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Sales AboutFACE, Inc. | Ottawa, ON

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We were deep into a sales workshop on qualifying this morning for a team that does a great job engaging prospects on the front end of the process but were confused and growing increasingly frustrated over the number of promising deals that were languishing, failing to close.

The Underlying Problem – Unpaid Consulting

Even though the sales team followed a proven “consultative – solution” based selling approach, they were time and again falling victim to a sales phenomenon we call UNPAID CONSULTING. Unpaid consulting is the practice of giving away information and expertise, often involving costly pre-sales resources, in an effort to drive a sale forward. It becomes UNPAID when a deal fails to materialize on the back-end of the cycle.

When we study the behaviour of prospects throughout their interactions with “sales” people, a pattern of conduct begins to emerge. Depending on the sales person’s approach, prospects will tend to withhold information, act interested while being educated by the sales person. Then when presented with a solution or proposal to address their “needs,” they avoid commitment and instead respond with positive strokes, and words of encouragement and gratitude and a need to “think it over.” The unsuspecting sales person leaves feeling good with another “hot one” on the tee and ready to close. While the buyer supposedly “thinks it over,” follow-up efforts to close by the salesperson are met with silence as the buyer runs, hides, disappears waiting for the salesperson to lose the scent and quit calling.

That’s unpaid consulting!

The Solution – Be Outwardly CURIOUS but Inwardly SKEPTICAL

In the workshop, we were applying the practice of REVERSE QUESTIONING to clarify the underlying intentions, objectives, meaning behind the statements and questions from prospects. One of our Sandler Rules states, “The problem or question the prospect gives you is never the REAL problem or question presented.” There is likely an underlying reason for the problem or for the statement just made.

Also as sales professionals we need to recognize that prospects will often answer our sales questions with vague, ambiguous responses with a hint of positive seasoning thrown in to encourage more unpaid consulting (EG: Demos, presentations, designs, education). It’s incumbent upon the sales person to drill down below the surface and get to the “real” underlying thoughts and feelings and inclinations of the prospect.

Using effective Reverse Questioning techniques, by responding to prospects’ statements and questions with a follow-up question we are further clarifying to help both parties get to the real underlying truth, thoughts and inclinations much like a doctor – patient, detective – suspect “conversation.”

In the heat of the sales call with visions of a “month making” deal dancing through the head of the salesperson, the sales person is easily seduced by expressions of interest by the prospect. Happy ears switch on and we fail to dig deeper. We understand Reverse Questioning. We get it intellectually, yet we still fall prey to unpaid consulting and under-qualified proposals that go nowhere.

What’s missing? Our actions and behaviours are always a reflection of our mindset, in other words our thoughts and our feelings toward some situation.


High performance sales people have developed a mindset of unbridled CURIOSITY, with a driving desire to always know WHY …… “WHY does s/he want to do this? WHY is s/he asking me that? WHY did s/he just say that”, we continuously seek clarification. As the prospect digs further into their own mind s/he will provide additional clarification, and we get closer and closer to the truth and the underlying reality.


High performance sales people have developed a mindset of unbridled SKEPTICISM with an active BS meter in the brain that filters input from prospects and triggers CURIOSITY (and Reverse Questioning behaviour) when it hits the yellow – red zones. Think like a customs officer without the attitude!

As we were discussing the merits of CURIOSITY and SKEPTICISM and how our Reverse Questioning is delivered with empathy and nurturing parent tonality (NOT ABRASIVE), Steve, one of our workshop participants really got it and fired back, “Be outwardly CURIOUS, but inwardly SKEPTICAL”. What the prospect experiences is an individual who really does care, wants to better understand my situation, is not trying to “overcome my objections,” is not trying to sell me. Prospects feel heard and understood, they’re natural need to control dissipates, trust builds and information gets more real. Equally important, you the salesperson become more curious and more naturally caring without the naivety of taking everything prospects tell you at face value.

So ask yourself, when would you want to know the truth from your prospects? Upfront, before you invest costly time, effort, resources in working a deal or later after you’ve done all that work generating a solution and proposal that ends up going nowhere.

Want the truth? Can you handle the truth? Stop the unpaid consulting. Be outwardly CURIOUS but inwardly SKEPTICAL.

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