The PROS Sales System

The P-R-O-S Sales System is a simple, yet powerful model for meeting the most important needs of your prospects – their psychological needs. P-R-O-S achieves four things few other programs can; it helps prospects:

1. Feel safe and comfortable talking to you
2. Trust that you understand them and have something relevant and valuable to offer
3. Mentally sort through options and self-discover your value
4. Feel safe taking the next step

Until people pass through each of these psychological levels, the chances are slim that they will buy from you.

The PROS System is different from every other sales system in one very important way. It’s not about you as the salesperson educating or convincing the buyer. It’s about the buyer educating and convincing themselves. You are the facilitator of self-discovery, an enabler, a resource, and a thought partner.

Your role is more “ears” than mouthpiece. It’s not about delivering a stellar presentation, it’s about asking good questions, listening to the customer and using their context to develop relevant solutions.

There are four primary elements of the PROS System:

1. Protection
2. Relevance
3. Options
4. Step

These correspond to the psychological needs we mentioned above. Here’s what the PROS system looks like from the prospect’s perspective:

What I (the prospect) want from you (the seller)

P (Protection): Protect me and help me feel safe and comfortable talking to you

R (Relevance): Help me see how you are relevant and valuable

O (Options): Help me evaluate my options and differentiate yours from the others

S (Step): Show me the way forward and make it easy for me to take the next step

The PROS System uses a variety of psychological tools and techniques in order to achieve these objectives. For example, Social Proof, Comparisons, Truth Frames and Credible Questions. These are shown on the model in green.

The System

P – Protection

When you begin a conversation with someone who doesn’t know you, their first response is one of self-protection. Likely as not, they are unaware of this because it’s happening at a subconscious level. This is your old brain at work. The old brain’s function is self-preservation. It’s leftover from a world where giant predators with enormous appetites were looking to snack on your body parts.

Today that prospect sitting on the other side of the desk is going through the same process. At a subconscious level he’s thinking “Am I in danger?” Should I fight or flee?” Even though there is typically no rational reason for the fear, the old brain is still hard at work doing its job. The nature of the fear has changed from one of physical safety to one of emotional safety, but the fear response is still there.

Your job, is to recognize this emotional (non-rational) response and make it easier for people to feel they can trust you. How do you that?

First step: make yourself safe.

Did you ever see any of the Discovery Channel Shows about animals fighting? They puff up and try to look as large and intimidating as possible. That’s what you’d do too if you were going into battle. Building a trusting space for the prospect means you do just the opposite. You:

  • Respect their personal space
  • Smile in your eyes
  • Look directly at the person around the eyes but not into the eyes (no glaring)
  • Open trusting posture – open palms
  • Sideways tilt of the head
  • Active listening. Be Quiet! Because business is conducted via conversations, another type of personal space has developed. It is the auditory space around you when you talk. The guideline is this:”When the other person talks, you remain quiet. (more on listening)

Second Step: give the old brain time to calm down.

The old brain is wired to respond to threats. The combination of the above behaviors along with a few minutes of processing time will help the prospect’s old brain calm down. Simply give them time to get used to you, the way you sound, the way you move, the way you look. Respect the old brain’s routine and need to evaluate and respond.

Use this time to ask questions that help establish a “we” space and build a connection. If you have friends or colleagues in common, you might ask about them. “How did you meet Rick? Or How long have you known Rick?” You might ask: How long have you been working for x company? If you knew they had only been there a short while, you might ask “How does x company compare with y company?

The focus is not so much the specific questions you’re asking as it is to clear the Protection hurdle and begin to make a connection with the prospect.

R – Relevance

The second stage of the conversation is where you demonstrate your relevance. You move past the small talk and into a conversation that further develops the “connection” and moves it to a higher level. You’ve already established trust, now it’s time to establish relevance and credibility.

Credibility is an important aspect of success in sales. But it’s not something you claim or broadcast. “Look at me. I know x, y and z. I’ve done a, b, and c.“ This is not how it works. Credibility is about perception, the customer’s perception of your credibility. And the more you talk about how smart you are or how successful you are, the more you tend to have just the opposite effect. The guard goes back up and you lose any good will and connection established earlier.

