How to engage prospects who want to tune you out
  • sales
  • Blog post

How to engage prospects who want to tune you out

When you’re prospecting, do you ever get the feeling that the buyer on the other end isn’t listening to you?

It’s not surprising, because a lot of the time they’re not. There are many reasons why, and some of them you can’t do much about. If a prospect is having a bad day, or is engulfed in a whirlwind of meetings, or is preoccupied with an urgent task, getting them to listen may be just about impossible.

But there’s another reason prospects don’t listen, and it has to do with the way the human brain works. This one you can do something about.

Danger: Schema ahead

What we’re talking about is the concept of “schema,” a set of thoughts and behaviors that works like an autopilot. When the brain is challenged by stress — such as an incoming sales call when we’re really busy — it looks for shortcuts and simplifications. The brain tries to match the new stimulus with what it’s encountered in the past, so it can react as it has in the past and get on with life.

So when you call a prospect out of the blue, the person’s brain grasps for clues that will allow it to go straight to one particular schema: “This is a typical salesperson who is just going to waste my time. I’m blowing him/her off.”

And unfortunately, salespeople all too often unwittingly supply those clues.

Here’s one: “How are you today?” This triggers the schema “Alert! Telemarketing call!” Here’s another typical trigger: “We work with companies in your industry.” Schema: “You don’t know about my company because you didn’t do your homework.” And here’s another: “We’ve helped similar companies increase sales by up to 28%.” Schema: “You’re overpromising just to get my attention.”

Drowning you out

When you use phrases like these, the prospect doesn’t even hear what you’re saying. The schema is shouting so loudly in their mind that it drowns you out. You’ve been placed in the category of time-waster, and you can’t get out.

So what can you do to disrupt these schemas in the buyer’s head?

A study done by researchers at Penn State and Duke University supplies an answer: Don’t sound like what the buyer expects. If buyers can’t attach a schema to you, they’re more likely to listen. In fact, the study found, when salespeople opened with an unexpected statement, people recalled 17% more of what followed.

To be unexpected, you don’t have to change your sales message. It’s more about changing the delivery of that message. The study found, for example, that subtle changes in a salesperson’s opening language were enough to get a buyer’s attention.

Choice of language

Here are some examples of schema-busting language:

  • Instead of opening a call with, “How are you?” try an unexpected greeting such as, “I hope you’re well today.” That’s almost certainly not what your prospect is expecting. It doesn’t fit the schema.
  • “Companies in your industry” is a stock line. What if you say something like, “We’ve worked with one of your top competitors, ABC Co.”? Your prospect’s brain will stop to process that. “Oh, this guy knows who we are, who we compete against.” Again, you’re short-circuiting the buyer’s autopilot.
  • Instead of promising a spike in sales, you might say, “We boosted ABC Co.’s sales, but I don’t know whether I can increase yours. May I ask a few questions to learn a little more?”
  • “I’ll be in your area next week; can we meet?” is a schema-triggering old groaner. Instead, try saying something like, “I don’t want to suggest a face-to-face meeting unless we can identify a need my company can address.” A salesperson who doesn’t want a meeting? That’s unexpected.

Let’s recap: The idea behind a schema buster is to approach buyers in a way that’s a little bit, or even very, unexpected. If you can position yourself as an atypical salesperson by disrupting the buyer’s schema, they’re more likely to listen to your message.

This blog entry is adapted from the Rapid Learning module “Prospecting: How to Get Buyers to Hear Your Message. ” If you’re a Rapid Learning customer, you can watch the video here. If you’re not, but would like to see this video (or any of our other programs), request a demo and we’ll get you access.

The blog post and Rapid Learning video module are based on the following research study: Sujan, M., et al. (1986). Effects of consumer expectations on information processing in selling encounters. Journal of Marketing Research, 346-353.

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