Kairos and the Breakthrough Move

Many sales people reasonably seek the one phrase/question/ tactic that will close the sale.They want the order right now; they have a sense of urgency. Does this Holy Grail of selling exist? Perhaps implicitly, they are seeking Kairos.

Kairos (??????) is an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment. It underlies the popular maxim: “I would rather be lucky than smart.” How do we engagekairos in the selling process? We can strike – the iron is hot – when the fundamentals are favorable; when we meet the closing conditions.

The closing conditions arethe conditions which, when met, result in the sale. We can view the closing conditions as glasses. Imagine the prospect with a number of glasses on her desk. Each glass stands for a decision-making criterion – e.g. reputation, ROI, etc. The prospect won’t make a decision, until all the glasses are filled. One necessary glass is named: “watch my back”. The prospect won’t typically buy until convinced we will watch her back – which explains the challenge of a 1 call close.

How do we learn the closing conditions? By asking great thought questions, including: “What keeps you up at night?”.  Will a new prospect willingly share this “inside” information – making Kairos possible? They will, when we “earn the right” to a serious conversation.

If we were to stipulate:

  • too many salespeople sell without asking thought questions, to aim their presentation, then
  • the next biggest problem would be: asking questions, without “earning the right”.

We earn the right by making a material difference obvious. A material difference is a difference so strong it commands a change in prospect behavior. The best material differences both:

  • improve an essential metric – e.g. we can deliver in ½ the time and
  • meet deep emotional needs; for example: “I get to keep my job.”

“Making the material difference obvious” means proving to the level of skepticism we encounter. Some combination of logic, trial, introductions, case histories, economic justifications and testimonials usually satisfies this criterion. “Making it obvious” is usually the weakest part of the selling process.

Kairos occurs at the intersection of urgent prospect need and our obvious material differences. An effective salesperson must be sensitive to this decisive strategic moment, where Kairos becomes visible through buying signals:

  • commitments to greater engagement ; e.g. introducing us to other decision-makers
  • asking us thoughtful questions
  • subtle body language – an important reason we want to sell “belly to belly”

Ideally we foment and recognize this intersection, creating Kairos. The breakthrough move creates Kairos. It takes:

  • pre-meeting research and
  • obvious material difference to
  • convince the prospect to share inside information
  • we then integrate the inside information with our obvious material difference, tailoring it to the circumstances, creating the breakthrough move

In effect, we“enter the moment” – creatinganidea customized to the prospect’s situation – catalyzing and engaging Kairos. Without training in breakthrough moves, we might just leave money on the table – the untappedKairos.

Consider this example of embracing Kairos:

A business owner sees an opportunity, after a vendor presentation. He asks the vendor: “is this how you usually sell?” The vendor acknowledges this, is pleased with the sales approach. The business owner comments: “it wasn’t effective.” He later calls the vendors and suggests the vendor hire him to teach selling skills. The vendor asks:

  1. Have you done this before for anyone in my industry? No.
  2. Do you have any testimonials? No.
  3. Have you done this for anyone? No.
  4. Do you have any curriculum to share with me? No.
  5. Then what makes you think you can do this?

The business owner’s selling ideas were so compelling; the vendor invited him out to make a sales call, to observe the selling context. After an hour of observation, he entered the conversation and asked 3 questions, closing the sale. Shortly thereafter, the vendor hired the business owner to teach selling skills.

 There was Kairos in the air that day. Closing the sale for the vendor launched the business owner on a new career – as a sales trainer and consultant. The business owner often wonders what would have happened, if he didn’t close the sale that day – if the vendor’s customer wasn’t ready to make a decision.

  One learning from this experience – I was the business owner – is:

  • we can make Kairos happen more frequently, by filling our pipeline with great opportunity
  • providing the opportunity is activated by making a material difference obvious.