It is easy to understand why some, especially in business, don’t like hypotheticals, they want to deal with facts, and tangible things that impact their business. Many view hypotheticals as just a distraction from things they need to deal in the real world. But it is precisely because it is a distraction, something that takes them away from the challenges they are dealing with that make hypotheticals a good tool for sellers.
Often, especially early in discovery, it takes a bit of an effort to pull back the layers and get to the substantive issues that can impact a prospects business, due to previous “abuse” by lesser sellers that preceded you, prospects may be a bit guarded. They may be reluctant to share key information that could actually help you formulate the right plan for them. A bigger challenge can be to take them in a direction they had not considered, may have misconceptions about, or areas they have avoided due to perceived risk, even if we do see it as such, the prospect is driving this process.
Hypotheticals allow you to engage around these areas without the associated risk. Some sellers, firm in their conviction that they have a great “solution” for the prospect, will ignore the buyer’s reluctance, hoping the strength of their solution will prevail. It may, but only if the prospect is open to the topic, but if not, as is the case for most buyers, their solution does not see the light of day, and it’s all for not. Framing the discussion in a hypothetical, especially a hypothetical outside the company, allows they buyer to tip their tows in the water without the sense of commitment of a head on question presentation. They don’t have to own a hypothesis, the sellers does, if they don’t agree, no harm, if it starts to resonate, all the better.
Hypotheticals are also a great way to get people to think outside their current lane. This is especially powerful if you are dealing with a buyer who has traveled all alone the first “57% of their buying journey”. By the time they get to you (I know you think you got to them), they have firm impressions if not opinions or more; to change their direction, to get them to take an alternate path to the one they are down, you’re much better off using hypothetical than facts. This is not to say we ignore the facts, but if they are not willing to have the discussion, the facts as you see them may or will not see the light of day. Starting them off with a hypothetical allows them to step outside their lane without all the associated risk.
Hypotheticals will get the prospect to share facts (pains if you like that type of thing), you otherwise would not have discovered. One of mu favourites is to ask a prospect a forward looking hypothetical. Placing the scenario into the future allows them to escape the shackles of today, and go to a happier place in the future, a future that is sunny and bright. I start by asking:
“I am curious Julie, if we were meeting here, 18 months from now, and you were happily telling me that your team had hit a Grand Slam, what would that look like?”
It may take them a minute to get going, as they start their journey to feeling what a Grand Slam feels like, but if you don’t interrupt, they will get going, and tell you all the things they want to be real 18 months from now. You’ll be amazed what they will share, as long as you let them. When they have shared their vision of a Grand Slam, I follow with:
“That’s a great vision Julie, and I can see why that would indeed be a Grand Slam; so help me understand why we are not there now?”
And that is when they will share with you all the things they see being in their way. I find that they usually share a number of things I have a “solution” for. This is when we move from the hypothetical to the real world, to the sale.