The P.L.A.T.E. Framework for Initial Interactions

“I don’t know … I just have this, certain way of speaking … that … gets people to … take me seriously …”

I remember explaining this to my VP when I was first starting out here, and really, I’ll admit:

I’ve never been a manager or a trainer or anything like that prior to my time with this organization (at least not in the corporate world), so a lot of what I’m showing you really comes from just the right combination of experience and luck and a little bit of misfortune, too.

And yes, I have a degree in communications, but there’s only been a fraction of what I’ve shared throughout all this that came from that. Most of what I’ve shared is really bits and pieces that I’ve picked up along the way from:

  • the Army
  • different trainings and experiences (both good and bad), at the different organizations I’ve worked at
  • spending time on both sides of the marketing and sales fence
  • different books that I’ve read throughout the years
  • and really just connecting the right dots and narrowing down a formula

So, anyways, I came up with this P.L.A.T.E. Framework for initial interactions, and it’s really simple (Part II covers all of this in detail). My team uses this on EVERY CALL we make (or take) and it goes like this:

“P” stands for: “Purposeful Intro and Agenda Statement.”

This is how you consistently open calls in a way that purposefully relieves those primal concerns of safety and emotions so you can quickly access the other person’s Neocortex, which is what make it possible to connect and communicate on a conscious level.

And this part is perhaps the most important piece out of ALL OF THIS, but, of course it doesn’t stop here.

And remember from earlier how words are 7% of our communication, so realistically – the words are the easy part! I’ll even give you the words (in Part II), but you have to deliver them with the right tonalities and pacing in the right places (it’s not that complicated).

Think about how if you played in a bar band (like me), what good would it be to open your set with an awesome song or two and then just suck for the rest of the night, right? What if you were directing a movie and the opening scenes are awesome but the rest of the movie sucks? No one would pay to watch it, right?

You have to start things out right if you wish to achieve maximum effectiveness because things that start well typically have more of a chance of ending well.

Think about how it doesn’t matter how awesome your flooring is or what color you paint the walls if your house’s foundation is unstable, right? What if you had a racecar with tons of horsepower but it has a bent frame and four different sized wheels? I’m sure you get the point.

There’s a transition sentence that smoothly paves the way the next phase, and it’s really simple:

  • “So … what can we help with?”

So the “L” stands for “Let them Speak.”

As they start speaking, start casually asking your more pointed, strategically-sequenced intelligence-gathering questions, which is what the “A” stands for: “Ask Intelligence-gathering Questions.”

And when you have these questions strategically mapped out (like what I wrote about earlier with the worksheet), you’ll guide the call like a pro and they’ll feel good and be more forthcoming with their answers because they feel like they’re working with experts.

This is absolutely mission-critical; and, remember, like I mentioned earlier, that when it comes to frameworks like this, things can be a little left and right, meaning: this isn’t hard-scripting or anything.

So, if anything goes out of order, it’s not the end of the world.

But check this out (and I’m dead serious here):

If you open the call using this purposeful intro and agenda statement with the right tonalities and pacing and inflections, you’ll get to: “So, what can we help with?” and they’ll oftentimes just start spilling their guts to you because you didn’t set off any alarms and they feel like they can trust you.

This means that they’ll disclose things that go out of order sometimes, but it’s no biggie, because they’ll be more forthcoming with the information they share versus the alternative.

Think of it like the example from earlier about having your GPS on when you take a road trip instead of just pointing your car in the direction of the destination and hoping you get there in a decent time. If you miss an exit, it’s not the end of the world – you can circle back around and quickly get back on track, right?

And remember from earlier, too, how the brain is like a pattern-recognition machine. When you ask strategically sequenced questions that make sense, like the kind that experts ask, the potential clients will oftentimes start filling in the blanks and answering questions before you even ask them. I’m not even kidding – I have tons and tons of call recordings from different team members that prove this.

This helps to really get into a real state of genuine rapport where you and your potential client are just clicking – there’s an emotional connection here and you guys are finishing each other’s sentences and you’ve only known each other for a matter of minutes at this point. This is POWERFUL.

