How to succeed in selling with the ‘Chain of Agreement’

When your target market encounters a problem or challenge in their life, the potential buyer’s mindset is focused on the problem itself.

As a salesperson, your job is to present a solution to that problem. Unfortunately, selling efforts fail even when prospects know they have a problem and they know you have a solution.

In this blog post, I’m going to talk about why sales efforts sometimes fail and how you can increase the likelihood of success when you sell.

And here’s the great part: This “sales method” (if you want to call it that) completely removes the resistance that salespeople can often feel when in a sales relationship.

WHY SALES EFFORTS SOMETIMES FAIL

When a potential buyer first comes in contact with you, they are entirely focused on the problem but you are entirely focused on the solution. You need to help them to see that you have a solution to their problem and you need to present the solution and then overcome objections that they may have. That’s a pretty standard summary of the typical sales relationship.

However, this problem-versus-solution approach is adversarial. You are trying to change their minds by coming at the situation from the opposite direction.

It’s very easy (and very common among salespeople) to view the relationship as a “you-versus-them” relationship where one of you wins and the other loses.

You are coming at the situation from “opposite directions” (they are problem-focused and you are solution-focused, and these two opposite viewpoints clash during the sales presentation). Since you and your prospect are coming to the relationship from opposite directions, you aren’t always able to effectively identify or address all of their concerns and questions. You each have different perspectives so you may not see the issues in the same way that your prospect sees them. This leads to haphazard identification of the issues and the unaddressed issues spring up as objections when you’re trying to close the sale.

Because you have an inherently adversarial relationship with the prospect, and because you only haphazardly cover the hot button issues, it’s clear why sales efforts sometimes fall short when trying to close.

HOW THE CHAIN OF AGREEMENT CAN HELP

Rather than thinking of the sale as “you convincing them that your solution can solve their problem“, forget the solution-focus. Instead, start earlier in the relationship to build smaller points of agreement. Build one point of agreement after another. Soon enough, a sale will happen naturally without the adversarial (and often dreaded) sales presentation.

Instead of thinking of every sale as a single moment where you try to convert them to change their problem-focused mindset and buy your solution (this is the adversarial approach), think of every relationship as a chain. Each link of the chain is a point that you both agree on.

At the beginning of your relationship with the prospect, there is just one link: You agree that they have a problem, need, or challenge. That’s the first link.

Then, instead of trying to sell to them, just build another link of agreement: Engage them to learn more about the problem and find a point of agreement. For example, maybe come to agreement that the problem is a challenging problem. That’s the second link.

Then, instead of trying to sell to them, just build yet another link of agreement: Engage them to learn more about the problem and find another point of agreement. For example, maybe come to an agreement that the problem isn’t going to go away on its own. That’s the third link.

Then, instead of trying to sell, build more agreement. A fourth link. A fifth link. A sixth link. And so on.

Since the prospect has a problem and you have a solution, the points of the agreement can (if you are intentional about the conversation) lead right through a sale.

When you keep building these links of agreement – one small step at a time – you will get to the point where your customer begs you for the solution you’re offering and they’ll eagerly buy it without objection. After all, the two of you have been agreeing the entire time and you know how to solve their problem!

And all you’ve done is create a ‘Chain of Agreement‘ between the two of you, building one link at a time.

HOW TO BUILD A CHAIN OF AGREEMENT WITH A POTENTIAL CLIENT

Start by looking for that first point of agreement. For my financial and real estate clients, it might be something like “this is a tough market to know how to invest” or “it’s not easy to see your retirement fund disappearing” or “it’s time to think about moving“. Just find that one small kernel of agreement. It doesn’t have to be big.

Once you’ve done that, keep talking to them. Keep listening to them. Keep asking questions. As you engage them, they will naturally raise the next issue or thought. Building off of the examples above, maybe it’s “there are many options to invest in but nothing that is a clear win” or “retirement doesn’t seem that far off” or “there are a lot of things to think about before we even think about moving“.

Notice how these are small. Really small. Probably smaller than you were thinking (and definitely smaller than most salespeople would normally address). That makes them easy to find agreement between the two of you.

If you don’t find immediate agreement on something, that is a red flag to you that you missed a link. Maybe the prospect is jumping ahead without realizing it (that happens a lot) or maybe the prospect is floundering around because they don’t know (that happens a lot) or maybe the prospect is worried that you are trying to sell them something and they’re putting up defenses (that happens a lot, too)… or maybe you discover that the solution isn’t right for them.

During your conversations, when you arrive at a link in the chain where you can’t find immediate agreement with the prospect, do one of two things: If you determine that the solution isn’t right for them, shake their hand and leave. Easy. If the solution still seems right for them but there isn’t immediate agreement, then the conversation has advanced too far. You need to back up to the last link of agreement, revisit it to make doubly sure that you both agree, and explore a smaller step that you both agree on.

BEST PRACTICES FOR THE CHAIN OF AGREEMENT

  • Do your research. Know a little about your target market so you can anticipate some of the agreement-links in the conversation. Check out my blogpost 55 questions to answer when defining your sales funnel’s target market.
  • Aim low. Find really small points to agree on. Don’t try to get too much agreement at once.
  • Let the prospect guide you toward the next link and the next link and the next link.
  • Be prepared! Have logical and emotional reasons to back up what you say.
  • Write down each chain of agreement after you’ve been through it (whether or not you sold something). Identify the links as best as you can. See if you can spot common links and common link sequences between conversations with many people.
  • Invest the time. At first, it will seem like this method takes longer. It doesn’t; it only seems like it takes forever because you’re not working toward an adversarial presentation.
  • If this approach is too radical to adopt all at once, try incorporating this method simply in the “fact finding” part of your sales effort. You’ll still gain a lot of benefit without rocking your own boat too much.

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