You establish credibility as much as possible before the meeting (we’ll talk about that in more detail later) so that you won’t feel the need to “go there” in the meeting. And you use credibility questions that do double duty – they show you “know your stuff” and they get the customer engaged.

First step: Provide 3rd party proof points.

Begin with a reference to a credible, external resource that shows you have at least a little insight into the customer’s challenges and opportunities. These external “proof points” perform double duty – they provide social proof and they are good conversation starters and ways to get the customer engaged.

  • A recent Forrester Study noted that……..
  • An article in …….. talked about……
  • Other customers in your sector are telling us…..

Second step: Engage the customer and get them thinking.

Now that you’ve established a general frame of reference, it’s time to engage the customer and find out their specific experience in this area. After you mention the external source, you might then ask:

  • What has been your experience with…..
  • Is this true for you?
  • How are you handling …..?

Third step: Dig deeper

After you’ve opened the frame and gotten the prospect talking about their world, continue with more questions that get to their specific objectives.

  • You mentioned earlier…… Tell me more about that.
  • I’m curious….. how are you addressing……

O – Options

In the previous stage you will have collected valuable intel about the prospect’s situation – both in terms of what they are trying to achieve and the challenges they face and how your product or service might be relevant.

In the Options Stage, you’re ready to talk about potential solutions. Not just your solution, but different ways they might go about solving the problem or capitalizing on the opportunity.

Thus far you’ve mentioned very little about your specific product or service. You’ve demonstrated your credibility and relevance. You got them thinking about potential solutions. You have in essence, created a responsive space for your pitch.

But you don’t just jump immediately into an “I have what you need” presentation. Remember, PROS is all about the prospect self-discovering your value. You enable that by presenting options and letting them decide.

First step: Review/Restate problem or opportunity

It’s important to make sure you correctly understand the problem or challenge. The best way to do that is to repeat it back to the customer.

If I understand you correctly, you want to….. but you’re concerned about……

Second step: Outline potential options

Now it’s time to outline the options. Start the discussion with the option or options you feel they are least likely to respond to. This immediately moves them mentally forward to the next one. If I had a proactive decision maker who was clearly ready to tackle the problem, I might lead with: “One option of course is to do nothing and hope for the best.” If I had a person who was clearly concerned with price, I might say, “One option is xyz (the most expensive one).

Put the options you don’t want them to focus on in the middle (like your competitors) because this is the spot they’re least likely to remember.

The second to last option is an option like yours, but missing some important elements (important as defined by the customer).

Present your option last, in the primary memory spot. Start with “How about this? What if you were to…..” Then pause for a few minutes, give them time to think, then follow with more questions that keep them engaged in the discussion.

S – Step

At this stage of the process, the prospect feels comfortable with you and trusts you. They see the value in what you’re proposing, but may not yet be ready to say yes, particularly if it is a big ticket item. Your focus here is to move them toward that yes.

You want to give them a sense of what it will be like once they become a customer. You want to get them involved in a process they will feel compelled to complete.

How do you do that?

First step: Make it simple and easy to take the next step.

Give them a sense of the process of doing business together. If we were to move forward today, I would do ……, then you would……, then ……The focus here is to remove the unknowns and chart a clear and simple path forward.

Second step: Give them a “taste”.

Often it takes multiple occurrences or experiences with a company, product or service before we are comfortable saying yes. This is part of a psychological concept called convincer strategy. It simply means, the number of times I need to hear about something in order to be “convinced” to try it.

Car dealers often let people “borrow” a car for the weekend. They do this because they know that the odds of people not purchasing the car after the free weekend are slim. The “loss leader” concept of marketing works with the same psychology – give them something to get them “hooked.”

Think about how you can use this concept to gently move the prospect forward. A “free trial” perhaps or a “pilot project” or a free consulting session.

Third step: Get commitment to continue.

Your focus in the sale should be at the very least to get a continuance. That means that you have an opportunity to continue the discussion. And it’s not just the notion of perhaps getting together later, but a real commitment to action.

  • How about if I check in again with you in a week?
  • So my deliverables include emailing you the ….. report

The next step “action” may be simply another conversation. It may be involvement of or review of the product or service by other people in the firm. The important part is that it is a continuance – it is movement forward, an actionable next step, and another opportunity for you to add value.