Tension: The Secret to Engaging Prospects and Driving Action

Nobody likes tension, right?

If you’re a sales pro, you should.

Tension is the seed of thought planted in your prospect’s brain that grows into the idea that their life would be better with your solution.

Being able to create that tension is what separates the very best salespeople from the ordinary.

So, let’s dig into how you can create tension and use it to build trust, engage your prospects, and drive action.

Focus on the Positive

In most traditional selling systems, tension is created by finding and focusing on the prospect’s pain. This can be wildly effective, but I think it misses a fundamental point.

People don’t always make decisions because they are in a bad spot. Many of your potential customers just want to make the next right move.

An unfilled desire or unmet next step can be painful, but I like to look optimistically into what the future can hold for my prospect rather than focus negatively on the present.

It Starts With a Connection

My good friend and partner on The Why and The Buy Podcast, Christie Walters, said it best. “There can be no tension without first creating a connection.”

I couldn’t agree more.

You won’t be able to create the distance between where your prospect is right now and where they could be if they don’t give you the engagement necessary to listen.

Nobody wants a lecture from a stranger. You need to give them a reason to pay attention.

Cut through the noise

Before you can engage, you need to get their attention. People are constantly being bombarded by messages (how many red circles do you have on your phone right now?). This makes it hard to cut through all of that noise.

Because of this, your opening is critical. It needs to be provocative in some way, funny, even off-putting. It needs to be something that will change your prospect’s posture. I call this change in posture, “The Lean.”

You’ll know The Lean when you see it. A smile is cracked, there’s a longer pause than usual over the phone, they may even tilt their head to the side like a puppy dog that doesn’t quite understand your command…

To get this kind of a response, you need to purge boring, standard greetings from your memory. Get rid of things like:

  • Good morning, how are you today?
  • I don’t mean to bother you, but…
  • I’d like to talk to you about…”

Instead, try this:

  • Hi, I’m <<insert your name>>, have you heard of me?
  • I’ll bet you’re so glad I called. What a day you’re having, huh?
  • Or ask a really great question (we’ll get into this later).

It actually doesn’t matter what their response is. You will have their strict attention for half a second because they’re either already interested in what you have to say, or they’re trying to figure you out.

The Lean is not an invitation to pitch, however. This is very important. The Lean is simply an opportunity for you to ask a question — a question that shows your prospect you’re interested in them.

This is an opportunity to get your prospect to think differently, to establish yourself as someone who asks great questions and is worth talking to.

Here’s your chance to create some engagement — make it count.

Ask Tension Generating Questions

How many times have you made a sales call with genuine interest in the person you’re talking to, rather than just trying to spit out your message in a compelling manner?

Probably not very often. You’ve finally managed to get a response of some sort, and then you derail the process before you can even get started.

Nice going, Sport…

Salespeople have been taught for years that the key to starting sales conversations is asking questions, not just making statements.

But what kind of questions should you ask?

Are you regularly asking questions to create tension? Probably not.

Most salespeople are people pleasers, and we try to make sales by making friends. But that’s not always the right approach to create real engagement.

If you want to change someone’s mind, you need to change the way they think. Trust and rapport are vital, but you are not going to accomplish what you need to by simply being agreeable all the time.

You earn that trust, and then you put it to use when you ask tension-building questions.

Your line of questioning should be chosen to accomplish three primary goals:

  • Uncover your prospect’s needs
  • Teach your prospect something
  • Inspire your prospect to think differently

What can you ask that will uncover their needs?

You’ve probably been taught to ask questions specifically designed to determine what the prospect feels they need. The problem with that is that sometimes the prospect doesn’t know what they need.

Trash the line of questioning that came out of your sales manual, and instead be genuinely curious about your customer’s goals and plans.

Get them talking about what they want to be when they grow up, what they want their business to be when it grows up, what success looks like to them, and what pitfalls they believe may cause failure.

When you listen to their answers, you’ll gain a much clearer picture of how your solution fits (or doesn’t), and that understanding will guide the rest of your sales process.

What can you teach your prospects?

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Your prospects often don’t know what they need to know to take the next steps with their business.

Part of your job as a salesperson is to take a consultative approach and guide your customers along their journey to success.

Ask yourself these questions:

Are you knowledgeable about what your prospect or customer is passionate about?

Can you speak fluently in the language of their business or industry?

Do you understand the challenges that they face, and can you ask questions to help understand their needs in those situations?

Do you understand what makes you different, and how that difference makes you particularly valuable in their situation?

Here’s a pro tip: Act like you’ve been there before. Don’t ask questions that directly relate to your product or service: “Do you ever wish you had a vacuum cleaner that could do this?”

Instead, engage them around the problem you solve: “Did you know that microscopic dust buildup shortens the life expectancy of your carpet by 20%?”

You’re ultimately trying to start a conversation about a subject that you know more about than they do. You’re framing the conversation in terms of something that is important to them. In other words, you’re giving them a reason to listen to you.

Challenge Your Prospects

Now that they’re interested in what you have to say, you can challenge their beliefs. Remember, they don’t know what they don’t know.

Your potential customer believes they are managing their business the best way possible. You may know there’s a different way, and it may well be better for them, but you can’t simply change your prospect’s mind. They need to see the value in changing their mind for themselves.

Let me make something clear. You don’t spend the trust you’ve built by asking tough questions. You actually earn more of it when you demonstrate that you’re not another echo chamber.

You have their best interests in mind. And because of that, they trust you.

If you do it right, it will shine a spotlight on you as just the person they’re looking for to guide them on their journey.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask the Hard Questions

Some of you may wonder where the line is… Should you ask that question?

Chances are you can, and you should. Just make sure you’re coming from a place of genuine curiosity and generosity.

When you ask questions that nobody else will ask, you’ll learn things that nobody else knows, and that allows you to solve problems that nobody else can.

That means you can make sales that nobody else can make — so don’t be afraid to stick your neck out and create tension.

Jeff Bajorek a sales improvement consultant, author, and podcast host, and he wants to challenge you to Rethink The Way You Sell®. You can learn more about him at jeffbajorek.com, The Why and The Buy Podcast, or by connecting with him on LinkedIn.

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