Riding the Shark: Vanquishing Fear in Selling. Part 1 of 4

photo by: Steve GarnerThis is the first of a four-part blogpost series. In Part 2, we’ll discuss the 4 types of fear. In Part 3, I’ll go over how to fend off the sharks of fear. And in Part 4, you’ll learn how to shark-proof your market and vanquish fear altogether.

There are many ways to think about sales and selling. You can focus on value propositions, sales processes, sales management, motivation, techniques, and models. I’d like to focus on something else that’s common in sales – fear.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back in the Market 

Remember the first time you saw the movie Jaws? The tale of a giant shark tapped into a primal human fear. The follow-on, Jaws 2, raised the ante with one of the most famous taglines in movie history – “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.”

Who could look at the beach again without some kind of shiver? Selling has some of that same flavor. We’ve all had some negative experience in selling – and like Jaws, it keeps some sort of control over us ever after. “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the market…” is all too real.

All kinds of selling involve some fear. Some forms of selling involve more fear than others.  Fear comes in many flavors; the form it takes varies by industry, by products being sold, and of course by the individual salesperson. There are multiple ways to deal with fears. None is always better than the others; and often more than one approach is necessary to overcome fear.

Fear is the Enemy

But with all this diversity around fear, one thing is unambiguously clear: fear is the enemy. Fear destroys sales. It separates you from your customers, makes you behave in narrow ways, lowers the value you can add, and in a thousand ways cuts your sales effectiveness.

Some may disagree.

  • Some say, “Fear helps keep me on edge, sharp, focused.” But if you require fear to keep you sharp and focused, then you lack any positive customer-based motivation. That means you’re sub optimizing – for your customers, and for yourself.
  • Some say, “Fear keeps me on my toes, always looking around for new trends and issues.” But if you seek new trends and issues only to assuage your own fears, then simply feeling comfortable will make you oblivious to trends and issues.
  • Some say, “Fear gives me adrenaline, energy, passion, things that my customers pick up on and love.” Note that drug addicts and alcoholics also believe that they are flat, boring and uninteresting unless hopped up. Are you different?

No. Fear, in all cases, is the enemy. If you’re fearful, you’re not selling as well as you can. And if you’re not selling as well as you can, someone else will. And you should be afraid of that. (And if you are, you increase the odds of precisely the thing you fear, because fear of fear is just as destructive as any other kind).

Unless you can ride the shark – vanquish your fears – you will always be sub-optimal and at risk – always afraid to go back in the water. It’s a lousy way to live.

It also doesn’t have to be that way. That’s what this four-blogpost series is about.

In the second post, The Four Sharks, I’ll tell you where to look for fear in sales. The first rule in shark-fighting (unlike Fight Club) is – we talk about Sharks. I’ll go through the Four Fears – the Big Sharks that account for about 95% of our fears. That should give you an acute sense of pain for just “where it hurts most” in terms of your fears, and help you zero in the issues unique to you, in your business, in your industry.

In the third post, Riding the Shark, I’ll go through solutions.  There are four of them, but they don’t match up one-on-one with the Four Sharks. Instead, they are comprehensive, and offer differing ways to fend off “shark attacks,” making you less vulnerable and more able to sell correctly.

In the last post, Shark-Proofing Your Market, I’ll write about what you need to replace fear – to stop being vulnerable to shark attacks altogether. Because you can’t just fight defensive battles all your career – you need to come from a place of security and confidence.

Stay tuned for the next three parts: and I welcome your comments about the subject in the meantime.

Selling to Mr. Spock

Nowhere am I so desperately needed as among a shipload of illogical humans. –Spock in ‘I, Mudd’

Star Trek’s  iconic Mr. Spock was half-Vulcan, half-human. It’s the former we first notice in Spock – Vulcans are governed entirely by logic and rationality, unencumbered by emotions.

