Resources  >> How to Handle the Dreaded Courtesy Conversation, Part 2

About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: Vickie Sullivan  |  July 01, 2012

How to Handle the Dreaded Courtesy Conversation, Part 2

Originally published for RainToday.com

3 Steps To Turn Around an Already-Committed Buyer

In my previous article, How to Handle the Dreaded Courtesy Conversation, Part 1, we explored courtesy conversations in which the buyer contacts you but is inclined to hire someone else.

What do you do when you discover that the buyer is politically motivated to choose someone else? Can this opportunity be saved?

It absolutely can if you are willing to probe a little. Here is my three-step process for dealing with a courtesy call.

Step 1: Get the Story

People don’t reach out to vendors just to visit. Even if there’s a slim chance of choosing you, there’s always a reason why you are being considered. Ask the buyer why they are talking to you. You’ll get the party line at first, so be prepared to probe. The more details you get from them, the more you will have to work with. Common reasons could be because their colleague recommended you. Or it could be because someone heard you speak.

You can do two things with this information: First, you can use it to build rapport. If you find out who recommended you, talk about the referral. Second, this gives you enough information to ask intelligent questions about their situation. You’ll get enough information to determine if you want to move forward.

Example: The prospect says, “We’re looking for a keynote speaker, and my colleague heard you speak at XXX event.”

Now you have something to talk about. If you probe deeper, you might find out that their colleague was really their boss. You can talk about the event and compare notes on the similarities. You can talk about the message and why you think it resonated. This can get the buyer out of courtesy mode and more open to your approach. This step can also help you decide to go over their head and to their boss.

Step 2: Discuss the Front Runner

Sometimes buyers will tell you who they really want; sometimes they won’t. Ask anyway. If you have enough rapport, you’ll be surprised by the answer. Generally speaking, if buyers feel comfortable in their choice, they use such language as, “We’re leaning towards…”

When you discover the front runner, test the waters with a few well-placed questions that offer an alternative. The key is to keep the approach general. Don’t talk about a specific company or person. Talk about the differences in the approach and messages. Talk about the impact.

To continue the example, let’s say the buyers confides, “But to be honest, we really want Mr. Sports Figure. We are connected to him via XXX, so we can get him for nearly free.”

Does that sound like a lost cause? Not necessarily. This information is golden. You now know the real reason for the courtesy conversation.

Your response starts with acknowledgement, “Hey, I get that. Sports figures are well-known, and if you don’t have to pay their price, even better. Do you mind my asking what his message is?”

If his message is anything different than what you just talked about, then you have a great opportunity to compare those differences.

Another tactic: if you find an opening, suggest an alternative for their front runner. In this example you could suggest, “He would generate a lot of excitement. How about having him as the luncheon speaker (or after-dinner speaker) and get the high-impact stuff done up in the keynote slot?” These ideas give the buyer an out, another option to save face. Logistics can be used to your advantage.

Step 3: Test the Buyer’s Commitment

At the beginning, these buyers are convinced, but they are not committed. If you do the previous two steps well, the buyer might change their mind about the front runner. Or they may still want the front runner, but they haven’t given the green light. Now is a good time to find out how obligated this buyer is.

My best tactic: ask them. Ask them point blank. My favorite question to ask in this situation: “Is this plan set in stone? Or is there a possibility to consider another option?”

Let’s go back to our example. If the buyer says they still want Mr. Sports Figure, you can test their resolution by saying, “That’s too bad! I had an idea that worked so well at XXX conference, and I thought it would be great for you, too.”

If the buyer was bluffing, that will make them curious enough to ask about your idea. If the contract was already sent, ask about other opportunities. If the buyer liked your approach, maybe then can refer you.

And if the buyer says, “Well, I don’t know how set in stone this is. What do you have?” then you are back on the radar. Continue the conversation from there.

Take Your Best Shot

Courtesy conversations — when the buyer contacts you but has someone else in mind — can feel like a waste of precious sales time. Don’t be tempted to assume this process takes a lot of time. You can implement all three steps in one conversation.

Then you can determine if you want to give up or not. These steps allow you to take your best shot. It’s OK if you decide the buyer is not worth any more effort. It all depends on your sales pipeline and what other opportunities you have. But don’t be surprised if you follow these three steps and get the buyer to have a change of heart.


About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.