The Essentials of Anticipatory Sales

The Essentials of Anticipatory Sales

Everyone is accustomed to the traditional dynamic of selling. A customer desires something and, from there, someone else sells them a product or service to address that desire. Great salespeople convert a want into a need. 

But, with technology transforming both ends of the transaction, it’s essential to take a far more proactive view of selling. Think of it as pre-active selling, taking action on future known events and problems, allowing you to identify better and often bigger opportunities for both the customer and you.

That’s what I refer to as anticipatory selling. It offers enormous opportunity for those who recognize that the very nature of sales is shifting and, further, that there are strategies to leverage that change.

Under-Ask, Then Under-Sell

An age-old scenario has traditionally hindered sales. Specifically, customers have a problem they are trying to solve, and the vast majority of sales professionals react by “under-asking,” meaning that they will only offer a product or service solution to the stated problem. As you well know from personal experience, they end up “under-delivering,” effectively matching the customer’s stated parameters but missing the bigger opportunity to exceed expectations by identifying and solving the real problem. Anticipatory sales professionals anticipate that the problem the customer has is often not the real underlying problem at all. It starts with an approach that’s far more consultative in nature.

For instance, if a customer says he needs a new oven, an anticipatory sales professional will peel back the onion a bit more by asking questions to better understand the overall circumstances. Does the buyer do a lot of cooking of a particular type, such as baking or broiling? Do they cook for themselves or a large family? Do they have sufficient time at home to monitor cooking or are they forced to prepare meals on the fly?

These and other questions like them can help pinpoint what a customer’s genuine needs are, something that many people when shopping don’t actually know themselves. And, in turn, that can open up solutions that are far more beneficial to the customer than he or she may have first expected.

The Value of a Time Travel Audit

One stumbling block in an age of technological transformation can impact both sides of a sales transaction. At one end, a customer may be awkward with new types of technology and related products. So too can the same hold true for a salesperson who, ironically enough, is trying to convince someone to invest in a product or service with which they themselves are unfamiliar or uncomfortable.

Here, the value of a time travel audit, one of the core components of my Anticipatory Organization Model, can prove essential. A time travel audit is a sort of chronology-focused assessment. In effect, what is the mindset of your customer: past, present or future? (A quick look at the personal tools he or she uses can tell a great deal, such as someone still using a flip phone.) On the other hand, is he or she an early adopter of new technology, such as the latest smartphone or smartwatch?

Conduct the same sort of audit with yourself and your sales force. It’s important to know where you are—for instance, a salesperson with a past mindset, someone who thinks the good old days are behind and new technology is only for those crazy young people will have a difficult time selling to a customer who has a future mindset and is an early adopter.

By asking a few questions, an anticipatory salesperson will know the mindset of the customer and adjust what they are saying so that they jump into the mindset timeframe of the customer. For instance, if a prospect seems locked in the past, suggest: “Yes, I agree all this new technology can be intimidating, but I have a product here that has me really excited and it’s very easy to use. Can I show it to you so you can get a sense of what it can do for you?” With that, you’re getting their permission to move them into the future.

The time travel audit allows everyone involved in a potential sale to communicate at a higher level and without preconceived biases. Further, it lends greater confidence to the salesperson explaining these sorts of new options.

Conduct a Pre-Mortem

Anticipatory sales boil down to taking those steps to better anticipate what a customer needs and, from there, preparing to address any relevant issues or concerns. This is where a pre-mortem comes in. Unlike a post-mortem, which is an examination after the fact, a pre-mortem is focused on anticipating objections, problems and issues before they occur—and, from there, pre-solving them before the sales process begins.

That opens up all sorts of possibilities. For one thing, you as the salesperson are ready to counter any sort of misgivings or concerns a customer may have. That boosts the likelihood of a sale. Further, a pre-mortem can raise issues in advance that the customer may have never considered. That, in turn, can open up the possibility of a bigger and better sale that best meets the customer’s overall needs—now and in the future.

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  • Nirvik Mahin

    Salespeople should collect more data about their clients to predict their next move. This will enable them to anticipate a buyer’s next move, and create products that will influence their decision making process as they move forward.

  • Lucie Eliza

    The right tools and analytics are the ones that make a sales team smarter.

  • Tanya Mills

    Companies must figure out who are their potential buyers and learn from their behaviour to impact their final decision before making a purchase.

  • Liam Currell

    Anticipatory sales enable to strengthen relationships with customers to successfully neutralize competitive threats.

  • Jessie Elliott

    By learnning to know buyers, salespeople can anticipate the decisions they will make.

  • Michael Hawkins


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Daniel Burrus

Innovation Expert

Daniel Burrus is considered one of the world’s leading futurists on global trends and innovation. The New York Times has referred to him as one of the top three business gurus in the highest demand as a speaker. He is a strategic advisor to executives from Fortune 500 companies, helping them to accelerate innovation and results by develop game-changing strategies based on his proven methodologies for capitalizing on technology innovations and their future impact. His client list includes companies such as Microsoft, GE, American Express, Google, Deloitte, Procter & Gamble, Honda, and IBM. He is the author of seven books, including The New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller Flash Foresight, and his latest book The Anticipatory Organization. He is a featured writer with millions of monthly readers on the topics of innovation, change and the future and has appeared in Harvard Business Review, Wired, CNBC, and Huffington Post to name a few. He has been the featured subject of several PBS television specials and has appeared on programs such as CNN, Fox Business, and Bloomberg, and is quoted in a variety of publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Fortune, and Forbes. He has founded six businesses, four of which were national leaders in the United States in the first year. He is the CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients profit from technological, social and business forces that are converging to create enormous, untapped opportunities. In 1983 he became the first and only futurist to accurately identify the twenty technologies that would become the driving force of business and economic change for decades to come. He also linked exponential computing advances to economic value creation. His specialties are technology-driven trends, strategic innovation, strategic advising and planning, business keynote presentations.

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