But it’s the latter that takes Spock from caricature to character. Spock mirrors our own schizophrenic, rational / emotional natures. He is the sock puppet for humanity, allowing us to look at ourselves afresh.

Of course, you wouldn’t know that from looking at economists, strategy consultants – and much of the B2B sales literature. They suggest that people, particularly smart business people, are mostly rational decision makers, persuaded by well-established rules of scientific evidence, logic, and the inexorable rules of mathematics.

In other words – they treat buyers like Vulcans.

But as with Spock, the truth for buyers is far more complex.

My Brain’s Bigger than Yours

In recent weeks I’ve spent a lot of time with B2B sales organizations. I’m reminded of how much businesspeople have bought – hook, line and sinker – the idea that customers buy through rational decision-making. The economists’ models are live and well in sales training programs.

Feeding the ratiocinating Vulcan side of buyers is necessary. But it is almost never sufficient. The true role of the intellect in B2B buying is as follows: Buyers scan options rationally, but they make their final selection with their emotions – then rationalize that decision with their brains.

The cognitive role in buying is vastly over-stated. Brains don’t rule. Spock is not 100% Vulcan. Neither is your customer.

Your Customer is Not a Vulcan

Question: What do the following things have in common? Value propositions; challenger selling; strategic fit; problem definition; pricing; negotiation; objection-handling.

Answer: In B2B sales, they usually center around analytical economic value, assuming that the rational resolution of each issue is the key to helping a buyer achieve a decision. Look for these buzz-phrases; clients buy results, you’ve gotta show the bottom line, the key is to demonstrate value, and so forth.

Nothing wrong with that list; but what’s missing are the things that actually trigger a buyer’s decision – not just justify it. Those include, for starters:

  • confidence that the seller can deliver what (s)he promises, and
  • the resulting ability to sleep through the night
  • integrity
  • character
  • commitment to principle
  • a long-term relationship focus
  • a sense that the seller has the buyer’s interest at heart
  • the seller’s ability and willingness to defer gratification
  • vulnerability of the seller
  • a set of values beyond economic value
  • a sense that the seller is a safe haven for conversation.

In short – trust in the seller.

Your customer is not a Vulcan. Your customer is Spock – partly human.

The Cognitive/Emotive Disconnect

I spend my time with smart, complex-business, B2B professionals. Every single one of them will acknowledge the importance of the above list. Yet every one of them lives in an organization where 90% of attention is focused on the buyer’s Vulcan side, doing slide decks, spreadsheets, valuations and scenarios.

In the real B2B world, all those rational items are the (necessary) justifications for customers looking to rationalize their (emotional) decisions. But they aren’t the decision-driver.

Buyers often (rationally) screen sellers. But they quickly form favorites, unconsciously, and usually before the sellers have even had a chance to address the issue. All the Vulcan-targeted approaches are aimed either at forming a buyer’s opinion (too late, already done), or changing a buyer’s preformed opinion (already set in concrete).  It rarely works.

Proof? Ask yourself how many times your customers failed to see the brilliant case you had made, because they were somehow biased against you. You tried to sell to the Vulcan in your Spock-customer; but that human side kept rearing its ugly head.

How Complex B2B Buying Really Works

Very few buyers will tell their boss, “Gee, I guess I bought from those guys because, you know, I really trust them.” That’s career suicide. Buyers need the air-cover (and, to be fair, the reality check) of a rationality-based argument. It’s our job as sellers to deliver that rationale to them, bullet-proof and logic-tight as it can be.

Because in business, we all need to pretend we’re Vulcans.

But deep down, we all know what’s really going on. People buy with the heart, and rationalize with the mind. Brains are a necessary but not a sufficient condition. Being right, by itself, is a vastly over-rated proposition. Being right too soon just pisses people off. All else equal, a trust-based sell will always beat a rationality-based sell.

The truth is, our emotional instincts are extremely powerful (not to mention frequently accurate). We make our decisions first based on those emotions, and then struggle to justify them according to the rules of the game.  Unlike Spock, we lead with the human, and bring in our Vulcan sides as a check.

