As business development becomes increasingly data-driven, salespeople often make the mistake of focusing more on their metrics than on making meaningful connections with their buyers.
Prospects aren’t numbers; they’re people with unique challenges, communication styles, and desires that need to be addressed if you want to consistently close deals. The most successful salespeople understand this and leverage psychological principles to develop strong prospect relationships.
In this article, we’ll dive into seven of them:
- Invest time in active listening
- Connect on similarities
- Don’t focus on your product features
- Give your prospects fewer options
- Follow-up with helpful surprises
- Don’t talk down your competitors
- Close your deals with social proof
Let’s dive in.
1) Invest Time in Active Listening
A mistake that too many salespeople make is pushing the conversation forward without taking the time to listen to their prospects’ needs and concerns.
We’ve all been on calls where the salesperson thinks they understand what we want so they give their pitch without pausing to realize that we actually need something different. It’s frustrating and usually makes you want to move on even if the product would have been a good fit.
To develop strong prospect relationships, you need to practice active listening so that you fully understand their pain points.
Unsurprisingly, psychological researchers have found that when people practice active listening, everyone in the conversation is more satisfied and feels more connected with each other.
Here are some active listening tips that work well on the phone and face-to-face:
- Instead of using prepared pitch, have a list of questions that helps you better understand their needs.
- Ask lots of follow-up questions. Often, people give surface level answers so you need to ask additional questions to get them to go deeper.
- Repeat back what you heard them say to make sure you understood their needs.
- Never interrupt a prospect when they are talking.
Active listening makes the sales experience more enjoyable since prospects feel like you truly care about their specific goals and pain points.
2) Connect on Your Similarities
Researchers from the University of Kansas discovered that we are hard-wired to like people who are similar to us. The more alike people appear to be, the easier it is to engage in conversations and trust them.
The similarities that help form relationships aren’t limited to basic traits like favorite hobbies or interests. You can establish common bonds on a variety of traits including:
- Speaking style (slow/fast, detailed and pleasant/concise and direct, etc.)
- Educational background
- The region where you grow up
- Kids vs no kids
- Event attendance
- Preferred technology
- Plus any other characteristic that two people can have in common
As a salesperson, understanding this is critical since their study found that whether or not strangers find commonalities in their first conversation is a powerful predictor of if they’ll choose to continue building a relationship.
Here are a few ways to find similarities with your prospects:
- Review their online profiles and bio on their website
- Read any content they’ve published
- On the call, ask about their weekend, current events in their area, and other small talk topics to try to find something you can connect on
Keep in mind that some prospects don’t like small talk so, after making a light attempt, move forward or abandon this strategy depending on how they respond.
Don't have time to thoroughly research your prospects before your calls? A virtual sales assistant can create custom tear sheets and tackle a variety of other sales support tasks. To learn more, check out our guide:
3) Don’t Focus on Your Product’s Features
No matter how innovative and effective your product features are, describing their technical specs won’t play a prominent role in your prospects’ decision-making process.
Renowned neuroscientist, Antonio Damasio, studied people who had severe injuries in the part of the brain that controls emotions and found that it was impossible for them to make decisions. From his research, he concluded that we cannot make decisions without having emotional preferences for our options. We choose to move forward with things either because we feel like they’ll result in a positive outcome or we feel like it will prevent a negative outcome. We don’t make decisions purely based on a set of logical criteria.
Being aware of this is critical for salespeople since you must appeal to your prospects emotions to drive a purchasing decision.
Instead of focusing on the amazing specs of your product/service, emphasize the deeper problem that it solves for your prospects. Though there will likely be themes among your buyer personas, you’ll achieve the best results if you actively listen to every prospects’ pain points and tailor your pitch to solve their unique problems.
Here are some strategies to appeal to your prospects’ emotions:
- Focus on the problem your offering solves not all of the specs it offers. People want to hear that your offering will make their problems go away.
- Use social proof. Why should prospects purchase from your instead of the dozen other vendors who sell similar products? Sharing how your offering has helped similar clients, won awards, earned high ratings, etc. proves that all the amazing things you’re saying about your offering are true.
- If they’re not sure if your product is right for them, empathize with their challenges and help them figure out what they need instead of trying to force your solution onto them.
Focusing on the emotional pain points your offering solves will help you foster a stronger relationship with prospects and keep them engaged in the sales process.
4) Give Your Prospects Fewer Options
With most marketing and sales teams focused on improving their personalization strategies to give each prospect exactly what they’re looking for, it’s tempting to believe that the more customization options you can offer, the better.
