ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joseph Grenny is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.
Dear Crucial Skills,
As the business development manager for a large law firm, I coach my lawyers on how to develop relationships with potential clients. They frequently come to me because they’ve hit a roadblock in the relationship: they have entertained, connected with, and informed the client. But they haven’t closed the deal. How can I coach them to get to the “ask”? How can I help them handle that “crucial” moment when they’re asking for a commitment to send business our way?
The Crucial Close
Dear Crucial Close:
I am excited to answer your question. It’s different in kind from many we address in this column, but no less relevant. All of us are in sales in some form or another. And all of us struggle with how to ask for commitment from others at times. I’ve thought a great deal about my own reaction to these crucial moments and am pleased to share some reflections. I hope you find them useful.
1. If I’m nervous it’s because I’m selfish. The first thing I’ve noticed is that my own self-consciousness about asking for commitments (whether they are buying commitments, funding decisions, policy changes, personal promises, etc.) is that my nervousness is evidence that I need to Start with Heart. My jitters are usually a sign that I’m worried about not getting what I want. I feel at risk because I want the other person to comply with my wishes. This is a fundamentally selfish motive. I notice that my emotions are profoundly different when I am approaching them for a commitment I believe will truly bless their life, improve their business, or solve an important problem—for them as well as for me. In Crucial Conversations we make a big point about Starting with Heart by asking “What do I really want—for me, for the other person, and for the relationship?” The best sales people and business developers are those whose clients implicitly trust them because they always know the sales person has their best interests at heart. And these sales people are far less flustered when asking for the deal because they truly feel they are offering something wonderful. Help your folks think carefully about their goals and the needs of the client—not just the size of the deal—and they’ll feel more confident in asking for commitment.
2. Influence with your ears. The best sales people are the best listeners. In addition to the wining and dining your professionals do, be sure they listen deeply to the considerations, concerns, barriers, desires, and goals of the client. My measure of whether I’ve listened well is the simplicity and succinctness with which I can summarize why my proposal is spot on for the client. If I can express in just a few sentences why they need to move forward with the commitment, then I have truly understood. If it takes me ten PowerPoint slides from a boiler-plate deck, odds are I’m in my head and not theirs. I can ask for the deal calmly when I have listened so well that I can express their interests better than they can.
3. Start with safety. It is absolutely understandable that we feel a little concerned about the risk involved with asking a commitment question. It involves a change in the relationship, and change always feels risky. We think we might lose the level of intimacy we have now by asking for even more. But there is a way out of this nervousness. Just make it safe. Start by assuring the client your entire motive is to ensure their needs are met. When you affirm your commitment to a Mutual Purpose, they relax—and so do you. Let them know that if the commitment you’re about to ask for is not in their best interest, you don’t want to move forward. Then summarize what you understand their interests to be. Then ask for a commitment to move forward. If you approach the crucial moment in this way, you lower the emotional stakes for both parties and make it safe for this to be a dialogue rather than a pressure point.
4. End with a commitment question. After making your proposal and asking simply and clearly for a commitment, open the dialogue. Ask an action-oriented question to allow them to engage in the dialogue. For example, “What would be our next steps?” is a great way to turn the conversation over to them and allow them to share any considerations they may need to surface.
I hope some of these ideas are useful to you. I believe that these crucial moments are as much about motive as skill. Get your motives right and the skills are easier. But the skills matter a lot, too. Watch those who seem most comfortable in these moments and you’ll find scripts that match your intent.