After all, they are paying us good money to advise them, they should listen to us! When someone says “no” to something we want them to do, our natural reaction is to try harder to convince them. We think if we have a great argument, we will win them over to our point of view. But more often than not, arguing with a client, or trying harder to convince them has the opposite effect of what we want. It increases rather than decreases client resistance.
Imagine if someone holds up their hand, and asks you to put your hand against theirs. Then they push. What do you do? Most of us would push back. It’s the same with trying to push a client to do something that they don’t want to do, or don’t think they can do. They will push back.
I am here to tell you that there is a better way, and it doesn’t involve having a better come-back or pitch.
When somebody objects to something that we have asked them to do, this immediately creates tension, and that tension has a significant impact on the conversation. Each participant in the conversation stops listening to the other, and focuses instead on his or her own argument, and what they are going to say next. So the first thing you MUST do is diffuse the communication tension and get your client or prospect to the point where they are receptive and ready to hear what you have to say.
Use the following 5 Step technique to lower client resistance and you will be well on your way to an effective conversation that will help your client move forward.
Step 1: Acknowledge
Everybody wants to feel listened to. They want to get their point across, and know that you are hearing what they are saying. Acknowledging tells them that you are listening. It is not difficult to do. It involves listening to what the other person is saying, and simply mirroring it back to them.
For example, if your client is telling you they are too busy to do something, then you just mirror back “I hear what you are saying, that you are super busy and don’t have time to do one more thing.”
Acknowledging that you hear their argument will start to diffuse the tension and lower the client’s resistance. However, they will be waiting for you to say “but….” and then proceed with your argument. Resist the urge to do that! They’re not ready to hear you quite yet.
Step 2: Validate
Nobody wants to be told that they don’t have a right to their feelings, or to have their feelings dismissed. This is why, right after you acknowledge what your client or prospective client has said, you want to validate their right to feel that way. You don’t have to AGREE with their feelings, but you need to acknowledge that their feelings are real.
You can say something like “it’s understandable that you would feel (fill in the blank) after what you just told me.” Or “it’s very common to feel (fill in the blank) in this kind of situation” or it’s totally normal to feel this way, many of my clients have the same initial reaction.” Notice that I’m not saying “I understand.” This is intentional. This way you don’t have to say you understand when you might not understand at all!
I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking great, now that I’ve acknowledged and validated them, I can tell them why they need to do what I say. Sorry – not yet! I want you to resist the urge to say “but” and launch into your pitch. They are still not quite ready to hear you.
Step 3: Clarify
Your next steps are to ask some clarifying questions. Start by asking your client’s permission to ask them a few questions. This does 3 things for you.
1. It helps you continue to gain the trust of your client or prospect, increasing the likelihood that they will be ready to listen to you when it’s finally time to make your case. Often they have a need to get their objections and concerns off of their chest, and this gives them the opportunity to talk it out.
2. It gives you the information you need to help your client move past their objections. Often we make assumptions about what the client is thinking and feeling, or we misinterpret their responses. Asking more questions and listening carefully to their answers will help you get it right.
3. Questions are the key to creating buy-in and leading your client to the best conclusion, vs. trying to force it.
The best clarifying questions are open ended, as they get the client to expand their thinking. Start by asking a general open ended question, such as “can you tell me a little more about that…” Continue to ask questions and clarify their answers. Assume you do not have all of the information that you need, and keep digging.
Step 4: Create Buy-in
Buy-in is really important, and a lack of buy-in is a huge contributor to resistance to change. You can give the most logical argument on the planet, and they can even agree, but if they don’t have any emotional attachment to the change and the outcome, as soon as the road gets bumpy, they will put on the brakes.
Once you have asked several clarifying questions, and you believe you understand what is holding them back, you can switch to buy-in questions. These are the kinds of questions that get your client to tap into why they want to make a change. For example, “how badly do you want to change your current situation?” Or “What will it be like for you when this situation changes?” Get them to imagine the impact of doing nothing, and the impact of taking action.
Once you have asked a number of buy-in questions and you believe they are ready, then you can ask if they are ready to make a change or move forward.
Step 5: Make your case!
Now that you have asked the right questions and your client is open to hearing your suggestions, you can ask permission to share your thoughts and make your case. Let them know that you have listened to their needs, and you would like to suggest some small changes.
In most cases your client will now be willing to make a change. If not, go back to the beginning, acknowledge, validate and ask more questions until your client is no longer stuck.
If you would like more examples of how this process works, you can hear me discuss it on the Grow My Accounting Practice (GMAP) Podcast this week. Click through to listen to my lively discussion with hosts Mike Michalowicz and Ron Saharyan.
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