If you are like most companies, your sales conversation starts in one of two ways: a detailed PowerPoint laundry list of your features and benefits or you look at them and ask What keeps you awake at night?

In either case, you are putting yourself behind the eight ball right from the start.

In the first instance, you are likely overwhelming your prospect with information on a subject that they know and care little about your product or service and, as a result, you are making their eyes glaze over.

When you ask them What keeps you awake at night?,? you are making them feel uncomfortable because they don’t want to tell you. You don’t know them well enough yet so they don’t trust you. You have not yet earned the permission to ask such a personal question.

Asking what keeps them awake at night combined with doing a ton of research on your target and its key players is an effort to understand your prospects so well that you can shape your pitch and your offering to their specific needs. While this is honorable, it is actually impossible to achieve without your prospect?s open and enthusiastic participation. While you can get a general understanding of any company’s need as it relates to your offering, the psychology of each key individual and the sociology of how they interact (including office politics) are so complex, you can never truly know what’s going on in their minds, individually and collectively, unless they tell you. And they will tell you as long as you don’t conduct your sales conversation in the traditional manner described above, which actually shuts them down.

Here is a simple agenda for a highly effective and proven sales conversation:

1. Inspire them with what you do and what is in it for them (this is not accomplished through a recitation of your features and benefits). The magic of inspiring them right at the beginning is it is like dangling a steak in front of a ravenous lion: you make them hunger for what you do, and their desire for your product or service transforms them into open and enthusiastic providers of critical sales information.

2. Once they are engaged and hooked, sit back and let them ask questions about what you do and how you do it. They will have many! They are telling you two really important things by asking you these questions: what they need to know to get to yes (not what you think they need to know), and what the hidden factors and hidden agendas are that are driving their purchase decision (the ones you could never discover through research or by asking them what keeps them from sleeping).

3. Once they have asked all of their questions, you can mop up the meeting by probing for any information that you still need to know in order to deliver your product or service to them more effectively. By this point in the conversation you have earned their trust and you have permission to ask ?personal? questions.

4. Items two and three on the agenda are easy. In number two, you just sit back and go along for the ride. And in number three, they’ve already given you most of the information you need, so you just ask questions that give you what’s missing. As for agenda item number one, how you transform your culture into one that inspires is a far tougher task but it starts with a simple first step: the will and commitment to do so. For the path to agenda item one above, we invite you to read our next article, Do You Really Know What Your Customers Are Buying?