Here’s the long and short of it: people make major purchasing decisions based on emotion and then they try to justify it afterwards with logic. We’ve all heard this before, and we all know it’s true – this is no secret.
I know I covered a ton of information throughout all of this, so if I had to sum it all up in a one-chapter elevator pitch, here’s what I would say:
Understand that people who contact you or your organization for help are experiencing a problem that they don’t know how to solve on their own and it’s frustrating, so they’re in a heightened, negatively-charged emotional state.
Whenever we’re in a state of mind like this, we have our guards way up; we’re essentially in a state of “high alert,” which means we’re very easily triggered by the slightest things. Our “heads are on a swivel,” so to speak, and while in this frame of mind, we’re extra vigilant about everything, extra cautious – and this is normal.
Consider all of this, then add in the fact that when we speak with anyone new for any reason, there is a ton of uncertainty and remember how we’ve all been essentially hard-wired to perceive most new things we come across as “threats” and most new people we run into as “foes.”
No wonder initial interactions are so tough, right?
Initial interactions – in business and in personal life – are really high-stakes encounters. Think of how none of us would be married to our spouses right now if we gave them a reason to be scared when we first met.
I was just speaking about this with my wife and we reflected back on our first date. She mentioned how I seemed really guarded but agreed that I gave her no reason to be scared, so of course I got a second date. She also gave me no reason to be scared, so it was mutually beneficial for both of us.
Meanwhile, I don’t know about you, but I’ve have had plenty of first dates that never progressed beyond that point for one reason or another. And of course, I’m not trying to turn this into anything about advice on dating – but I am showing how “experience” – especially on the first and second meeting – plays a huge role in how relationships develop (or don’t develop).
I think a key to success in business is to replicate how successful relationships form in real life. If you understand the emotional and social dynamics that are present under the surface of every initial interaction, then you can proactively do something about it, and if you have the right communication strategy in place, you can consistently reduce the uncertainty in your potential clients’ minds and help them move to a state of certainty.
There’s a balance to all of this, too. Like, if you jump on a first call and blow through the words – intro and agenda statement, vital signs questions, what comes next – and you blast through and you’re done in a matter of three minutes, then you may have gotten all the logical pieces covered, but there won’t be any element of emotional connection.
Think of how someone sounds when they’re in a rush and sound like they’re just going through the motions – they sound like they’re doing you a favor by doing their job, right?
When it comes to tonality, you can most certainly come across like: “If-I-don’t-say-these-words-in-this-order-I’m-gonna-get-in-trouble-so-let-me-just-go-ahead-and-get-them-outta-the-way …”
Think of how someone sounds when he’s talking about something that he doesn’t really believe.
Think of how a person sounds when she’s asking a question but she doesn’t really know why she’s asking it.
All these sorts of little nuances detract from the experience that we provide – it’s like showing up for a first date and giving the other person a reason to not want to see you again.
I think that there’s a sweet spot when it comes to experience during initial interactions.
First call: 8 to 10 minutes, tops. 7 to 8 minutes seems to work, but I wouldn’t go any shorter and I definitely wouldn’t recommend going over.
Go longer and you run the incredibly high risk of disclosing too much information (think of the wedding in Tahoe from earlier). Too much too fast is a turn off for anyone.
Go any shorter than that, and you run the incredibly high risk of not really connecting on an emotional level. This scenario can be achieved by blowing through the call as if you’re just going through the motions.
I have to give an example of this:
My team wanted to tweak how they were opening calls, so I heard them out and we tested it. They went like how I listed everything earlier, but here’s the difference:
- Intro / Agenda
- So what’s your role?
- How long have you been there?
- So what can we help with?
The calls were landing in the 4 to 5 minute range after they did this. We have right about 3 minutes’ worth of scripting on our calls, so if you could just imagine, a 5 minute call where my team member spoke for 3 of them equaled a severe reduction in engagement from the potential client in comparison to an 8 to 10 minute call with the same 3 minutes worth of scripting.
I remember jumping on a call (I still like to make calls) and I naturally went in the order that I had written previously, so it went like this:
- Intro / Agenda
- So what can we help with?
- So what’s your role?
- How long have you been there?
Boom! 10-minute call with lots of engagement!
Now, what’s the difference? I listened to a few calls from my team, had them listen to mine, and it stood out IMMEDIATELY.
