High Probability Selling (Book)

Chapter 4 - High Probability Selling Applied:  Some New Concepts

Over the next several days, as part of his training program, Sal went out on calls with two WPC salespeople, Sue and Larry.  They had both worked for WPC before VP was brought in to “revitalize” the sales department.  When VP first joined the company they were skeptical of his relaxed style.  But after they saw him bring in several large new accounts, they decided to find out how he did it.  What they saw was different, but so effective that they both learned High Probability Selling.

When Sal saw Sue and Larry in action he had no idea what was going on.  Each had very different styles from the other and from VP.  The only thing they all seemed to have in common was that they kept asking questions.  Some of the questions seemed pointless, and others seemed intrusive.  In fact, Sal often felt uncomfortable about some of the questions they asked.

On a call with Sue to meet a new prospect, after about ten minutes of questions and answers, Sue was asked for a quote on packaging.  She answered saying that since the quote obviously wouldn't result in any business, she wasn't willing to have her sales estimating department prepare it.  She courteously planted some seeds for possible future business, but instead of pressing forward, she made a quick exit.

Sal was surprised and after they left he asked Sue about what had gone on.  When she told him that it would be more appropriate if VP explained it, he was more surprised.  He thought she wouldn't want VP to know what had happened.

Sal dropped the subject and asked Sue whether learning High Probability Selling had made a difference in her career.  She told him that her commissions had really taken off.  She emphasized she was more relaxed at work and felt better about herself, that she had more dignity and self-esteem, and that she was more in control of the selling process.

When they met again the next day, Sal asked VP about the call Sal had gone on with Sue.  VP explained she had done the right thing.  She had worked with the prospect only as long as he appeared to be a “HIGH PROBABILITY PROSPECT.”  As soon as it became apparent that he was unlikely to be a customer then or in the near future, she courteously ended the visit.  She was correct in not using the company's resources in a no-win activity.  VP maintained that most prospects respect that kind of no-nonsense approach.

Sal said he didn't understand why the prospect didn't qualify as a High Probability Prospect.  In fact, he thought it was a positive sign that the prospect had asked for a quote.  VP pointed out that was not the case.  He said that based on what was said before the prospect requested the quote, Sue was clear either that we weren't getting any business in the near future or that the prospect was unresponsive or non-communicative.  Most likely, it was the prospect's unwillingness to have a frank and open discussion that had Sue end the meeting when she did.

Sal:

I think she had a lot of nerve asking some of the questions she asked.  It's no wonder he didn't answer them.

VP:

Soon you'll see the value of those questions, and the value of not going forward when you don't get clear and honest answers to them.  This is a good time to tell you about some basic principles of High Probability Selling.

High Probability Selling is really a method of inquiry.  The inquiry is designed to arrive at a meeting of the minds and result in mutual commitments between the salesperson and the prospect by determining whether:

  1. The prospect needs, wants, and can afford our product;
  2. The prospect is willing to define his Conditions of Satisfaction which, if met, will result in the purchase of our product;
  3. The commitment the prospect makes with regard to his Conditions of Satisfaction is specific as to all the necessary particulars and is absolute and unequivocal.

Sal:

A few things make sense already.  Sue cut the visit short right after she asked, “On what basis, if any, would you be willing to have us supply some of your packaging materials - as a second source supplier?”  The prospect asked what she meant by that, and she said, “Would the right price, or fast delivery, or guaranteed top quality be a deciding factor?”

He said something like, “Just quote on our requirements and you'll find out whether you quoted right if you receive an order.  Our criteria for making those decisions are not your concern.”  After a few more attempts to get that question answered, she ended the visit and we left.

VP:

Sue was following a basic principle of High Probability Selling:

Don't waste your resources on Low Probability Prospects.

Sal:

But as long as we were already there, she could've stayed and tried to do business with him.

VP:

If she did that, she would've had to make a commitment for a quote.  Then our estimating department would have to work up the quote, the department head would have to check it, and then we would have to generate a computer printout.

