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How to Build a Peer Relationship When Selling to a Prospect

By Andrew Sobel, Big4.com Guest Blogger

Sometimes it can feel like buyers have the upper hand. They have many service providers to choose from. Everyone calls on them and aggressively pitches for their business. How can you be viewed as a peer, as someone who has something valuable to offer, rather than a commodity vendor? Thoughtful power questions can help you earn greater respect immediately.

To begin with, your behavior and demeanor at the outset have to telegraph that you consider yourself a peer. The scene in The King’s Speech where the speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffry Rush) meets the future king Prince Albert (Colin Firth) is a wonderful illustration of the importance of this. When Prince Albert tells Logue to address him as your Majesty, Logue shoots back, “I shall call you Bertie,” which is the Prince’s childhood nickname. Prince Albert is outraged, but he acquiesces. Logue’s point is that for therapy to work, they must be equals. So skip the “Oh, thank you so very much for meeting me, I know how valuable your time is and how busy you are!” Walk in as a peer, an equal.

Psychologically, you want to put yourself on the same side of the table as your potential client. Consider these questions to help you do that:

1. “I view this as a chance for us to get to know each other and understand each other’s business—and, potentially, to identify an issue of mutual interest where I could add value to your business. From your perspective, what would be the best way for us to use this time?” On the surface, this seems like a deferential question. But it actually has the effect of making the client come up with their own reasons for having a conversation with you. You set a very broad agenda, and then you turn it over to them.

2. “I’m curious about what in particular interested you in meeting with me?” This could come across as a somewhat cheeky question, but when asked at the right moment it can create very powerful “reach” on the part of your client. It can shift a client from sitting back and commanding “OK, impress me” to leaning forward and asking, “Can you tell me about yourself and how you think you could help me?”

3. “You’ve defined a coaching program as the solution here, but in my experience there are other interventions that may possibly work better. Can you talk about the underlying goals you’re trying to achieve” Challenging the client’s definition of the problem and the solution is not only the right thing to do, but it quickly puts you on even footing with them.

4. Who would made the final decision on a project like this? Who would the ultimate executive sponsor be?” This may seem like a very basic question about the client’s decision-making process, but actually it’s more than that. It shows confidence. It demonstrates organizational savvy. And it communicates that you’re not just an order-taker. A follow-up question might then be, “Can you organize a meeting between the two of us?” This establishes you as someone who doesn’t just take orders (in both senses of the phrase!) from feasibility buyers.

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Andrew Sobel helps companies and individuals build their clients for life. Andrew was a Senior Vice President and Country Chief Executive for Gemini Consulting (15 years). He is the co-author of the newly-released Power Questions as well as the author of the business bestsellers Clients for Life, Making Rain, and All for One. He can be reached at www.andrewsobel.com, where you can download a free set of Power Tools to help you get better at asking Power Questions.

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