We’ve all seen the classic scene between Tom Cruise’s lieutenant Kaffee and Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Jessep in the movie “A Few Good Men.” Cruise: “I want the truth!” Nicholson: “You can’t handle the truth!”

Can you handle the truth? Ask yourself this: When talking with a new prospect, do I shy away from uncovering the full truth? If the answer is anything but no, ask yourself why. Maybe it’s because you don’t want to make the prospects uncomfortable or put them on the spot. But more likely you’re afraid of what you might hear, or not hear, that’s different from what you want to hear. This is counterproductive. If, when you finally get in front of a fresh piece of new business, you are overcome by the waves of possibility or blinded by the piles of crisp, clean cash you imagine piling up, wake up! Open your eyes and stay focused on uncovering details about the prospect and the business and the issues the prospect is struggling with. In other words, focus on the truth. This is the truth that will help you best manage the conversation and turn the prospect into a client.

One key to a successful meeting is to be disciplined about how you use your time, energy and resources. To do this, it’s essential to understand where the prospect is in the process, as follows:

Now! The prospect sees a compelling reason to change, has a reasonable but aggressive timeline, and can clearly articulate why they want to do business with you. 

Not now. The prospect is definitely interested in new ideas and is willing to consider making a change at some point, just not right away.

We must detach from the end game - the sale - and focus on helping and understanding the prospect.

Maybe never. The prospect is just kicking the tires and may well be using you as leverage with his current provider.

The best way to quickly figure out which category a new prospect falls into is to ask appropriate, probing questions. Slow down for a minute, take a breath and put on your friendly consultant hat. By questioning, listening and reflecting, help the new prospect understand what they really want, identify the prospect’s challenges and options, figure out the next steps, and highlight the pros and cons of making a decision (or not).

If you are supportive and encouraging, chances are good that the prospect will open up and get over their natural fear of making a bad decision or being exposed or manipulated. A prospect who withholds information, or maybe even withholds the truth, never reaches a clear decision and ends up doing nothing.

Switching to this consultative approach starts by reframing what we do as “facilitating a conversation” versus “selling a product.” To get the truth we need from the prospect, we must detach from the end game—the sale—and focus on helping and understanding the prospect through questioning and listening. This doesn’t mean we don’t want the business, but it does mean that we can’t want the business more than our prospect wants his or her problem solved. So how do you know what questions to ask? Start with the following five to help you figure out if your prospect is ready for action, in the decision stage, or just kicking the tires. These questions also will help you and the prospect identify the next steps.

Why change? “I’m curious, why change what you’re currently doing?”

Why now? “Is there anything in particular that’s driving you to consider a change now?”

What matters most? “Based on all that you shared with me and heard from me, what’s most important to you?”

Who else cares? “Is there anyone else who cares about these things? Who else has a stake in this?”

What did you like? “Based on our conversation, is there anything that stood out, that was compelling?”

A consultative sales professional’s goal is to understand the critical issues and decision points early in the sales process. Do this by being less tolerant of ambiguity and by digging deeper to figure out if there is a compelling reason to keep talking. Questioning to get through the prospect’s natural defensiveness may be uncomfortable or feel risky at first, even for the most seasoned professionals. Get over it. Not only do you want the truth, you can handle it. Uncover the truth by understanding where the prospect is in the decision-making process and by using key questions early on and consistently throughout to ensure that you waste less time, shorten the sales cycle and close more high-quality new business.