So, get through the strategically sequenced questions, then “Transition to What Comes Next” and that’s the “T” in this framework.

For this part, I recommend having it SCRIPTED out (even though you probably already DO because you say the same things regularly). Being able to CLEARLY ARTICULATE what to expect next like it’s no big deal is something that I know for a fact, is appreciated by potential clients. Plus, the more confidently you can spell out the next steps and why and how it’s going to help them, the more likely they are to follow along with them.

Locking in next steps is really a solid way of speeding up your sales cycles and increasing your conversion rates, too. Check this out:

Chris Orlob is the Senior Director for Product Marketing at Gong.io. His company analyzes sales calls from all kinds of different industries with artificial intelligence to identify trends and patterns, and this is one of the many interesting things they identified ( this is from an article he wrote on LinkedIn in September, 2018):

  • Only 17% of sales people thoroughly touch on “Next Steps”
  • 57% lightly touch on them
  • 26% don’t even include next steps

I really like the idea of being able to scan through unique data points and have the ability to accurately analyze and translate them into actual human behaviors. This kind of stuff really helps with optimizing how leaders can establish benchmarks and tolerances for different metrics and conversion rates so they can help their people to initially get on track and stay that way.

If you ask about budgets on initial, qualifying calls (which I recommend), I find that this is the best place for it. I know it seems counterintuitive compared to the BANT Framework, but if you jump on the phone with a potential client and immediately ask about budget, you’re creating a massive uphill battle for yourself.

I know I mentioned that earlier, but felt it was worth mentioning again because timing-wise, this is where I think it’s best to ask about budgets. The reason for it is, is money is usually an uncomfortable, more invasive topic to talk about for most people, but when you follow the P.L.A.T.E. Framework, by this point in the conversation (which is only 5- to 6-minutes or so in), the potential client will be warmed up to you and they’ll be more forthcoming with budget information.

With some organizations’ services and processes, it doesn’t make sense to ask about budgets on a first call. I’ll get into how to handle this in more detail in Part II, the Communications Guide. I personally prefer to discuss money upfront and set clear and proper expectations, but if your organization sells complex, customized solutions, getting caught up in budget-traps six minutes in can be detrimental to your sales process.   

Anyways, after clearly spelling out what the potential client can expect next, “End the Call,” and that’s the “E.” But have a simple and elegant way to do it, and have this part planned out. Pretty simple, right? (There are examples of all of this in the Communications Guide).

Think about it: experts don’t need to ramble on about anything. They’re busy; they’ve got other clients to tend to; so rambling on at this point can give off “weak” or “desperate” signals, like: “I’ve got all the time in the world because I only have two other clients to worry about.”

So know when to end the call, and when you’re in control, YOU end the call, not the lead.

Think of this type of EXPERIENCE. I think that any LEGITIMATE potential client – from any industry – would be ECSTATIC to have this type of experience. I see this as being no different than (and I’ve used this in training sessions), first responders who show up to the emergency and somehow keep themselves calm and in control while everyone else around them is freaking out.

Could you just imagine a cop showing up to the scene of an accident who is terrified because of how mangled the cars are? Or an EMT freaking out over the sight of blood or broken bones? That would just dump fuel on the fire of an already chaotic situation! Instead, they’ve got that cool, authoritative, no-big-deal tonality down, and you willingly follow their guidance in those tense situations and thank them for it because you feel like you’re working with experts who are helping you out.

So these type of strategic, top-of-the-funnel organizational behaviors will really serve to help you and your team to not only outperform your competitors (which is awesome), but to also be able to simply go to work and feel good every day because everyone has clear guidance and the right tools to get the job done on a daily basis.

This creates alignment not just from top-down but from side-to-side, too, and this type of working environment is what leads to long-term sustainability for teams, too, which is something I’m a big fan of (is anyone really a fan of high-turnover environments?).

 

Published by Thomas Hurley

I am a father, husband, drummer, boater, marketer, communicator, animal-lover.

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