Resources  >> Motivated Yet Clueless: Dealing With Prospects Who Have Big Blind Spots

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  |  March 10, 2014

Motivated Yet Clueless: Dealing With Prospects Who Have Big Blind Spots

Originally published by RainToday.com

I talk with a lot of folks who are just beginning their thought leadership journey. They are excited about sharing their perspective and have big plans. The problem is they have no idea what the journey entails. The bigger problem, however, is they think they do know what is involved.

I am not alone. Many of us talk with prospects who are expanding their markets, instituting new processes, and reinventing their organizations. They know, they can be successful, but they really don’t know what it will take to get there. Here are three steps to provide them with a reality check without dulling their enthusiasm (and losing the sale).

1.  Get The Story

There are always reasons why the prospect is excited about the initiative. Usually a combination of factors have come together to create a story that makes this big change a priority. Get that story. The purpose is to understand the context and reasoning behind the motivation.

It will be tempting to correct their version of reality at this stage. Don’t. It’s too soon. If you do, you will be accused of either not understanding them or their situation or of criticizing the plan so you can sell your solution. Listen to the story, and respond with encouragement.

Example: A former C-suite executive wanted to be a coach. Why? Because her friends told her she would be a great coach and because she loves to mentor at-risk kids. I didn’t tell her those factors are not enough to be successful. It’s not my place to dispute what her friends told her. Instead I focused on the joy of discovering her gifts. And that all great journeys begin with excitement.

You goal is to establish your credibility within their situation. You want to show you’ve been down this road many times before. My favorite next step is to share one or two stories of similar clients. Show how the situations were similar and what happened to them. Don’t talk about what you did. You want to show how others have gone vefore them and have been successful. Therefore, it’s possible they can be successful, too.

2.  Test Their Assumptions

Next you want to have a short discussion about the details. It’s time to test the prospect’s assumptions and determine their approach. You are looking for the gap between what they believe and the reality of their situation.

Here you combine specific questions with general observations. Talk about the journey ahead and common obstacles and crossroads they might encounter. Don’t try to “help” them nip problems off at the bud. Your advice at this stage will not be perceived as assistance. Again, the prospect will question your motivations.

Example: One sales and marketing expert believed that he could get more keynote speeches by “being persistent and everything will be OK.” (I call this approach “spray and pray.”) I asked about how his message is different than the other three thought leaders in his category. His answer: “I am a better speaker. I have a unique story.” When he wouldn’t consider that the other speakers also had good stories, I knew I couldn’t help him. The gap was too big, and he didn’t want to see it.

The goal in this stage is to test two things:

  • Their response to new information
  • Their willingness to change their assumptions

One approach you can try is to go back to the examples in the first step. Mention the obstacles your clients faced and what they had to change. Note the one big thing they had to let go of. Then ask the big questions: What happens if you encounter this issue? Are you willing to make big changes, too?

3.  Tell the Best Truth

This last step is where the rubber meets the road. You’ve gathered enough information, and now it is time to share specific observations. At this point, most prospects want to know what you think.

Whatever you do, don’t overwhelm them with all the things they are doing wrong. Even in the spirit of education, a laundry list of changes can be discouraging. Go broad with your overall approach, then apply your perspective to their situation.

Example: A CEO called me about getting more attention for his passion project. I told him, “Your concept is brilliant. The problem isn’t the idea; it’s the crowded market. There are a lot of people with great ideas in this area. Your project is being ignored because the market perceives you as just another cool person with another innovative idea. You are seen as one of many.” I then said, “If we were to work together, here’s what I would do to change that.” Four hours later, I was hired.

Note that I didn’t make the CEO wrong in the above example. I simply explained why he wasn’t getting the attention he deserved. I blamed the market dynamics first, but I also told him what I’d do about it. He was able to hear me because I didn’t criticize him for not knowing. He knew I was safe to work with but also that I would tell him the truth.

The Same Journey

The common thread to these steps: don’t judge. We are all in the boat. All of us don’t know what we don’t know. (That’s why they are called blind spots.) If we can communicate reality without raining on our prospect’s parade, we show up as a valuable resource that is safe to work with. And isn’t that what everyone needs?


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.