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Tension in Discovery: part 1 - when to lean in

Man trying to push two walls apart, bright sunlight shining through the opening.

Many people-pleasing reps avoid tension like it’s the plague.

Other reps are overly comfortable with tension… so they use pressure tactics like false scarcity and the hard close.

Whether you’re a people-pleaser or a pressure-lover, both ends of the spectrum will kill your deals.

The result?

 - Ghosting

 - Objections from buyers that are vague or don’t make sense

 - Tolerating deals that drag on and eventually become closed/lost

The inability to strike the right balance with tension is a huge but overlooked problem in sales today.

So now in part 1, let’s look at when to lean into tension and even create more of it. (Next week in part 2 we’ll look at when to ease up.)

The problem with people-pleasing - Why tension in discovery is ok.

I will admit right off the bat that in my core, I am a card-carrying people-pleaser. My natural tendency in all situations (whether it’s business or social) is to create harmony. If someone is uncomfortable, I immediately want to put them at ease.

This can be a good thing, but unchecked harmony in sales becomes a handicap. One of the most important skills I’ve had to develop in my sales career is the ability to lean into healthy tension.

Why? Buyers don’t want to be told that everything is ok when they know it isn’tIf everything was fine, they wouldn’t be considering a change. But most buyers can’t pinpoint what’s wrong - or they feel vulnerable. So they paint a rosy picture. It’s up to the seller to identify where things are off.

Example A:

Buyer says “My sales team is doing great. They’re all pros with great experience. They’re pretty much all hitting their targets.”

What the seller is inclined to say: “Congratulations, sounds like you have a strong team. Let’s just look at how they can do even better.” (You’ll lose the buyer’s respect because you’re buying their story.)

What the seller should do to lean into tension: “Pretty much? Can you tell me more about that?” (A door to the truth was cracked open with ‘pretty much’. It’s up to the seller to push it open. The buyer might squirm before answering but this is necessary. You’ll earn the buyer’s respect by seeking the truth.)

Example B:

Buyer says: “My team has a 35% win rate and a strong pipeline that’s almost all from outbound, but unfortunately they aren’t hitting quota. So I need your help to improve their win rate, even just by 5%.”

What the people-pleaser is inclined to say: “Awesome, let’s calculate what a 5% increase in your win rate will add in top-line revenue.”

What the seller should do to lean into tension: “Hmmm, something isn’t quite adding up. That’s a pretty solid win rate considering it’s all outbound. So your win rate may not be where we need to focus. We should also look at whether discounting is happening (how often and by how much). Another consideration is whether leads are being thrown out due to current qualification criteria.” (Don’t be afraid to push back. In other words: point out when the buyer’s numbers don’t add up.)

Here's what happens when sellers make nice with buyers and don’t point out what’s wrong:

 - The buyer learns nothing new. So why should they risk making a change vs sticking with the devil they know?

 - The buyer loses respect for the seller. Because the seller comes across as a pushover.

 - Ironically, the buyer feels “sold to” – even if they’re openly shopping for a solution. And the people-pleaser thinks they’re creating harmony but really they’re just selling through order-taking.

Take these 3 steps in your next discovery to create healthy tension:

1. Examine the information and ask yourself: what doesn’t add up? Spell out the disconnect for your buyer. Then offer a different point of consideration.

2.        Listen for phrases such as “we’re pretty confident”, “we’ve had a few changes”, and “we’re just looking for ways to optimize.” These phrases are easy to gloss over – but they crack the door open to big issues on the other side. Simply echo these phrases back and ask the buyer to elaborate.

3.        Awkward silence is your best friend. Resist the urge to fill the silence after you ask a tough question. Give them the time and space to answer with the truth.

Next week we’ll dive into the other end of the spectrum of Tension in Discovery: when to ease up (part 2)

"Tension in Discovery: part 1 - when to lean in"



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