When I asked: “So, what can we help with?” we were right about :30 seconds in on the call. When they asked, they were closer to :45 seconds or so. What’s the difference?
Let me ask: How does it feel when you’re in a heightened emotional state and you reach out for help and the person you’re speaking with won’t seem to let you get a word in at first and then seemingly immediately starts interrogating you?
You’ll shut down and not really engage, either, because this is not optimal experience!
There’s a balance to this, too, of course. When I first took my team over, they had no communication strategy in place. They’d jump on a call and say something like:
- Hi! This is NAME, calling from COMPANY. May I please speak with NAME?
- This is NAME.
- Hi NAME, how are you?
- How are you?
- Just fine, thanks for asking. So, what can we help with?
And calls would then immediately spiral off out of control. It was kind of like if they got a giant fish on the line that immediately started swimming away and their reel would be spinning, spinning, spinning, and they’re trying to figure out how to grab it without breaking their hand or the line or the rod or all of the above.
It was very poor experience and they had absolutely no control on those calls. They’d get immediately put on the ropes during those calls and I’d hear them trying to diagnose issues and give specific recommendations two minutes in on the relationship, or they’d try to dodge questions by saying that their account executive will cover that with them.
- “Well, who’s the account executive? Can I speak with him? Or her?”
- “I don’t know who that is yet,” they’d say, while looking at charts and maps and rosters while trying to figure it out.
When I heard the potential clients on the recordings, I could almost always sense the frustration in their tonality, and for good reason.
I have this theory that when people need help, they actually like being told what to do – but only if they feel like they’re dealing with an expert. And those calls were not handled by experts. They were chaotic and this was the experience provided at the very top of the sales funnel. This poor experience was literally sabotaging the organization’s efforts to sell.
So anyways, 8 to 10 minutes, tops, for an initial interaction. That’s your sweet spot.
Gathering and sharing high-level qualification information is surface level, too. What’s going on under the surface is you’re psychologically driving the potential client’s decision-making process by getting them to chill out, relax, and open up because they feel like they’re working with professionals. You’re strategically not giving them a reason to not want to go for a second date.
While on the call, if everything is a good fit, end it by clearly articulating what they can expect next. Strategically use this initial interaction to set up the next step in the process, the second date, and then make it happen.
For the second date, the discovery call, reserve 30 minutes for this (and of course schedule it), but have a plan to be finished in closer to 20 minutes. There’s nothing worse than expecting something to take 30 minutes and it winds up being 47. It’s unprofessional and it makes it seem like they’re dealing with novices.
Casually mention the reservation of 30 minutes, but get done in 22, and what happens is, is you’ll under-promise and over-deliver, and it will make the potential client feel good because it will reinforce the perception set on the initial call that they’re working with pros.
While on the call, if everything is a god fit so far, use this touchpoint to schedule the demo or proposal presentation. Whether it’s an on-site visit next or a webinar, clearly articulate what the potential client can expect next and make it happen!
When scheduling anything, I recommend using calendar invites. Make sure they’re typo-free and clearly state what is coming up next, even if it’s just a few bullet points. Accepted meeting invites are a conversion metric – I used to have a folder in my inbox set up specifically for accepted calendar invites. When I got an accepted meeting invite, I could almost always count on the potential client being available for the next step with the appropriate amount of time set aside.
This contact and engagement strategy eliminates a lot of the runaround associated with sales as far as all the phone tag and email tag goes. It’s very professional and potential clients love this type of experience because it makes them feel like you’re taking them seriously and really looking out for them (because you are).
This strategy makes it where you can go from first contact to second contact to demo presentation to closed deal in a very streamlined and cohesive manner with no pressure, no games, no gimmicks. When each touchpoint strategically sets up the next step in the process, it creates the ideal, optimal experience for your potential clients because – get this: it’s impressive – especially when they’re dealing with more than one person.
By the time your potential clients reach the end of this strategy, they will have interacted with you at least three separate times. This gives them plenty of time and space so they’re not feeling rushed or pressured, and by this point, they should have all the information they need to be able to make a very well-informed and comfortable YES or NO decision.
If it’s a YES, then awesome! If it’s a NO? Then so be it – but don’t lose deals over something that you can, in fact, directly control: the experience you provide!