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Some buyers make their intent known, sharing what they want and why. They are transparent about their intentions. Other buyers are opaque, concealing their intent. Dealing with this second type of buyer can feel like a guessing game. Some contacts may sit quietly, uncomfortable discussing their intentions because they don't know enough to engage in a conversation. 

It is likely you are an extrovert with little trouble talking to strangers. This can make it difficult to understand introverts or shy people who are reticent around those they don't know and trust. Other times, a salesperson may encounter a contact who does not want to share too much, especially if they have had negative experiences with salespeople with a bad deskside manner. When this is true, you need to pursue real sales engagement.

You might like to avoid tire-kickers who waste your time, but before you disqualify your prospective client, recognize that some of your contacts may need help identifying or communicating their intent. 

A contact who spends a lot of time with you provides evidence of intent. A contact that asks a seemingly endless number of questions has a high level of engagement, even if you must do some work to discover what they want. Contacts who are highly engaged likely have intent, and those who are not engaged may not have a burning need to buy what you sell. 

Make certain there isn't intent before you cut and run. Some buyers may need more help communicating their needs. What follows here are several strategies to elicit the buyer's intent. 

Ask Direct Questions

You can ask directly about what the contact needs, why they need it, and what improvement they are seeking from the conversation. Sometimes it helps to soften your prompt by asking for permission to dig deeper with a deferential question like:

"Can I ask you to share with me what you need or what might help you?" 

We ask questions because they provide us with the information we need and help us build rapport. The buyer's intent often provides the context that allows us to know what the client needs from a conversation. 

Be a Good Listener

A good listener will pick up on the buyer's intent. By paying attention to what the client says, a skilled and consultative salesperson will recognize intent, even if the buyer doesn't have the experience to know what they need. 

A great listener will not only pick up on the buyer's intent but also on what isn't being said. You can often learn more by what a buyer omits than by what they tell you. You improve your client’s sales experience by being a great listener.

Understand the Buyer’s Prior Activities

Knowing what your buyers have done in the past can help you home in on their intent. A contact who already has a supplier has experience buying what you sell. Their intent may be to replace your competitor. However, their intent could also be to find a lower price from a new provider to use as leverage to persuade their existing supplier to reduce their price (true story). 

There are other buyer activities that are helpful to know, like what research they've done, what information they found interesting, or what they believe might be the right approach to improving their results. Some software now provides guidance on buyer intent, giving you an awareness of what they need. You can also use common customer pain points to gain some insight in the sales conversation.

Present Options

Sometimes it is difficult to gain access to what the buyer wants or needs. Humans don't know what they don't know. When this is true, you can determine intent by presenting options. This is like an eye exam, where you look at the chart and choose the lens that is clearer. Options help them dial in what they want. You can elicit buyer intent and help your contact learn what they need. 

Make Recommendations

I have a friend who is overwhelmed by restaurant menus. He always asks the server to recommend a dish. Then, he almost always orders what the server suggests, unless it is something he doesn’t like. 

You have the right to be consultative. A valuable salesperson should be able to make a recommendation, even if only to get a clearer view of their client's intent. When the buyer refuses the recommendation, asking why can move you closer to their intent. 

Ask for Help Understanding 

When you are unsure of what your contact needs, you can ask them to fill in the gaps and clarify their intent. To make it easier, we'll go back to our soft, permission-based questions, asking:

"Can I ask you to help me understand what you need and what might be most helpful for you?"

It's important to remember that we sell what we sell every day, while the buyer may be making a buying decision for the first time. They may not know enough to recognize their needs, or they may not understand their options and how to decide. Helping your client means educating them, especially when they are unsure

Ask for a Commitment 

One way to gauge intent is to ask your contact to make a commitment. The commitment could be a next conversation, a visit to your facility, a trial of your product or service, or some other action that will prove they have an interest and some intent. 

Using These Techniques in the Sales Conversation

Different buyers have different ways of expressing their intent. While some can articulate what they need and why, others may need help expressing their intent. As a salesperson, recognize these different buyers and adjust your approach. Ask questions to get a better understanding of the buyer's needs, listen to what they say (and what they don’t say), research their prior activities, present them with two options, make recommendations, ask for help understanding, and ask for a commitment. Doing this will help you uncover the buyer's intent and provide them with the assistance they need to make an informed decision.

Sales 2023
Post by Anthony Iannarino on January 3, 2023

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an author of four books on the modern sales approach, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. Anthony posts here daily.
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