By Michael Boyette, executive editor, Rapid Learning Institute

Buyers withhold information from salespeople all the time. Sometimes it’s to gain a negotiating advantage, or to quickly end an unwanted sales call.

But just as often, buyers hold back because disclosure puts their self-images at risk. They’re hiding something that, if revealed, would make them lose face, expose a fault or suggest – not to you, but to themselves – that they’re not living up to their own expectations.

Say, for example, that you sell Internet marketing services. Doesn’t seem very threatening, does it?

Well, before you can get any traction with a prospect, he has to admit (to his boss and himself) that he’s not doing a very good job generating business online. That’s a tough pill to swallow, especially if the person you’re selling to fancies himself an expert marketer.

Here’s an easy-to-remember conversational roadmap you can use to disarm these threats and get sales like these unstuck. It’s called, the “Four A’s Approach.”

Acknowledge. Threatened buyers don’t want to admit (even to themselves) what’s bothering them, so let them off the hook by normalizing their behavior. That is, show them that others feel and act the same way. What to say: “Mr. Customer, I work with a lot of very successful and experienced marketing people who struggle with Internet marketing. They just don’t have enough time to focus on it.”

Ask for help. As you seek to learn more about your buyer’s source of discomfort, frame your questions as a request. You need the buyer to help you understand something, which shifts the focus from what the buyer is hiding to what you don’t understand. What to say: “Help me understand what you’d like to accomplish online and what’s preventing you from meeting that goal.”

Accept. As buyers open up, don’t argue, explain or offer rebuttals. Mention again how other buyers feel the same way. Empathize with the buyer’s challenges. What to say: “I hear that a lot. Internet marketing is a specialized area that’s evolving so rapidly, it’s hard to keep up.”

You might have to move through the first three steps more than once. Eventually, as the threats to your buyer’s ego begin to dissipate, you can move on.

Advance. Don’t dwell on the threats; leave them behind and refocus on the benefits of moving forward. Get your prospects thinking about how much better life will be when they start making progress toward their goal – with your help, of course.

In the real world, these conversations will be more involved. They require insight, empathy and intuition. Also, they must be used in a spirit of absolute integrity. If buyers suspect you’re not being completely honest, they’ll end up feeling betrayed.

And not every buyer will open up to you. Sometimes the nature of the sale prevents it – for example, one-and-done transactional sales. And some buyers just aren’t willing to share, no matter what you do. But when you can get your buyers to open up, the benefits are enormous. Not only can you serve them better, but you create a deep bond of trust with your buyer.

Michael Boyette is the executive editor of Rapid Learning Institute and editor of the “Top Sales Dog Blog.” Michael has also authored 10 books on a variety of subjects for publishers such as Simon & Schuster and Dutton and Holt. Contact Michael via email at or connect via Twitter

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