Many, many of my clients say: “That may be true for lots of people, but not for my [boss] [client] [customer]. They’re completely Vulcan, data-based, just-give-me-the-facts people. You’ve got to treat them like Vulcans, because they demand it.”  But the fact that they demand to be treated like Vulcans is 95% about ego – and that’s their human side.

Ironically, all this is especially true for those who believe the world works on brains. They are prone to buy even more emotionally, because their self-worth is tied up in thinking that emotions don’t matter – which renders them oblivious to their own human decision-making process.

Even if your customer thinks they’re a Vulcan – treat them like Spock. Address the human side – then give them Vulcan-food to justify their feelings.

It is curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want.  – Mr. Spock in ‘Errand of Mercy’

Trust-based Selling, the Advanced Course

Hand The Ball Over, See What HappensI had lunch the other day with Jack S., a client from 5 years ago. At the time, Jack managed a sales organization in the reinsurance business. (If you think insurance is complicated, try understanding reinsurance!).

Since then, the industry has consolidated; Jack works for one of the top three reinsurance brokerage firms. His job has evolved into a sort of senior advisor  to the 100 or so consultative salespersons. As we talked, I realized he is operating at the very top of the trusted advisory, trust-based selling world. See what you think.

Charlie: How do you get asked in to see customers?

Jack: Each salesperson has about 5 clients, and typically at least one is having problems. Since I’ve got deep expertise and experience, and the reps trust me, they invite me in to meet the client.

Charlie: So, you get invited in as an expert? What happens then?

Jack: Yes, the rep typically tells the client I’m some super-expert. They introduce me with a big pitch, my resume, all my qualifications and so forth.  Then they hand it over to me, and that’s when I surprise them.

Charlie: Yes?

Jack: I just ask the client to tell me what’s going on. I can always feel the rep beside me screaming inside his head, “What!? That’s all you’ve got? I pitched you as an expert, where’s your demonstration?”  But I’ve found this works much better.

They can tell pretty quickly that I’m totally paying attention, and that I’m nodding in all the right places. Just a short question or comment from time to time is all I really need to show that I know what I’m talking about, and I always make sure we turn the conversation right back to them.

Charlie: What a concept – open by letting the customer talk!  Any other best practices or tips about how to do that?

Jack: Yes. I frequently ask the rep before we go in to resist their temptation to fill empty spaces in the conversation – to just follow my lead. You know, when you’re trying to sell something, a lull of even half a second in a conversation can feel like an eternity, and you’re worried about filling that gap, keeping the momentum going.

But if you let the customer fill the silence, they almost always will. And they seem to interpret it as permission to go a little further, to tell a little more about the situation.  Which happens to be great – they’re sharing much more with us, and I haven’t said a word.  The rep is often amazed when we leave, “I can’t believe he said that, he’s never talked about that before.”

Charlie: Brilliant. Now, what about failures?  Aren’t there some times where you don’t have a major new insight, you can’t solve the problem?

Jack: You know, I’ve learned there really aren’t any “failures.” Maybe a quarter of the time it turns out that the client is already doing everything they can, I can suggest a tweak or two, but basically they have to just bear down and wait out the situation.

If that’s the case, I just say simply you’re doing the right thing, you’re not missing anything, there is no silver bullet you haven’t found, or at least I haven’t found it either.  And that actually makes them feel better. Because they’ve been fearful and guilty, and I’ve given them permission to feel OK. They could already handle waiting for things to clear up, but they really appreciate the relief that comes from knowing they’ve done what they can.

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I’ve written quite a bit about trust-based selling. Besides the book itself by that title, here’s a good article from a few years ago called Three Strategies for Creating Customer Trust.  As I scanned it after writing Jack’s story, I realized he touches on all three of those strategies.  Jack is really teaching the advanced course.

