This Month’s Selling Principle:
The Socratic Selling Method
Can you guess what the most common complaint about sales people is, from both customers and sales managers alike?
It’s this; sales people simply talk too much. And since many of us do indeed talk too much, what do you think the second most frequent complaint we hear about sales people would be? It’s this; we don’t listen. In light of the first, this second complaint seems logical, doesn’t it?
One simple way to combat both of these short comings is to integrate the Socratic Selling Method into our transactions. No, this isn’t some new, wiz-bang, 21st century revolution to the selling profession. As a matter of fact, we can trace its origins all the way back to 400 B.C.! That’s when Socrates, the soldier and famous philosopher from Athens, first introduced the art of collaborative debate or asking easily answered questions to help someone come to a logical conclusion. I like to call it the art of letting the other guy have your way.
Most of us learned early on in our selling careers that the person asking the questions has control. It’s just that most of us only take the time to learn questions that help us land the customer on a particular unit (one that is in stock, of course) and close the deal. These are questions that our customers perceive as only serving us, not them. With Socratic questioning, each question draws us and our customer closer. WE get a better understanding of how best to serve our customer. THEY get a feeling of being valued and understood. WE BOTH join our strengths in a collaborative effort to satisfy their transportation needs. The result is a less stressful, much less combative, and much shorter (time wise) transaction.
Here’s what’s involved;
First, we need to open the transaction with what’s called a “Socratic opener”. Typically, this occurs right after our greeting and it gives notice our intention of serving our customer’s needs and not ours. If they mention a model they are interested in, we say, “Mr. and Mrs. Customer, I’m fully prepared to discuss the ___________ with you, but first let me get your perspective on it, that way we can focus our time together on the things that interest you the most.”
If they don’t have a particular model in mind, or maybe they’re looking for a preowned unit, we can modify it this way, “Mr. and Mrs. Customer, I’m fully prepared to help you make the best choice, the one that’s right for you. So, first let me get your feelings about your driving habits, and that way we can focus our time together on the things that interest you the most.”
By announcing we are “prepared,” we demonstrate that we are responsible and competent. By acting responsibly, we begin the building of our own credibility. By inviting our customer to tell us what is important to them, we show them that we value their time and their input. We also begin the transaction in a collaborative manner. By stating we want to focus the time spent together on what they think is important, we give our customer the control most buyers long for. We also tell them that we won’t be wasting their time.
Next, we need to help them put more of their information out on the table by using Socratic probes. Socratic probes are nothing more than easily answered questions. “Tell me more…”, or “What else should I know about…”, or “Why is that important to you?”, or “How will you be using…”, or “What else would help me understand…”, or “Could you please expound upon…”. These questions are also very easy for us to ask. As long as we have the front part of the question committed to memory, the rest of the question just sort of asks itself based on what our customer has already told us.
Another important aspect of encouraging our customers to share their wants, needs, fears, and goals is that, once they do, our solutions will be more credible. Now our suggestions will be much more appealing because they have been tailored specifically to them. By allowing our customer to do the majority of the talking, we also get to pace two of their most basic human needs. We get a chance to help them feel valued and understood.
Another benefit of Socratic probes is creating urgency. Often in our field, salespeople still use time of the month, sales quotas, or expiring incentives to create urgency. What most salespeople do not realize is that many of their customers perceive these “reasons” as only benefiting the dealership and salesperson (“Do I really have to care about your sales quotas to get a good deal?”) or, even worse, as artificial sales ploys (“How long have you guys had rebates now? Twenty years? Isn’t it mysterious how they always seem to be ‘just about to end’ right about the time I decide to buy a car?”). The customer goes along with them, of course, as they do with most other dated sales practices, as simply something they have to put up with to buy a car.
We can use Socratic probes to create truly relevant urgency. We can ask: “Why now?”, or “You said you weren’t in a hurry, right? That’s interesting. So what made you visit a dealership at this time?”, or “What makes this urgent?”, or “What made you get started today?”. This is information we can use later to help create real urgency that is relevant to our customer. These are our customer’s reasons to do business based on our customer’s needs. Now to create urgency, we only have to remind our customer about what THEY said was urgent enough to make them set foot on a car lot.
Major buying decisions are made emotionally first and then we’ll grab whatever logic is available at the time to justify the emotional decision we’ve already made. We can get a handle on what our customers are feeling by asking questions like: “What worries you the most about this?”, or “I can tell you’re frustrated by this, how come?”, or “What do you want to avoid this time?”, or “Why is this important to you?”, or “How will this affect you and your family?”, or “How does that make you feel?”.
