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Shift Response vs. Support Response

3 min readMarch 9, 2021

You’re in the midst of an initial sales conversation with a buyer.

You think things are going well. You feel like you’re making a solid connection. Then suddenly you aren’t and you don’t know why.

One of the easiest ways to derail a connection with a buyer is to inadvertently make the conversation all about you. Sellers do this all the time without realizing what they’re doing. They believe that they are establishing a common ground with a buyer. When, in fact, they are throwing cold water on the connection.

We’ve all been guilty of this.

Here’s what happens. And how to avoid it.

So, let’s go back to your conversation with a buyer. The buyer is sharing a story. (It could be a personal story or a business story.)

In this case, the buyer is telling about recent family vacation during which everything went wrong. It started when he, his wife and three kids got to their destination hotel at midnight after an all-day flight. And, the front desk clerk said that there was no record of his reservation.

You can just imagine how that felt.

You find yourself saying, “That had to be horrible. I know just how you felt, something similar happened to me on vacation last summer. We got to the hotel and…”

You probably believe that what you’re doing is establishing common ground with the buyer by talking about how you’ve shared the same experience. However, you’d be wrong. What’s really happening is that you shifted the focus of the conversation from the buyer to you.

It’s like you told the buyer, “That’s an interesting story. But mine is even more interesting.”

That type of response is called a Shift response. As in, it shifts the focus of the conversation from the other person to you.

Even though you believe that what you’re attempting to do is empathize with the buyer and his situation, the opposite is happening. When you had the opportunity to ask questions and really understand what happened to the buyer, you chose to make the conversation about you.

This is the wrong choice.

The better response would be what is called a Support response. In a Support response you’d say something like, “That had to be horrible. How did you feel when the clerk said you had no reservation? Were you able to get your rooms that night? How did your vacation turn out?”

With a Support Response, you’re showing real concern and empathy. You’re asking questions to understand in greater depth what happened to the buyer. You’re keeping the focus of the conversation on the buyer and not drawing attention to yourself. Your Support response is a trigger for a more in-depth conversation.

Now, let’s see how this works in a sales conversation.

The buyer says that they are having a problem; they can’t do XYZ with their existing service provider. As the seller, you think you are being helpful by responding with, “Yes, we see this all the time. A lot of our buyers have had the same problem and use our solution to help them do XYZ.”

See what you just did? You thought you were being helpful by saying that you’d helped other customers solve a similar problem. However, what happened instead is that you shifted the focus of the conversation from the buyer to you before you took the opportunity to more fully understand the problem the buyer was experiencing.

A key source of value that you, as a seller, can provide to your buyer is to make them feel heard and understood. A Shift response makes that very difficult for you to do.

Instead of being impatient and jumping into talking about yourself, default to a Support response. “I understand that can be frustrating. What is preventing you from doing XYZ with your existing system?”

Shift response or Support response. One leads to a dead end. The other is a trigger for more in-depth discovery and connection.

It’s your choice.