What Sales Winners Do Differently: Q&A with Mike Schultz

For many years now I have been a contributing editor at RainToday.com, the premier online resource for professional services sales and marketing. Besides a ton of articles, books, special programs, and online learning forums, they occasionally do some seriously good sales research. They have just yesterday come out with their latest, a report called What Sales Winners Do Differently.

What Sellers Winners Do Differently

I sat down with friend Mike Schultz, founder and publisher of the Rain Group, and asked him to headline for Trust Matters readers just what they found out. Have a look, then download the full report, compliments of Rain Group.

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Charlie Green: First, tell us – big picture – what did you research, why, and what did you find?

Mike Schultz: It was pretty quiet in the world of sales approaches for the past 30 years or so. In the last few, however, especially with the popularity of books like The Challenger Sale, there’s been a new vigorous debate about one question:  How should people approach selling these days?

The answers have been all over the place, with wildly divergent ideas and opinions.

To add to the conversation, we asked ourselves, “What are the winners of complex sales doing to win, and what are they doing differently than the sellers that came in second place?”

Charlie: A sensible and forthright question: of whom did you ask it?

Mike: We talked to buyers. We studied more than 700 B-to-B sales (from buyers responsible for $3.1 billion in annual purchases) to find out what the providers they selected did to win their business, and why the providers they didn’t select lost.

What we found is that sellers that win:

  • Connect with buyers as people, and connect the dots between needs and solutions
  • Convince buyers that the ROI is achievable, the risk is worth taking, and that they are the best choice among the available options
  • Collaborate with buyers both in how they behave, and in the sense that they, as sellers, bring ideas and value to the table.

We cover these concepts in depth in the report.

Charlie: OK, let’s unpack this now.  In the report you say, “Winners don’t just sell differently, they sell radically differently, than the sellers who came in second place.” When people make a statement like this, I often find it to be more puff than substance. But when I looked at your data, I thought your statement was quite appropriate.

Rain Survey

Mike: I think you’re referring to this chart. On the left, in dark, are the top 10 factors that most separate the sales winners from second-place finishers. In other words, the buyers reported that these factors represented the greatest gaps between what the winners did versus the second-place finishers.

On the right you see how often the second-place finishers demonstrated the factors on the left in relation to all 42 factors we studied.

Charlie: This chart’s hard to read in the blogpost, but one thing jumps out at you – the top ten reasons the winner won – in dark, on the left-hand chart – ended up really low for those who lost. For example, #2 on the reasons winners won was “collaborated with me.” But the ability to collaborate was way down at #26 for the losers.  And most of the top ten results were more extreme than that!

So, what are some big take-aways?

Mike: Lots, but here are three to start:

First, as you noted, the difference between winners and second-place finishers is stark.

Second, the top two factors demonstrated by the winners are “educated me with new ideas or perspectives” and “collaborated with me.” We looked at 42 factors. Who would have guessed these two would be right at the top? Not us. As you might imagine, we keyed in on them quite a bit to analyze what this told us.

At first blush, they might not seem to go together, actually, but they do. What this tells us is that the seller, themselves, brought value to the table over and above the products and services they had to sell, and over and above the reputation of the company.

Especially in industries where sellers complain about the commoditization of what they sell, the difference between winning and losing lies in large part in how the sellers lead their interactions with buyers.

Third, “understood my needs” and “crafted a compelling solution” appear on this list and also showed up as important factors in a number of other places in the research. As much as some people want to declare solution selling dead, it’s not. Not even close.

Sellers and companies that ignore fundamental solution sales concepts do so at their own peril.

Charlie: Now, I’ve got to ask you; one factor you studied was whether the buyer thought the seller “was trustworthy.” It’s not in this chart. How did the concept of trust show up in the report?

Mike: It’s not in that chart because, for the most part, buyers reported both winners and second-place finishers were trustworthy. It’s not a massive difference between the two groups, but the winner group was, indeed, perceived to be more trustworthy.