Sue would also have had to review the quote with the estimator, and return to the Low Probability Prospect to present the quote and sample materials.  She probably would've had to make at least one follow-up call, too.  The prospect might even ask her to revise the quote or bring back more samples, which would create another round of work.  Even after all of that,the probability of actually getting an order would be low at best.

All that activity costs money.  More importantly, it takes us away from the opportunity of working with High Probability Prospects.  Also keep in mind that the intangible emotional drain on the salesperson of working with a low probability prospect is a hidden, but very considerable, additional cost.

Sal:

What about all those questions the salespeople ask?  It seems to me a lot of what they ask about is personal information a prospect would rather not discuss.

VP:

You're probably right in a traditional sales situation.  There the salesperson and the customer are adversaries.  It's hard to have a sincere relationship with your enemy.  In High Probability Selling the object is to build a relationship based on mutual trust and respect.  In order to do that it's necessary to find out who the prospect really is.  The salesperson gets ripped off with anything less.

Sal:

Does that mean if the prospect isn't open and honest with us, we don't deal with him?

VP:

Exactly.

Sal:

Damn.  That goes against all the training I've ever had.  I was always taught to keep on talking and stressing benefits as long as a prospect will listen.  And when he starts to nod his head or begins to say yes when I ask him positive questions, then it's time to close.

VP:

High Probability Selling is very different.  First, we clarify what it is the prospect wants, and we both agree on exactly what those wants are.  We call those wants the prospect's Conditions Of Satisfaction.  Second, assuming we can fulfill those Conditions Of Satisfaction profitably, we negotiate mutual commitments.  In other words, we get crystal clear on what each of us promises to do.  When you're negotiating commitments, you're into what you've always called the “close.”

Sal:

So, we're almost always asking instead of telling.

VP:

Right.  You should frame most of what you have to say in the form of a question.  The prospect should do most of the talking, primarily answering your questions.  The more the prospect talks, the more both of you win.

Sal:

But if you don't tell the prospect about the company's capabilities, and why our products and services are better than the competition's, how will he know?

VP:

The more you try to convince the prospect that your product is the best, the more resistance you create.  Understand this, almost anything you say can be phrased as a question.  As long as you're asking questions, the prospect remains involved in the conversation.  Let me give you some examples:

You ask:

Do you prefer to have your packages shipped open or flat with one push to open?

Prospect:

Does WPC ship them flat?

You ask:

Yes, is that what you want?

You ask:

Are you willing to pay more for top quality and on time deliveries?

Prospect:

Yes.  We might have to shut down a production line if the quality of the packaging is off.  And on time delivery is especially important to us because we've recently gone to just-in-time deliveries and we don't keep back-up supplies of inventory.

You ask:

What else do you want?

Whether the customer prefers flat packages or is willing to pay more for top quality and timely deliveries, he's likely to talk about the choices.  A prospect may have good reasons for not wanting our products.  His product may lend itself better to open packaging.  Or low price may be his highest priority.In any case, you save a lot of time by learning those things before you spend time and resources on him.  Also, when you're focusing on what the prospect has to say, your ideas on how to serve him are welcomed, especially when those ideas are phrased as questions.

Sal:

I still don't understand how and when you close.

VP:

That's okay for now.  Go over the examples we just discussed.  There were probably a number of what you would consider “closing questions.”

Sal:

Maybe, but gathering information isn't closing.

VP:

The entire High Probability Selling process is a closing process.  You probably noticed when you went on sales calls last week that when we asked questions and got answers that justified going on, we asked for commitments.  We ask questions like: “Is that what you want?” or “Is there anything else we should cover?” or “Are you willing to pay a ten per cent premium for a glossy finish?” or “If we show you we can meet your requirements, what will you do?”

Sal:

That doesn't make sense to me.  When do you ask for the order?

VP:

WE NEVER ASK FOR THE ORDER!

Sal:

(Incredulous)  Well, do you use closing techniques at all?

VP:

As I said before the entire High Probability Selling process is a closing process.  We focus on finding out what's necessary to do business, right from the start.  We use an orderly process that's thorough and professional.  Our approach is designed to have the prospect commit to do business with us if what we have is what he wants.

Sal:

Suppose the customer doesn't do that?

