A great way to turn a negative prospect into a positive one

January 28, 2014

Winning a prospect over to your way of thinking can make the difference between earning their business or not. The question is, how to do it without telling them they’re wrong and sending them running. Early in my career I came across a principle that helps me through these difficult situations.

Years ago, I met with a potential client who had a growing insurance agency. He was at that stage where his number one challenge was hiring new advisors and support staff and doing it all without spending himself into bankruptcy.

You’re wrong

He had a big need for business planning help, but when I first met with him he shocked me by saying he didn’t believe in wasting time on a plan. When I tried to point out how planning would help him make decisions he shot back with, “I’m intuitive. I make decisions on the fly. How can I plan for what will happen three years from now when I can’t predict what will happen next week?”

There was no way I was going to earn his business unless I could change his basic assumptions about planning.

A threat

I knew that arguing or telling him he was wrong would only make him more defensive and closed to my ideas. If I was going to be able to help him, I needed to find a way to expand his thinking without confrontation.

The pivot technique

Luckily there’s an effective way to do this that many successful salespeople do naturally. It’s called the Ransberger Pivot. The pivot is a method invented by Ray Ransberger and Marshall Fritz, an American libertarian activist, for opening a useful discussion with people who don’t agree with your position—without telling them they’re wrong.

The idea behind it is pretty simple: don’t argue or confront—listen. Listen to and understand your prospect’s objections, then find a common ground between their position and yours. When you reveal the common ground you take their ego out of the equation and create a platform from which to build.

In my case I built common ground by agreeing that the future is uncertain, especially in a volatile industry like financial services. And no one can predict exactly where they’ll be a few years out. When I saw him nodding I knew we could start to go in the same direction.

Change negative prospect to positive birdseye

I agreed that plans are not crystal balls that reveal all about the future—instead I think of them as a way to define the future you want so you can turn it into reality.

A new way of thinking

I could see from the look on his face that for him this was a new way of looking at planning. And that it had some appeal.

Time for one last build.

I said, “When you clearly define where you want to go, it’s easier to choose the actions you need to take today to get you there. Plans don’t predict the future, they create it.”

Now our common ground had expanded to include my position on planning. We’d gone from being on opposite sides of the issue to agreement. And from there we were able to start talking about planning his future, rather than arguing about the value of planning.

The next week we started developing the plan for his agency—he’s been a client ever since.

The Last Word

Instead of telling my prospect I disagreed with his ideas about business planning, I did the opposite. I found a way to agree with what he thought, which gave us a base to work from. Then I built on that common ground by adding points that were consistent with his thinking, but that edged him toward my position. Without ever saying he was wrong I was able to win him over to my side and close the business without confrontation.

Next time you’re out selling your services and you find yourself on the opposite side of an issue from a prospect like I did, try the Ransberger Pivot to win them over to your side.

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about the author

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.