Logically, this makes sense. Every customer has unique pain points and preferences so, showing that you have lots of options to accommodate them should solve most of their objections and drive the sale forward.
However, researchers have found that the opposite is true. A ground-breaking study found that the more choices prospects have, the less likely they are to buy.
Here’s how the experiment went:
Psychologists from Stanford and Columbia Universities were curious how the amount of choices people are given affects buying behavior. So, they set up a stand at a high-end food market for customers to sample gourmet jams. On one day, the researchers had twenty-four different types of jam available to try. On another, they only had six.
Shoppers who were given more options were only one tenth as likely to buy as those who were only given six options.
This finding has since been confirmed by several other studies and contradicts the standard belief that giving prospects more choices empowers them to find their ideal product. Instead, offering lots of options gives people choice paralysis - a mental state where people get overwhelmed while considering all their options so they take the easy way out and choose none of them.
To prevent your prospects from ending the conversation due to choice paralysis, only give them a few options that meet their needs. Selecting those options requires a strong understanding of their pain points and your offering since prospects will often ask about their options on the discovery call.
5) Follow-Up With Helpful Surprises
Some prospects aren’t ready to buy immediately whether it’s because they’re researching all their options or they need to get buy-in from other decision-makers. In these cases, crafting masterful follow-ups is key to sustaining the relationship.
Most salespeople use standard follow-ups like:
- Just checking in to see how your search is going…
- I’d love to hop on a call and see how things are going..
- Did you see my previous message about x…
And other messages that ask prospects to continue the conversation without offering them a valuable reason to do so. Unless prospects were impressed with your initial conversation, they’re not going to respond.
To create follow-ups that keep prospects engaged, psychological research suggests leveraging the reciprocity principle.
The principle is simple: when you do something positive for another person, they feel obligated to reciprocate in some way.
Doing nice things for your prospects won’t close your deals but it will often illicit responses. This helps you continue the conversation or stop following up with someone who is never going to buy.
Here are some ways to harness the reciprocity principle in your emails:
- Send them a useful, non-promotional guide that addresses an issue they’re struggling with.
- Introduce them to someone that they’d benefit from knowing
- Give them a no-obligation PDF assessment of their needs
- Offer them a free coaching session on how to solve one of their pain points
The scope of your offer should vary based on how qualified your prospect is and the cost of your offering. Offering something that’s on a similar level as your service increases the likelihood of it having an impact.
6) Don’t Talk Down Your Competitors
When prospects mention they’re researching their options, a lot of salespeople react by describing all the reasons why their competitors aren’t as good as them. They think that pointing out a bunch of awful things will scare prospects out of giving their competitors serious consideration.
However, research shows that talking down your competitors can make prospects more likely to drop out of your pipeline. People are highly prone to spontaneous trait interference - a psychological phenomenon where people believe that communicators possess the traits that they describe in others.
So, if you say that your competitor uses poor quality materials in their products and they have horrible customer service, they’re likely going to associate your company with those traits.
When your prospects mention competitors, the most effective way to respond is to help them compare their options. Being open about the pros and cons of various choices and the most important factors they should consider, shows confidence and builds trust since you’re helping prospects find the offering that’s right for them.
If you’re selling a product that you’re passionate about, it should be easy to use the remainder of your conversation to prove that you’re selling the better option.
7) Close Your Deals with Social Proof
Social proof is one of the most powerful tools to close deals with prospects who are on the fence about buying. Since people evolved to have a strong desire to conform and trust the opinions of others, reviews, case studies, and other forms of social proof give your product a level of credibility that no amount of technical specs can produce.
Though social proof can be beneficial at every stage of the sales funnel, it’s especially effective at the bottom since prospects are aware that they need a solution for their pain points - you just need to prove that you’re offering the best option.
For the best results, provide social proof that matches the profile of the prospect you’re speaking with. This increases the likelihood that your prospects can relate to your client testimonials and envision how you can create similar results for them.
If you don’t have persona-specific collateral, meet with your marketing and customer success teams to produce case studies, one-pagers and other materials that highlight how your company delivers value to various kinds of buyers. Overtime, you should have a collection that enables you to provide every prospect with a success story they can connect with.
Developing strong prospect relationships is all about treating your prospects like friends. By going out of your way to be helpful, empathize with their challenges, and give them sound advice, you become a trusted partner who deserves to earn their business.
About the Author: Emily leads Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.