VP:

In that case we did something wrong.  Maybe we didn't disqualify the prospect when we should have.  Perhaps we moved to a new phase without a commitment.  When we reach a point where a prospect won't make commitments, we end the meeting and move on to someone else.

The fault however, if there is one, is ours.  We may not have qualified the prospect correctly, or maybe some old fashioned “power selling” snuck through by accident and created resistance.  BUT NEVER ASK FOR THE ORDER!  Just negotiate mutual commitments.  In a situation where our company can't fulfill the prospect's Conditions of Satisfaction, acknowledge that promptly and make a swift, courteous exit.

Sal:

Do you mean like when he needs a type of material that we don't supply?

VP:

That's a good example.  Another is when the prospect wants fast deliveries and low price.  As you know, we can give him fast deliveries and top quality, but the price has to reflect that.

Sal:

How do you convince him that he should want fast deliveries and top quality at a higher price?

VP:

You don't ever try to convince a prospect that he needs and wants what you have to sell.  If he clearly understands the benefits you're offering, and they're not what he wants, it's time to end that visit.  If he really wants what you have, he won't let you go.

Sal:

Doesn't that require a strong presentation?

VP:

No.  But it requires the right questions, such as:

You said you wanted a fast cycle time, how fast?

You said you wanted the most insurance you could buy for a $1,500 annual premium.  Do you want me to shop the market for you or are you planning to do your own shopping, company evaluation and comparison analysis?

You said you want the fastest possible delivery.  Are you willing to pay a premium for the overtime necessary to fill that requirement?

Sal:

Well, that's like asking the kind of “closing questions” they teach in a lot of sales courses.

VP:

Not so.  Most prospects have heard enough “closing questions” to know exactly what you're doing, and resent it.  We're sincere in trying to determine the prospect's Conditions of Satisfaction (and we tell him what we're doing when we're doing it) and he can sense the difference.

Sal:

How is what you're asking different than closing on a minor point, such as: “Do you want the blue or the grey?” or “Do you prefer deliveries on Tuesday or Thursday?”

VP:

In High Probability Selling we don't ask rhetorical or manipulative questions.  We only ask questions we need to know the answers to.

Sal:

If you're only asking questions, how do you convince the prospect that he needs and wants your product?

VP:

Do you remember the first call you went on with me?

Sal:

Yes.

VP:

As I recall, you thought it was just “dumb luck” that they gave me their business.

Sal:

Now I remember.  I was wondering how you could just sit there and ask them what they wanted to do, when all of that business was there for the asking.

VP:

Do you also remember how reluctant Ann was to talk to me about any business except for the Star product line which we already handle?

Sal:

Yes.  But once she started talking about the bind she was in, you could've asked her for the order.

VP:

At that point she hadn't made any commitments to change vendors.  In fact, the discussion started as a complaint.  It was only because I asked questions, gave her choices and asked for commitments, that we received that order.  And, as you know, their requirements for the Sun line are about three times greater than for the Star line.

Sal:

But why did you wait for them to offer you the business?  Why didn't you just ask for an order?

VP:

There were several reasons.  First, as you now know we never ask for the order.  Second, when I asked what they needed and wanted, they defined their Conditions of Satisfaction.  If I had asked for a commitment to buy at that point, and been unable to meet their Conditions of Satisfaction, the order would've been jeopardized.  If you're not able to satisfy some of their Conditions of Satisfaction, you negotiate those conditions.  If you can work them out, then you ask for a commitment.  That's what happened when the Product Manager agreed to have us redo the art work just for the first four packages, rather than doing them all at once.

If you create an environment where the prospect is the one doing the talking, he's more likely to open up and tell you exactly what he wants, actually lay out for you all his Conditions of Satisfaction.  You don't have to convince anyone of anything, or guess at what they want to hear, or even handle objections.

Sal:

Then why did you keep asking everyone whether they were sure that was what they wanted to do?  I was sure you would lose the order when you kept doing that.

VP:

Prospects usually have what you call “hidden objections” or second thoughts.  It's better to get those thoughts out in the open while you're still there rather than have them surface after you leave.  Also, by having the prospect assure you he's doing what he wants to do, he takes complete responsibility for giving you his business.  Later on, he won't feel like he's been talked into anything, and he hasn't.

