When starting a conversation with a prospect, where do you actually start? I’m not referring to a prospecting or cold call here, but to the business conversation we have around discovery, demo, presentation and decision. Where do we start? Where should we start?

When I observe or review client meetings, I notice that sales reps often start this conversation around the gaps, or areas of disagreement. Outside of sales, in the rest of the world, you will often witness the same thing. Two people discussing politics, economics, college football, music, or any other subject will usually start with areas of disagreement, and focus on attempting to convert the other’s thinking.

That default approach comes from the false thinking that OUR agenda as the salesperson is the dominant element in the conversation. It isn’t. The dominant element of any healthy sales interaction is the client’s agenda, not our own. The correct starting point to a healthy client conversation is to start on common ground, things we already agree on, and build on that if possible. Even more specifically, finding the common ground of the client’s pain is the bullseye here, because it will quickly qualify or disqualify the prospect as a viable client.

So if you are planning out your client conversations (which you ABSOLUTELY should be doing) your starting point should be confirming agreement on the problem/pain you are trying to solve. Until you have that, you are standing on quicksand. A solid agreement on the pain is the strong foundation to a possible overall agreement and sale.

I work with a lot of advertising companies. Over the course of working with them, I’ve always seen dramatic improvements in efficiency when we anchor our client conversations around confirming the problem and getting them to agree.  I call this the “Sawyer Statement” in homage to a past colleague who framed it in a really great way.

“Mr Prospect, I see the challenge as _________, Even if we agree on nothing else today, can we agree on that?”

There are two possible outcomes from a statement like that:

1) The client will NOT agree. In which case they will either clarify their perception of the challenge/problem/issue, or they will deny the existence of an issue. In this scenario, you are going to have a very hard time moving forward and likely need to disqualify.

2) The client will agree. In this scenario, you have found common ground, and while it is possible there will be disagreements in exactly how to solve the problem, or other details, you are at least aligned on the mission and you will be able to refer back to that as you work towards an agreement.

Start with finding common ground around the pain, and the path to disqualifying or winning the sale becomes far more clear.