Notably, when the second-place finisher wasn’t seen as trustworthy, the buyers reported it as the 8th most important factor for the seller to change in order for the seller to win their business.

We also analyzed the statistical key drivers of buyer satisfaction with the buying process, buyer loyalty, and buyer willingness to refer.

“Was trustworthy” was a key driver of buyer loyalty, and was the #1 key driver of willingness to refer new business to the seller.

Last point, we found that buyers were very tuned in to the concept of minimizing risk. Other factors we studied, aside from the trustworthiness of the seller, related to experience in their industry, experience in the area they had need, whether the seller inspired confidence in the company, how respected the provider was at their organization, and so on.

The factor “was trustworthy” was important on its own, but themes of trust also showed up as important throughout.

Charlie: Can you share with us what some people might believe is important for sales success, but that you found wasn’t as important as the other factors?

Mike: Yes; here are three:

  • People often say to sellers, “Don’t talk too much.” But buyers didn’t really care about this. As long as the seller felt listened to, the airtime taken by the seller was immaterial. How much the seller advocates (talks/educates) and how much they inquire (ask questions) are wholly situational.
  • We tested the importance for the seller of introducing “valuable” ideas versus “new” ideas. You might wonder “splitting hairs?” It’s not; the distinction is amazingly important. If the buyer perceived an idea to be valuable but not new, it wasn’t important for sales success. Buyers don’t need to be validated about something they already knew was a good idea. It’s the newness of the idea or perspective they found important.
  • “Deepened my understanding of my needs” was not typically important. Thus, the ubiquitous advice to diagnose needs shouldn’t be applied everywhere. Situationally it may be warranted, but sellers shouldn’t diagnose as a rule. However, sellers shouldn’t throw out the “needs understanding” baby with the “diagnosis” bathwater. It’s important for sellers to demonstrate they understand the needs, but sellers don’t always need to dig, dig, dig to produce some kind of “ah hah” moment in the needs discovery process.

Charlie: You mentioned the plan is to turn this research into a book. Is there something you can share with us from the research that’s not in the report, but that we might see in the book itself?

Mike: We looked at how opportunities originally arrived on buyers’ radar screens. When the buyer reported they were likely to be loyal to the provider, 22.9% of the time, “a seller brought this opportunity to my attention.”

When the buyer was likely to be a switcher (not loyal), they found out about the opportunity from the seller only 7.8% of the time.

In other words, loyal buyers were about three times more likely to start a buying process because the seller brought something to their attention.

And you’ll like this; the key drivers of buyer likelihood to buy again were all factors related to trust, including confidence in the company, seller professionalism, experience, and, of course, the trustworthiness of the seller as a person.

Charlie: Tell me if I’m hearing this right: greater trust leads to greater openness and receptivity to new ideas; is that what you’re hearing? It surely makes sense from a trust perspective. And it means brilliant ideas alone don’t carry the day – first you’ve got to be listened to.

Mike: That’s right. The data say that the more the buyer trusts, the more likely they’ll be open to a seller’s ideas – both accepting meetings with you to discuss new ideas and opportunities, and eventually moving forward with them. Trust is a huge factor in what is perhaps the greatest opportunity to increase revenue at most companies: the ability of the seller to create their own opportunities and drive their own demand.

That’s pretty powerful.

Charlie: Mike, this is great stuff.  You’ve done a real service here; I can’t wait to dig into the survey itself.

Again, people can get their complimentary download of What Sales Winners Do Differently. Mike, I hope you get a boatload of people reading it.

Mike: Thanks Charlie, I appreciate the opportunity to share it with the Trust Matters readership.

 

Half of What You’ve Learned About Sales is Wrong

Maybe you’ve heard the old line, “Half of advertising dollars are wasted – you just don’t know which half.” Something like that is true in sales – except that you’ve got a much better chance of telling which part to keep.

(Many thanks to Chris Downing and Anthony Iannarino for helping develop this thought).