Sal:

I have to admit I was surprised at how appreciative the customers were.  That's not what I'm used to hearing.

VP:

I know.  That doesn't usually happen when you hammer people for an order, even if you eventually get it.

VP summarized what he called:

THE KEYS TO HIGH PROBABILITY SELLING

KEY:  End The Meeting If You Are Unable To Complete Any Phase Of The Process.
Rather than trying to transform a Low Probability Prospect into a High Probability Prospect, your time is better spent talking with someone who already is a High Probability Prospect.

KEY:  The Inquiry Method.
In order to move forward through the High Probability Process, you and your prospect must have a meeting of the minds.  You already know what you have to offer, but what does the prospect want?  The quickest and most effective way to find out is by asking.

KEY:  Being Thorough At The First Meeting.
Most people will answer almost any question you ask, truthfully and completely, provided you're not being manipulative and they sense that you really want to know the answers.  When I say “sense” I mean the intuitive feeling you get about something or someone, a reaction that just comesto you without any thought.  If your approach is really an honest one, deep down, the person you're talking with can sense it.  So your questions have to be sincere and not threatening in any way.  A first meeting only happens one time so it's important to ask everything you need to know, or might need to know in the future.

KEY:  Taking Notes.
Taking complete notes is very important, because if you forget the prospect's answers, it may be difficult to get that information again.  It's also embarrassing to forget what you've already been told and having to ask the same question again.  Forgetting can cost you an account.

At every call be sure to have a substantial notebook, writing tablet, or questionnaire with you.  Take it out at the beginning of the meeting and start writing.  Write down everything of fact or opinion that the prospect says that relates to him or his business, and record it accurately.  Three months later you may not be able to fill in the blanks.

Taking notes accomplishes two things.  First, it shows the prospect that you really mean business and that you value what he has to say.  Second, your notes provide information in its most useful form, the prospect's exact words.  Those words will be invaluable when you establish his “Conditions of Satisfaction.”

KEY:  Listening.
When we ask questions, we do so for a reason.  The purpose is to learn something the prospect knows and we don't.  If you ask but don't listen, you defeat the purpose of your question.  Listening is not easy, except when you're interested.  Then listening is very easy.  If you don't completely understand an answer or the prospect doesn't fully answer the question, ask another question to clarify things for you (and sometimes for the prospect).  The more thoroughly the prospect answers our questions, the better our chances are of learning exactly what it will take to do business with him.  At the same time we begin to get an idea of the probability of satisfying his criteria for buying and the probability of getting his business.

Don't think about your next question when the prospect is talking.  Thinking comes after listening.  If you don't listen, there will be little to say in response to what he's said.  If you're not interested enough to listen attentively to what your prospect is saying, he'll sense that and he'll disqualify you.  Focus on your conversation.

KEY:  Not Talking.
Whenever the salesperson is talking, the prospect has a natural tendency to feel pressured.  The pressure usually generates questions, statements, and all sorts of objections to what is being said to him.  He gets the feeling you think what you have to say is more important than what he has to say.  Since he's the prospect, what he has to say is more important than what you have to say.  Button your lip.

If the salesperson is doing more than 25 percent of the talking, that's an indication that the meeting is not going well.  At that point we ask ourselves why the prospect is non-responsive or why we're talking so much.  If we can't rectify the problem, we should end the meeting unless we have a very strong indication that the prospect is just naturally on the quiet side - taciturn.  But in most cases, a non-responsive prospect is a Low Probability Prospect.

KEY:  Never Respond To Anger; Defuse It or Leave.
When faced with a prospect or customer who is angry, sarcastic, depressed, threatening, abusive or negative in any way, deal with that before you proceed with anything.  Doing that successfully requires a good deal of self-control and the willingness to sublimate your own emotions.

Your approach to this kind of sensitive situation has to be voiced in a flat, non-emotional tone.  You can't be either judgmental or sympathetic.  You must be neutral.  Use the same tone of voice you would use saying, “It looks like it might rain.”

