ask after an agreement is reached. Alone it means very little as agreement does not ensure conviction.
- Tell them they you are sure there are many reasons for their agreement that your company, product or services is right for them, and ask them to share with you the main two or three reasons for feeling that way. This is where the real power of the technique is. By first getting a general and soft agreement that a particular aspect of your offer is right for them, and then asking them to justify it, you get them to verbalize their commitment. This effectively transfers the source of conviction from you to the prospect where it cannot and will not be doubted. Even if the conviction they felt in the soft agreement was weak, as soon as they say it in their own voice, it is received by their subconscious as absolute truth. You could give them reasons all day long for buying your product, but when those reasons come out of their mouth and in through their ears, it makes an impression that will motivate their buying behavior well beyond your ability to do so and with no hint of doubt. They cannot doubt what they said, they own the commitment, it is theirs and not yours.
Mr. Prospect, now that I've shared with you some information about my company and how we do business I would like to ask you if you have any other questions of if there is anything I haven't covered that you feel you would like to know?
Great. Before we move on I would like to know if based on the information I gave you about my company, you would feel completely comfortable doing business with us when the time is right for you?
I appreciate that. I'm sure there are many reasons that you feel that way. So I know what specifically is most important to you, could you please share with me the two or three main reasons you feel comfortable doing business with us?
Now they said it. They own it. They believe it because it came from them, out of their mouth and into their ears where it make an impression on their subconscious. While it is not only possible, but probable, that they will doubt what you say, when you use a highly professional commitment question sequence three or four times in your sales conversation, you give them something that they can't doubt-- their own belief.
In my next post I will cover the second 'secret' aspect of the commitment question sequence: How it can shift of the buying decision from an evaluation of price for features and benefits to an evaluation between price and desire for ownership.