The Challenge

Take this quiz, based on your own business:

1. I think closing is:

  1. obviously critical to selling
  2. one of the more harmful concepts in sales

2. I think cold-calling is:

  1. a tough, but necessary, and improvable process
  2. to be avoided like the plague

3. I think the customer wants:

  1. a clear value proposition
  2. a relationship
  3. a fast, cheap transaction

4. The critical job of sales management is:

  1. motivation
  2. training
  3. supervision

5. Price should be:

  1. mentioned up front
  2. not mentioned until value is established
  3. not talked about between sophisticated people

Now total your scores: Give 1 point for each a), 2 points for b) and 3 points for c). Now add them up. What does it all mean?

Pretty much nothing, I’m afraid.

It. Simply. Depends.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

We all know this, of course.  B2B is not like B2C. Internal customers are not like external customers. Inside sales is not like external sales. High-ticket items are sold differently than low-price point items. Intangible services are not the same as tangible goods.

We know that.  And yet – an enormous amount of sales advice out there doesn’t make the distinctions.  Here are some examples from page 1 results of Google searches on some terms:

15 Ways to Improve your Closing Ratios.  Probably great advice. For someone. Is it great advice for you? Darned if you can tell by reading the article, because it’s addressed universally.

How to Write a Value Proposition. An excellent article, by an excellent organization. But where does it rank in the scale of importance to your business?

When to Quote Price: Useful information in dealing with “be-backs” (i.e. “We’re just not sure, we’ll be back”). But how important are be-backs if you’re selling systems integration projects?

How to Turn a Relationship Into a Sale. Great advice for an industrial paper business; but do I want the counter guy at Dunkin’ Donuts establishing a relationship with me?

And I could go on; and so could you. I didn’t pick bad articles – those are pretty good ones, some of them excellent. But – they don’t explicitly deal with the relevance of the advice to you.

Fitting Your Size

How, then, to figure out what advice to take?  You might start by characterizing your business across several continuums (continua, if you prefer):

For example, draw five lines (one for each characteristic), connecting the two endpoints:

     a. from frequent to infrequent purchases

     b. from high to low price point

     c. from tangible to intangible goods

     d. from high margins to low margins

     e. from transactional to continuing revenue relationships

Then mark the midpoint for each continuum.

Now – for each issue – on which side of the middle does your business fall?

Now ask yourself – what’s the right answer for the other side of the spectrum? And what’s the right answer for my side? How and why do they differ?

========

A little reflection can go a long way.  If you’re a law firm, and you’ve figured out you need sales training (which you probably do), don’t go hiring sales experts from retail B2C businesses. If you’re selling web-hosting services, you may not need the world’s best advice on building deep relationships.

Another way to put this might be: if something doesn’t feel right to you – your gut may be telling you something valid. Have enough courage to at least ask questions about it.

Don’t just do what someone who wrote about selling tells you. Their advice might be in the “other half” of sales advice – the wrong half for you.

It depends. On you.

Why Experts Are Bad at Sales

Why Experts Are Bad at SalesIf you’re a lawyer, accountant, management consultant, VAR, systems engineer, financial advisor, CRM expert, architect, IT services consultant or even an HR consultant – odds are that you’re ineffective at selling.  That’s the bad news.

The good news is – it isn’t hard to get better.  If you do,  you’ll compete far more effectively against those who haven’t learned the trick. The trick is dialing back the emphasis on expertise.

Trust Sells

Let’s start with the commonsense observation that trust sells – powerfully.  If your customers trust you, many good things follow – higher close rates, lower price sensitivity, greater client loyalty, to name a few.

Trust isn’t one monolithic quality.  In the Trust Equation, we deconstruct trustworthiness into four components – credibility, reliability, intimacy, and low self-orientation.  Data collected over the years (see the Trust Quotient Self Assessment) identify the relative importance of those four factors in creating a perception of trustworthiness.

