“My wife thinks I’m having an affair!”

This is another anecdote from my work with the company that sells high tech equipment to pharmacies. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. (For a previous anecdote, see: Make a sale – change a life).

I was coaching Geoff, one of their salespeople, and trying to help him make a sale to a pharmacist, whom we’ll call Ross. We sat down to review what Geoff had done so far.

As part of the sales process, Geoff had made contact with Ross two months before, and qualified that he would be a great prospect. Geoff had conducted a demonstration of the equipment for Ross, and had worked through a financial model with him, using the pharmacy’s actual revenue and costs from the previous year. The model showed that, even though the investment in the equipment would be several hundred thousand dollars, Ross could expect to double the pharmacy’s profit within the first year for a significant return on investment (ROI). They agreed to talk again after Ross had a chance to go through the numbers with his accountant.

The deal stalled there (as many of them do at this point), and that’s where I entered the picture. I had just conducted a workshop for the company’s sales team and had arranged individual coaching sessions with each of the salespeople in the week following the workshop.

During the coaching session, Geoff told me that during a previous dialogue, Ross had agreed that the technology was terrific. He could see how the equipment would significantly reduce the amount of time it would take to fill the same number of prescriptions, and that the expected ROI was very exciting, so Geoff was very confident of making the sale. However, the last time they had talked, Ross had still not spoken with his accountant.

Geoff had made several unsuccessful attempts to contact Ross in the four weeks since then, so we decided that he would try calling Ross again, and I would observe the call. We discussed a strategy for moving the sale forward, and agreed that we had to find a way to make the purchase more of a priority in Ross’s mind, because the technology and financials weren’t doing it.

Before he made the call I asked Geoff why he thought Ross appeared to be stalling, and his best guess was that the accountant had found an error in the financial model calculations. Geoff and I went over the numbers together, and couldn’t find anything amiss. During the workshop, I had suggested to the salespeople that they focus their prospects on the emotional side of the sale by asking how the purchase of the equipment would impact not just on their business, but also from a personal perspective. I queried Geoff on whether he had asked Ross how the equipment would impact on his personal life.

“No, I didn’t.” Geoff replied.

“That’s okay,” I said. “Let’s call Ross, and if we reach him, you can ask him today.”

“What should I say?”

“How about something like: Ross, the last time we talked, we focused on how the equipment worked and the financial benefits you could expect. What we didn’t do was talk about how this purchase would affect you personally. Do you mind if I ask how this would impact on you personally?”

“Oh no,” Geoff replied. “I couldn’t ask that.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“It just seems too personal.”

“Do you think Ross would feel it’s too personal?”

“I don’t know. I just feel it would be.”

That struck me as somewhat incongruous. Geoff was a very gregarious person, and didn’t seem the type who would be afraid to ask that kind of question. He had previously told me he had built a great rapport with Ross, so I didn’t feel it would be too intrusive to pose an emotionally directed question.

So I asked Geoff what he had to lose by asking. He was still very unsure, so I counselled him that nothing bad would happen. His house wouldn’t burn down, his arms wouldn’t fall off, and his dog wouldn’t die just because he asked the question. The sale was stalled anyway so he really had nothing to be afraid of.

Geoff took a deep breath, said he would try it, and dialled Ross’s number.

“Geoff! Hey, buddy – how’s it going? Long time no talk.”

“Yeah. I was trying to reach you to see if you’d had a chance to speak with your accountant yet?”

“Gee – no I haven’t. I’ve been meaning to get to it, but it’s just so darn busy around here, I just haven’t had the chance.”

On hearing that, I urged Geoff to ask the personal impact question. To his great credit, he did.  There was a few seconds of silence, during which Geoff looked horrified because he thought he had blown the deal. Then Ross started talking, and didn’t stop for 10 minutes.

He explained that most weeks he worked 16-hour days, seven days a week. He hadn’t taken a vacation in five years, he had a cottage that he hadn’t spent more than a few hours at for over three years, and he had missed most of the important milestones of the last few years of his children’s lives.

“I’m telling you, Geoff, at one point my wife even thought I was having an affair. She came by the store at 11:30 one night just to check that I was actually working. You know, Geoff, I’m realizing more and more just what a toll this business is taking on my life. You really feel this equipment could reduce the time I have to spend here?”

“Absolutely. I can send you the results that other pharmacists have experienced, and I’d be happy to put you in touch with some of those customers so you can ask them yourself.”

“That would be great, Geoff. You know what – why don’t you send me a contract as well at the same time. How soon could you get that out to me?”

“I can courier it this afternoon and you’ll have it in the morning.”

Three days later, Geoff had the signed contract in his hand.

The moral here is that technical specifications and financial benefits aren’t always enough to motivate a prospect to take action. Sometimes you need to focus on the emotional values that the prospect will enjoy from using your product or service. To discover which emotional aspects will be important to a prospect, all you have to do is ask:

“If you go ahead with this, how will it impact on you personally?”

Try it – it works!