Sales Article: Sales Truth Serum For Buyers Who Lie Getting Accurate Information from Prospects

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Victor Antonio, Sales Influence

Have you ever had to ask the following questions to a prospect:
• When do you think you’ll be making a buying decision?
• How much money do you think will be in your budget for next year?

Have you ever had to ask these questions of your salespeople:
• So when do you think we’ll close on that big order?
• What do you think you can sell next quarter (or next year)?

Have you ever had to ask a subordinate these questions:
• When do you think that project will be done?
• How long will it take you to complete (fill in the blank) task?

And when you did get the answer (i.e., the prediction), for some reason you didn’t feel quite confident that you were getting an accurate answer. In fact, more often than not the answer you received was either highly optimistic or pessimistic and far from accurate. Well a recent study done by Robin Tanner and Kurt Carlson will help you increase the accuracy of a person’s prediction by simply applying one simple step.

Tanner and Carlson tested out an interesting approach to getting more accurate or realistic information out of a person. Instead of asking a ‘focus question’ (e.g., similar to those listed above), the study showed that by asking an ‘ideal question’ first followed by a focus question produced more realistic results. In one study, Tanner and Carlson first posed the focus question to one group (Group 1) and then posed the ideal question first and followed by the focus question to a second group (Group 2):

Group 1 was asked:
How many songs would be loaded on your iPod at any time.

Group 2 was asked:
In an ideal world, how many songs would be loaded on your iPod at any time?

Followed by:
How many songs would be loaded on your iPod at any time?

In the study, Group 1 estimates were higher (i.e., how many songs they would put on their iPod ) when compared to Group 2. In other words, when Group 2 was first ask the ideal question followed then by the focused question, the respondents tended to give more realistic answers. Three other studies further substantiated the premise that by first asking the ‘ideal question’ before the ‘focus question’ produced lower numbers (i.e., more reasonable estimates) then when simply asking the focus question alone.

Sales Truth Serum
Now let’s use a sales example to see how you would use this in your sales process. Let’s say you’re meeting with a prospect name Bob and you’re trying to get a realistic timeframe for when a buying decision will be made.

Option 1: Ask the focus question.

Salesperson: “When do you think you’ll be making a buying decision?”

Bob: “Well, I don’t rightly know could be within a week or two.”

Option 2: Ask the ideal question first then focus question (i.e., ideal – focus sequence):

Salesperson: “So Bob, if conditions were ideal, when do you think you’ll be making a buying decision?”

Bob: “Well if everything goes according to plan, I’d say two weeks.”

Salesperson: “When do you personally think you’ll be making a buying decision?”

Bob: “Well, I’d say more like three weeks.”

If you believe the Tanner-Carlson study (and I do), then the best approach would be to use Option 2. Using the ideal-focus sequence forces the respondent to really think about the answer they’re giving you. It works almost like truth serum for selling. This is a relatively simple and painless technique that you can incorporate into the information gathering phase of your sales process.

Victor Antonio, Sales Influence
Finding the Why in (How People) Buy

Copyright © 2009 by Victor Antonio. All rights reserved. This article MAY be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, as long as the author’s name, website and email address are included as part of the article’s body. All inquiries, including information on electronic licensing, should be directed to Victor Antonio at


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