Trustworthiness Data

For example – gender and trustworthiness. When asked to guess which gender is more trustworthy, about 85% of my workshop audiences guess women; and 12,000 datapoints say they’re right.

Further, nearly all the gender difference is due to different scores on one factor. I also ask workshops to guess which factor that is, and again, they are overwhelmingly right – it is intimacy.

Score two for commonsense backing up the data.  And there’s more. Surveys of trustworthy professions show shifts over time in the least trusted professions – used car dealers one year, lawyers another, politicians another. But the most trusted profession is remarkably consistent – nurses. Again, audiences find that this “makes sense.” And tying the data together, note that of the four attributes of trustworthiness, the one most easily identifiable with nursing is, again, intimacy.

Finally, we were able to isolate six “Trust Temperaments” – differing combinations of high scores from each of the four trust equation components. The three highest-scoring pairings were the three that contained Intimacy as one of the factors.

The combination of high Credibility and Reliability scores is what we most associate with subject matter experts.  And that combination was tied for least trustworthy among the six pairs.

The level of technical mastery required by the professions, for example, is considerable, and necessary. It’s not surprising that people in such lines of work would score highest on the attributes of credibility and reliability, the two “rational” and “hard” components of trustworthiness.

The problem comes when they assume, implicitly, that what their customers most want is a massive display of that expertise. Selling in those businesses, more often than not, is dominated by exhibitions of mastery, methodology, intellectual performances, credentials and references.

But technical mastery is the least effective approach to trustworthiness.  The most effective component of trustworthiness is precisely the one that so many experts shun – intimacy.

The Cure for Expertise

There’s nothing wrong with expertise; it’s necessary. It’s just not sufficient. What’s needed are some basic intimacy skills. That means, above all else, listening.

The listening that’s required is not listening as in being quiet, or even listening as aggressively pursuing questions. It’s listening as a sign of respect; listening with no objective beyond understanding the customer.

This kind of listening is part skill, part attitude. It requires the ability to suspend the overwhelming desire to solve problems. It isn’t easy to do – but it is simple. It is accessible; it can be learned.

Another intimacy skill is the ability to take an emotional risk.  Examples of such risks include saying you don’t know when you don’t know (very difficult for experts, whose careers are based on avoiding such moments), and acknowledging feelings – your own, and those of your customers.

Most technical professionals will remain expertise-based – and ineffective at sales. And that spells great opportunity for the few people and firms who are capable of recognizing the power of soft skills in producing hard results.

This article was first published in RainToday.com in a longer form. 

Trust-based Selling

This week, as we get ready to say goodbye to 2012, we’re going to be posting some of what we call “Golden Oldies,” great posts from our Trust Matters vault. We hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday and wonderful New Year.

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In trust-based selling, the default mode of presentation is transparency.

In trust-based selling, the time-frame is lifetime. Assume that you will meet this customer again, along with his or her customers, cousins, bosses and Facebook friends, and that every interaction is evident to all of them instantly. That’s your reputation.

Trust-based selling relies on the proposition that people return good for good, and bad for bad. If you treat a customer respectfully and with trust, and they happen to need what you are selling, the natural response is to buy it from you.

That proposition is not only an ethical template – it is a business model.

Trust-based Selling: McGraw-Hill, also available in Kindle and CD-ROM format. It’s a good book.

Warning: Don’t Read This Blogpost

Well, well. You saw the title, right?  And yet here you are, reading this blogpost.

Worse yet – you’re probably here reading this blogpost because you saw the title warning you not to. What does that say about you?

We Are All Teenagers

You’re hardly alone. People don’t really ever grow out of our rebellious teenage phase.  You know, the phase where whatever someone tells you to do just drives you in the other direction?

Partly that’s about finding our wings. But mostly, I suspect, it’s about wanting respect from the Others – in teen-hood that’s parents; in adulthood, it’s Everyone Else.

Whatever the reason, I suggest to you: we are all teenagers.  We all do not like being told what to do. In fact, we are sorely tempted to do the opposite of what we are told to do.

