Sales: A new kind of contract

Last month I described the five most common changes companies undergo when their business starts trending downward:

  1. Decision-making authority moves up the chain of command.
  2. They solicit more bids and entertain more vendors.
  3. They look closer at outsourcing.
  4. Everyone in the company becomes more risk-averse.
  5. Incumbent suppliers become more vulnerable.


Imagine for a minute the payback on having this knowledge about all of your key customers and prospects! It can be done. But it’s a lot harder than just determining what questions you’re going to ask.

For years I’ve been saying that there are really only two types of salespeople: one with a “tell mode” gene and the other with a “seek mode” gene. The seek mode gene being the superior DNA. And seek mode, of course, is the key to getting the kind of knowledge we’re talking about here.


Drilling requires a permit

Seek mode…drilling down! The idea of drilling down with a contact is not new to selling. Even the neophyte sales professional understands its value. But we need permission to drill down.

That’s right. If we want to probe, listen, drill, learn, ask, we have to get the contact’s permission to do so. If we don’t, our seek mode takes on one of four different forms:

  • An interrogation.
  • Myopic questioning.
  • A survey.
  • Random listening.


But how do we get that permission? Should we say, “May I have permission to drill down during this meeting?” Try that and get back to me!

What we need is something I call “contracting language,” which I define as: the words we use with a contact to get permission to go in a certain direction and drill to a certain depth in an interaction.

I believe that contracting language is the most important yet least understood skill in all of selling.

The wrong words for requesting a drilldown meeting

Let’s say you want to have a dedicated seek mode meeting with a very good, long-standing contact, Jane, at one of your key accounts. You have a great relationship with Jane so getting her to agree to the meeting is a no-brainer. 

You pick up the phone to call Jane to ask her to get together. What words will you use to position this meeting? Chances are good that you would find yourself using some of these words and phrases:

  • “Information” 
  • “Ask you some questions” 
  • “Do something different”
  • “Pick your brain”
  • “Needs”
  • “Review”
  • “Talk”
  • “Would this be OK?”

Would you get the meeting with Jane? Probably. Would it succeed? Not likely.

To understand why, we have to fast-forward to the meeting itself.

You show up at the appointed time and start the meeting with the usual chit-chat. Once you’ve finished chitting and chatting, one of two things happens. One, you simply and smoothly transition into asking Jane your questions or, two, you inform Jane of the purpose of the meeting using the same words you used on the phone to request it.

If you take the first route, as the meeting progresses, Jane will wonder where you are going with these questions. Depending on her personality, she may or may not come right out and ask you.

If you take the second route, and repeat the words and phrases you used on the phone to request the meeting, she will be confused or even suspicious and will probably even ask you some form of  “what are you up to here?” or “what kind of information are you looking for?”


Some good words for requesting a drilldown meeting

What will work with Jane are such non-traditional, casual contracting words as:

  • “I’d like to take a step back and go into homework mode”
  • “Go in a little different direction than we usually do when we meet”
  • “Get my arms around the bigger picture business issues”
  • “The better I understand your business the more value I can bring you”


One more thing…you don’t inform Jane that this is what you want to do. You don’t even ask her if this would be OK. You get a contract with Jane by telling her that this is the direction you’d like to go in the meeting, then “close” your contract with, “make sense?” 

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display