Step 1:  “You seem upset.”
Most often the response will be a heated explanation of why he's upset.  Usually that begins with “You're darned right I'm upset.”  So far nothing has changed and he may be even more upset.

Step 2:  “You still seem upset.”
You must say this in a flat tone of voice with no emphasis on the word “still.”  He may start to calm down or he may still be upset.

Step 3:  “Maybe we should discuss this at another time.”
At this point the prospect will most often say that he's fine even if he isn't.

Step 4:  Continue a dialogue as long as he remains calm.  If he seems to get upset again, start over at Step 1.  Be sure to stay flat and unemotional.If all else fails, go to step 5.

Step 5:  “I'm not willing to meet with you now.  For us to meet now wouldn't serve you or me.  Would you like to schedule another appointment, or not?”

Sal:

Both of the salespeople I went out with last week did those things.  I just figured they had a low-keyed style, operating that way; asking questions, taking notes, not saying much and letting the prospect do the talking.  In fact, it looked like they weren't very persuasive or dynamic at all.  They really seemed too laid back.  Now I see that what I thought was “laid back” is really part of High Probability Selling.

VP:

Good!  By the way, how did they do?

Sal:

They walked away with orders I thought they had no chance to get, even when the customers said they weren't interested.  But doesn't talking with customers who aren't interested go against the rule of not wasting time with Low Probability Prospects?

VP:

Good question.  It shows that you're starting to understand where we're coming from.  The answer to your question points out one of the subtle aspects of High Probability Selling.

KEY:  Don't Respond To Non Sequiturs.
You see, the statement, “I'm not interested” is a non sequitur.  A non sequitur is an answer that follows a question but really doesn't answer it.  The sequence doesn't make sense.  In sales, a prospect often answers with a non sequitur as a defense mechanism.

Sal:

Don't I have to say something when the customer says he's not interested?

VP:

No.  The prospect really hasn't asked you anything or said anything that calls for an answer.  It's as if all he did was clear his throat or cough.  What he said is just noise.

Sal:

But I thought you end the meeting when the prospect gets negative.

VP:

Another subtle distinction.  Making noises, even if they sound like negative noises, doesn't disqualify a prospect.

Sal:

You'll have to explain that.

VP:

Well, suppose you ask a prospect whether he's the person responsible for choosing the vendor for their packaging materials, and he says, “I'm not interested in any new vendors.”  He didn't answer your question.

Sal:

Maybe he didn't answer my question, but I sure can't ignore what he said.

VP:

Yes, you can; you can treat it like a noise and ask for clarification.  You can ask, “Mr. Prospect, does that mean selecting vendors for packaging materials is your responsibility, or does someone else handle that?”

Sal:

Suppose he says that he is the one who makes that decision and that he's not interested in a new one.

VP:

You go on treating the non sequitur part of what he says as noise.  You can say something like, “Mr. Prospect, most of our customers don't use any more than two vendors for each product line.  Is that how you operate too?”

Sal:

Now I get it.  As long as the prospect is answering your questions, you don't have to worry about the other stuff he says.

VP:

You're starting to catch on.  If he stays in the dialogue and answers your questions, there's a good chance he'll give up his resistance somewhere along the way.  If, on the other hand, he makes it clear that he doesn't need or want what you're selling, or that he really can't afford it, don't ignore that.  You may have a bona fide Low Probability Prospect on your hands.

Sal:

How else do I recognize a Low Probability Prospect?

VP:

Enthusiasm.  A High Probability Prospect is usually responsive and enthusiastic about what you're offering.  A Low Probability Prospect isn't.

Sal:

When will I be able to try some of this with some live prospects?

VP:

First, you'll need some prospects to call on.  So, you'll need some practice in High Probability Prospecting before you get started.  We can kill two birds with one stone by having you prospect on the phone for a few days.  Tomorrow you can start training with Sue.


Page updated
2016-07-12
by C Ingalls

High Probability Consulting
103 Chesley Drive, Suite 200
Media, PA 19063    USA

Carl Ingalls
Tel:  +1 610-627-9030
info@HighProbSell.com