Teenage Buying

The implications for sales are profound. Permanent teen-hood means a continual state of resisting being told what to do. It would seem obvious that the worst way to sell someone, the worst way to get your advice taken, the worst way to persuade another to your worldview, is to tell them what they should do/think/believe/buy.

And yet – salespeople everywhere insist on trying to sell us.

The best way to persuade someone turns out to be paradoxical – you mainly listen to them.

That’s right – to best persuade, first stop trying to persuade.  In fact, stop talking. Listen. The natural reaction of our species is then to return tit for tat, listen for listening.

As proof, here are some time-tested samples of folk-wisdom that express the same point more eloquently than I can.

You might even try it on a teenager. It worked for me, and on me.

Trust-based Selling

The goal of most selling is to make the sale. The goal of trust-based selling is to help the customer; the sale is an outcome, not a goal.

In trust-based selling, the right time to mention price is when it is useful to the customer to know it.

In trust-based selling, you don’t “handle objections” – you jointly explore the fit of the solution.

In trust-based selling, hard-sell is not a sin – wrong-sell is.

In trust-based selling, the acid test is whether or not you’d refer the customer to a competitor – if the competitor has the better solution.

In trust-based selling, a sale transaction is just an event along the path of a relationship.

In trust-based selling, the default mode of presentation is transparency.

In trust-based selling, the time-frame is lifetime. Assume that you will meet this customer again, along with his or her customers, cousins, bosses and Facebook friends, and that every interaction is evident to all of them instantly. That’s your reputation.

Trust-based selling relies on the proposition that people return good for good, and bad for bad. If you treat a customer respectfully and with trust, and they happen to need what you are selling, the natural response is to buy it from you.

That proposition is not only an ethical template – it is a business model.

Trust-based Selling: McGraw-Hill, also available in Kindle and CD-ROM format. It’s a good book.

You Can Lead a Horse to Water, but You Can’t Make Him Buy

The biggest problem in sales? Violating the laws of human nature.

Exhibit A: one of those timeless folk-wisdom sayings, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Not many of us have equine interactions these days, but we still get the metaphor: you can’t make people do what they don’t want to do.

Cue Bonnie Raitt’s achingly beautiful “I Can’t Make You Love Me – If You Don’t,” for a Top-40 version of the same wisdom.

Or, if you prefer, try telling a teenager what to do. The same law will present itself.

Seller vs. Human Nature

When you try to sell a client – or, if you prefer, to “persuade” them (or to get them to take your most excellent advice, it’s all the same) – what’s your attitude?

Probably you’re trying your best to add value, to listen, to come up with great ideas. You’re trying to frame issues sensibly, to identify pain points and to clarify objectives and outcomes. All great stuff, of course.

And all the while, inside, not very deep down, your inner voice is screaming:

     “Drink, you damn horse – drink!”

Detach from the Outcome

The problem is, all those linear sales models lied to you. Not the first part – it’s all good, the leading the horse to water part.  The problem comes in making the horse drink.  Because people don’t do what you want them to do.

No need to get all psychoanalytic here, you can test it on yourself. When someone tells you to do something, what’s your instinct? And if they try to dress it up, pretty please with candy, pretending they don’t actually care if you do the thing they want you to do – what’s your instinct?

Neeeiiiighhh!

The trick is simple, really.  Give it up.  Detach from the outcome. Stop being wedded to the horse drinking. Stop obsessing about the sale.

Seriously – let it go. The client will buy, or the client won’t buy.  If you’ve done everything you can to bring the horse to water, then stop at the water’s edge. Let the horse drink.

The amazing thing is, if you do that, the odds of getting the sale go up. Not down, up. To get results, give up control. If that sounds more like a Buddhist mantra than a Salesforce.com app, ask yourself which model has been around longer.

Try selling instead from the serenity prayer: change what you can, accept what you can’t, and be attuned to the difference.