4 Tips to Close More Deals by Bringing Empathy and Curiosity to Your Outreach

The late, great Clayton Christensen popularized the notion of Jobs to be Done with his famous milkshake story, which recounts his experience as a management consultant working with McDonald’s to help it stimulate growth in a flagging product category. This led to a deep inquiry into the motivations of the milkshake consumer, which challenged the conventional assumption that the McDonald’s milkshake was seen as a frothy accompaniment for a meal.

Christensen discovered that the milkshake served a wholly different purpose, fulfilling a very specific job to be done: Providing a delightful, lasting diversion during a long commute to or from work. While this was an unobvious conclusion, once discovered, it became the insight that helped bring the product category back to life.

Why share this story? Because by leading with curiosity and empathy, and putting aside biases and assumptions, Christensen was able to render a powerfully original conclusion, which made all the difference. Sales reps may not be engaged in multimonth consulting projects like this, but the best ones bring the same spirit to their interactions with prospects. 

Here are four things you can do to up your game:


1. Exercise “the five whys” to get to the real motivation

The five whys is an iterative interrogative technique first developed by the quality geniuses at Toyota Motor Corp. as a way to understand cause and effect. By stacking a series of “why” questions, the technique draws you beyond the superficial answers that may mask the true challenge. Toyota applied this practice to a hypothetical manufacturing example:

  1. Why did the robot stop?

Because the circuit had overloaded, causing a fuse to blow.

  1. Why is the circuit overloaded?

There was insufficient lubrication on the bearings, so they locked up.

  1. Why was there insufficient lubrication on the bearings?

The oil pump on the robot is not circulating sufficient oil.

  1. Why is the pump not circulating sufficient oil?

The pump intake is clogged with metal shavings.

  1. Why is the intake clogged with metal shavings?

Because there is no filter on the pump.

Of course, there’s an art to asking a series of why questions without really annoying your prospect. But as you learn to unpack the layers, you’ll better understand the real problem.


2. Craft outcomes that illustrate a better future

Prospects only care about one thing: positive outcomes for their business (and for themselves, of course). Another famous Harvard Business School professor, Theodore Levitt, said “people don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want to buy a quarter-inch hole.” The quarter-inch hole is the outcome. So why sell the drill? 

By asking smart questions, you’ll arrive at the insights necessary to craft compelling outcomes that show your prospect a better future. Crafting an effective outcome is as simple as:

  1. What will change? Describe the business impact you wish to achieve.
  2. By how much? Defines the measurable impact you expect to see.
  3. By when? Specifies the timeframe within which you expect the change to occur.

_____________ _____________  by _____________ by _____________

(directional change) (object of impact) x (degree of change) x (time frame)

For example:

(Decrease) (Support ticket volume)       (25%)                   (EOQ4)

_________ ___________________  by ___________ by _____________

 (directional change) (object of impact) x (degree of change) x (time frame)

Be sure to avoid vague benefits, flowery prose and outcomes that lack metrics and timeframes. You can’t manage what you don’t measure, and without a specific end date it’s impossible to know whether the outcome has been achieved. 


3. Build a mutual success plan

The mutual success plan is an informal contract between you and your prospect that creates alignment around these promised outcomes and the path to formalizing a commercial relationship. By documenting these outcomes, they become more real in the mind of your prospects, and it demonstrates a level of rigor and preparation that’s, frankly, just a good look.

The mutual success plan creates both confidence with your prospect and the structure necessary to advance the steps to close the deal and achieve these promised outcomes.  


4. Nail the handoff

Crucially, this mutual success plan should address in some detail what happens after the deal is closed. Too often, this post-sale handoff to the implementation and success teams is fumbled, creating a significant dip in customer confidence from the start and beginning a new relationship in arrears. Your prospect has undoubtedly experienced this firsthand and, frankly, it’s this knowledge that causes them to doubt your promises. 

By incorporating the handoff into the mutual success plan and executing it with precision, you set up a healthier customer relationship, and you build confidence in the sales cycle itself. 

Jake Sorofman is president of MetaCX, the pioneer in a new outcomes-based approach for managing the customer lifecycle by transforming how suppliers and buyers collaborate and win together. Previously, Sorofman was CMO of Pendo and chief of research at Gartner. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications, including Forbes, Inc Magazine and Harvard Business Review. Sorofman holds a bachelor’s degree in English and political science from University of New Hampshire, an MBA from Bentley University, and a Master of Arts from University of North Carolina. For more information on MetaCX, please visit www.metacx.com/, and follow the company on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

  • Originally published August 20, 2020