I suppose now would be a good time to remind ourselves that in order for these questions to have their desired effect, we need to listen to what our customer is telling us. The skill of Active Listening is one that most sales people ignore and is one of the skill sets that separates the good sales person from the truly excellent sales professional.
The four elements to Active Listening are: 1) Attentive Body Language (head nods, eye contact, smiling, etc.) 2) Verbal Attends (small grunts like “uh huh”, “okay”, “sure”, “I see”, etc.) 3) Leading Questions (open-ended questions that encourage them to talk more) and 4) Restate (paraphrasing back what our customer has said to us).
Active Listening is NOT simply waiting for our turn to talk. It’s NOT interrupting them to show that we already know what they are talking about. It’s NOT interrupting them to interject how our product or service satisfies the need they just shared with us. It’s not anything more than simply allowing our customer to completely share with us their story, then playing that story back to them, and gaining clarification or confirmation by asking: “Do I have it right?”, or “Did I hear you correctly?”, or “Am I getting the picture?”, or “How’s that sound?”, or “Did I miss anything?”.
We continue to ask the questions we’ve all been taught while landing them on a specific unit, performing a good feature/benefit presentation (only now building value in those things they told us they place value in), and going on a demonstration ride (only now allowing them to take specific mental ownership).
Then we can advance the decision making process by asking easily answered questions like: “If you were to go ahead with this, how would you like your insurance agent updated with the new vehicle info?”, or “If you decided to proceed, when would you like the ___________ installed?”, or “If you were shown three compelling reasons to do business with a particular dealership, would you be willing to at least keep an open mind?”, or “On a scale of one to ten, ten meaning you love it and are ready to own it, one meaning you hate it and wouldn’t even take it if it were given to you, where would you say you are?”, then, “What would have to occur to make it a ten?”.
In these questions we reduce the pressure by using conditional words like: if, were to, and would. We also reduce the pressure by eliminating words like: us, I, me, and we. We can make them even easier to answer by excluding our product brand or dealership name and by refraining from the use of words like: now, or today. When they answer us, we can assume the “us”, “our product”, “our dealership”, and “today”. Besides, we’ll have plenty of time to be “more concrete” later on if the need arises.
In the negotiations, our goal is to keep the process one of collaboration and not one of confrontation. We can start by stating their interests through summarizing what our customer has told us concerning their wants, needs, time urgency, and feelings. We get their clarification or confirmation by asking: “Did I get it right?”, or “How’s that sound?”, or “Did I miss anything?”. Then we make our proposal based on what they’ve told us, making sure we tie the recommendations to benefits and tailor them to our customer. We then seek their approval by asking: “What’s your feelings about this?”.
If an objection comes up, we can give them an answer tailored specifically to them by what they have stated to us already. If a tailored answer isn’t clear to us, we can get clarification by helping our customer think it through by asking: “Why is that important to you?”, or “Why is that important right now?”, or “Why do you ask?”, or “What is it you’re wanting to discuss?”.
If they make a counter offer that is not acceptable, we can preserve the collaborative environment by 1) stating again their interests (their wants, needs, time urgency, and feelings), 2) restating their position (whatever their counter offer is), 3) saying, “It’s important to me that you understand why what you’re asking is a bit more than they are able to do.” 4) giving the reasons why we can’t do what they are asking, 5) saying, “May I share with you a solution I think will be acceptable to everyone?”, and 6) making a counter proposal.
As with any new skill, the Socratic Selling Method requires lots of practice and refining to our vocabulary, personality, and philosophy of doing business. Making the sales transaction one of collaboration and not one of confrontation is possible when we engage our customers in the process. By asking easily answered questions, we not only gain insight into what our customer’s dominant buying motives are, but we also help our customers feel valued and understood. By taking the extra time to get to know and engage our customer, we actually dramatically speed up the buying process.
We’ve all heard this before, “Our customers don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.” Socratic Selling gives us the opportunity to demonstrate to our clients that we really are different and that we actually do care.
So, until next time, be well, and do good work!
Michael D. Hargrove
“When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.”
Objection of the Month: “How much discount can we get?”
