How to Get Anyone to Tell You Anything – Part 1

Truth.  A powerful word, but a destination seldom attained when talking to people we seek to influence.

Uncovering it has more to do with our success in sales (including inside and virtual) than any other skill. Influence begins with knowing what the other person wants, really wants. Or, maybe even harder to attain, what the person doesn’t want, or fears. 


To differentiate your solution, you must know the decision drivers, the real drivers. I’m not talking about the published list that appears on a spreadsheet. Everyone gets access to that list. I’m talking about the informal stuff, the two or three desires or concerns the decision maker rarely utters, if at all.


“If you don’t get along with Evan, you are doomed.”

“I need to really trust you to manage this project. I have a sick child at home.”

“Will you really take over and lead this project? I’m not really sure I know what I’m doing.”


Yes, you can change a closely held belief, but only if you know what that belief is. To win a competitive deal, you need to know the unvarnished truth. We need to move from the “formal dining room and kitchen” where all “guests” are welcome, to an invitation, offered to a select few, to peek behind closed doors.   

So, what’s the trick to getting anyone to tell you anything? It starts with ensuring the customer is comfortable sharing the wrong answers

Here’s what I mean.  


What’s Right About Wrong Answers 

Recently, I attended a mini-workshop being facilitated by “the expert.” In the beginning, we were all participating, freely willing to answer the leader’s questions. By the end of the meeting, it was crickets. The reason was simple, every time we answered the question, we were corrected, sometimes scolded. I, like the other attendees, quit playing. If there’s clearly, a right and wrong and answer, I either say what you want me to say or stop talking. In this instance, I stopped talking.


This is also true for your customers. If your customer gets punished with an unwanted argument, lecture, or scolding for sharing information that doesn’t line up with your agenda, most won’t share it. It’s just not worth the effort. 


They’re not going to tell you:


“I really want something you don’t offer.”

“I don’t like working with ____.”

“I don’t feel like you should charge for that.”

“I’m probably never going to work with you. I’ve been talking to my brother-in-law’s company.”


Even if you are meeting with a person who loves confrontation and has no problem sharing bad news, the goal here is to have an honest conversation about why they feel this way.  Regardless of their style, aggressive or passive, if they don’t share the unfiltered truth, you will never have the opportunity to address it.


Wrong answers may feel like the relationship is moving in the wrong direction, but it’s actually an opportunity. The sharing of negative information is a sign of trust. Think of it as a test: they feed you a little sliver of truth and, if all goes well, they open up a bit more.


Picture a turtle barely sticking its nose out of the shell to see if it’s safe to come out. If no threat exists, they stick their head out a bit more. Once they are completely comfortable, you get the full picture of the turtle. This is our goal. Not to sell, but to remain curious, to make it safe to tell all.


Don’t overcome, redirect, or challenge. Don’t say, “Yeah but…” By uncovering the unfiltered truth, you are either building a foundation to be heard, or quickly disqualifying the prospects, saving yourself countless hours of wasted time. So regardless of what they share, remember there are no wrong answers, just real answers.


Customer: “I really want something you don’t offer.”

Seller: “Tell me a bit more about that. We may not have the best solution for you. My goal today is to just determine if we can help you ____.”


Customer: “I don’t like working with your company. I’ve had a bad experience in the past.”

Seller: “I’m so sorry to hear that we dropped the ball. We’ve had some problems in the past. Tell me what happened.”


Customer: “It doesn’t make sense why you charge for that.”

Seller: “Candidly, it may not. For some companies I meet with, they don’t see the value of investing in ____. My goal today is to determine what does make sense. Tell me about….”


To be clear, your response to the “wrong” answer is not to abandon the conversation, throw the towel in, or agree with the customer. The goal is to make the decision-maker comfortable with sharing the truth. Your role is that of a journalist. Your objective, at this stage in the sales process: get the full story. Once you know the truth, if qualified, you will have the chance to craft the most effective response.


Coming Soon

In my next blog, I will explore the second secret to getting anyone to tell you anything – how positioning your question often determines the answer.  

In the meantime, if your team is struggling to make the transition to virtual selling, or for more on how to get at the truth in any selling scenario, check out our new program

We would be happy to understand your challenges and see if we can help.  We started as an inside sales training company in 1996 and the challenges we faced then are in many ways the same as those we all face today.


As Co-founder and CEO, Tom’s primary role is to create content that helps people live, sell, and serve more effectively. Find him on LinkedIn

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