These are just a few of the most common strategies shared at the workshops we’ve conducted all across North America and attended by thousands of the top sales people in our field. Please keep in mind that nothing works all the time, and no one thing will work for everybody. Each of these strategies, of course, need to be tailored to the individual user, to the specific customer, and the particular situation. Also, this is by no means the definitive work on overcoming this particular objection and it’s not intended to be.
a. “They don’t normally discount this model, by the way, who’s going to drive this car most of the time, you or Mrs. Customer?” (This is simply a version of the Bypass technique.)
b. “I don’t know but we’ll go inside and check with the manager in just a moment to find out. My first job is to make sure we find just the right car for your wants and needs. Did you want the four door or the coupe?”
c. “I know discounts are important. It’s important to me too, Ms. Customer, when I’m the buyer. It’s also important to me when I’m the buyer that I get just the right item I’m looking for. Let’s first make sure this is the right truck for you, then we’ll go inside and work out the very best figures we can. Does that sound fair?”
d. “Adjusting numbers is the easiest part of my job, Ms. Customer. We adjust numbers all day long. What I can’t adjust, however, is your taste. So, first let’s find just the right car for you and then we’ll go inside and I’ll show you just how easy it is to do business with us. Sound good? Now, tell me, were you looking for a 5 speed or an automatic?”
e. “We’ll definitely get to the numbers part of your purchase when we go inside together. While we’re outside, though, let’s make sure you’re not paying for stuff you won’t need or missing stuff you will. Actually, that’ll effect the price too, won’t it?”
f. “I’m sure that we will be able to save you some money, and if for some reason we can’t arrive at a discount amount that’s acceptable to you, then I wouldn’t expect you to do business with us. That’s fair isn’t it?”
g.“Sounds like you’re ready to do business! C’mon in, bring your checkbook and I’ll have you out in this car in about twenty minutes!” (Then we turn and walk towards the showroom. If our customer balks we say:) “You’re right. I am getting ahead of myself aren’t I? Did you want a two door or a four door?”
h. “Exact discount amounts are fluctuating all the time. Once we find your next car, we’ll then be able to find out how much discount the current market will allow us. It’s an easy process. Now, what do you mean when you say ‘fully loaded’?”
Next month’s objection will be: “I don’t have a lot of time.” We need YOUR input! Please forward your ideas on this one, or your suggestions on which objection to cover next, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Objection of the Month: “We need to shop other cars first.”
“It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.”
Keep On Singing
Like any good mother, when Karen found out that another baby was on the way, she did what she could to help her 3-year-old son, Michael, prepare for a new sibling. They find out that the new baby is going to be a girl, and day after day, night after night, Michael sings to his sister in Mommy’s tummy.
The pregnancy progresses normally for Karen, an active member of the Panther Creek United Methodist Church in Morristown, Tennessee. Then The labor pains come. Every five minutes … every minute. But Complications arise during delivery. Hours of labor. Would a C-section be required? Finally, Michael’s little sister is born. But she is in serious condition. With siren howling in the night, the ambulance rushes the infant to the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Mary’s Hospital,Knoxville, Tennessee.
The days inch by. The little girl gets worse. The pediatric specialist tells the parents, “There is very little hope. Be prepared for the worst.” Karen and her husband contact a local cemetery about a burial plot. They have fixed up a special room in their home for the new baby – now they plan a funeral.
Michael, keeps begging his parents to let him see his sister, “I want to sing to her,” he says. Week two in intensive care. It looks as if a funeral will come before the week is over. Michael keeps nagging about singing to his sister, but kids are never allowed in Intensive Care. But Karen makes up her mind. She will take Michael whether they like it or not.
If he doesn’t see his sister now, he may never see her alive. She dresses him in an oversized scrub suit and marches him into ICU. He looks like a walking laundry basket, but the head nurse recognizes him as a child and bellows, “Get that kid out of here now! No children are allowed. The mother rises up strong in Karen, and the usually mild-mannered lady glaressteel-eyed into the head nurse’s face, her lips a firm line. “He is not leaving until he sings to his sister!” Karen tows Michael to his sister’s bedside. He gazes at the tiny infant losing the battle to live. And he begins to sing. In the pure hearted voice of a 3-year-old, Michael sings:
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray — ”
Instantly the baby girl responds. The pulse rate becomes calm and steady.
Keep on singing, Michael. “You never know, dear, how much I love you, Please don’t take my sunshine away—” The ragged, strained breathing becomes as smooth as a kitten’s purr.
Keep on singing, Michael. “The other night, dear, as I lay sleeping, I dreamed I held you in my arms…” Michael’s little sister relaxes as rest, healing rest, seems to sweep over her.
Keep on singing, Michael. Tears conquer the face of the bossy head nurse. Karen glows. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. Please don’t, take my sunshine away.”
Funeral plans are scrapped. The next, day-the very next day-the little girl is well enough to go home!
Woman’s Day magazine called it “the miracle of a brother’s song.” The medical staff just called it a miracle. Karen called it a miracle of God’s love!
NEVER GIVE UP ON THE PEOPLE YOU LOVE.
“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”
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