Reduce Stress: Stop Selling. Start Helping.

A lawyer I was coaching recently felt his sales performance was weak. He had a few prospective clients asking him about his services and “kicking tires” but not retaining him. After discussing the specifics of one such prospective client, I asked him: “what was your goal with this person?”

He responded: “To make him a client.” He told me that trying to convert the person from contact to client was uncomfortable for him. Worse still: it wasn’t working.

Is Turning a Contact Into a Client the Right Goal?

I frequently find lawyers, consultants and financial planners wanting to mine their relationships and turn the many contacts they have into clients. They are focused on business development and want to build relationships so they can get more business. That may sound like a good goal–but it’s the wrong one.

The goal should be to build relationships and help the other person. The more one tries to sell, the more the prospective client gets turned off. Just think of the times when you needed services or products. You probably just wanted to be guided and helped, not to be sold something.

This isn’t a new concept. There are many articles and blogs that give all the reasons to stop trying to sell. Just do a search on “stop selling.” You’ll be inundated with articles and blogs. Charlie Green published an article on this topic in 2006 called “Stop Trying to Close the Sale”.

Let Go of the Goal and Start Helping

The more you try to sell, the less the other person wants to buy. It’s one of the paradoxes of selling. So—don’t do that. Instead, really do let go of that goal. Of course you need more clients or customers–but that’s your problem, not your prospective client’s problem.

Trying too hard just doesn’t work. And, as my lawyer client said – it’s stressful. Let go of your goal along with the stress it engenders and try something else – like helping, in the context of building real relationships. Interestingly, the more you try to help, the more success you’ll have in selling. (As long as you don’t let short-term, gosh-I-hope-I-can-sell-this-one thinking reverse the means and the ends).

Helping means finding ways to assist the other person to identify, analyze and resolve his or her problem. If that process results in a need for your services, that outcome will emerge. If helping includes referring the person to someone else, perhaps even a competitor, so be it.

Helping rather than selling fits well into the Trust Principles. Helping is:

      It also reflects low self-orientation, and enhances credibility, both components of the Trust Equation.

      How Helping Reduces Stress

      Most Professionals with whom I work rarely got their JD, CPA or MBA because they wanted to sell. What they wanted to do was to practice their chosen profession and to help people. They create stress for themselves by feeling they have to sell when they don’t want to, a feeling that is compounded by then having to deal with rejection on top of it.

      This is an unnecessary, even painful, vicious circle. Change your mindset towards helping others. It will reduce your stress. And it may actually result in more business sold.

      Stop selling and start helping.


      12 replies
      1. Ed Drozda
        Ed Drozda says:

        Stewart, while you may be “preaching to the choir” in my case, you make a great point. Rest assured, many have (and they may continue to do so) reached customers in the old-fashioned “you need it I got it” way- this too shall pass. Business is about the here and now, but we all agree that after that- WE DO NOT want it to stop. A customer has choices- for that matter, so does the seller. As one who provides service, I hope that my customers will be willing to come back when a new need arises. However, the only way that can happen is when I step up and make it clear that it is worth their time and effort.

      2. Rich Sternhell
        Rich Sternhell says:

        Steward…great post. One point you didn’t make is that the helping approach greatly increases the fun quotient for any professional service provider. It’s fun and we get the added benefit of our contact’s appreciation. It may not be an instant sale and you can’t live off it forever, but it increases your confidence in your own value and the feeling of having helped can’t be beat!

      3. Stewart Hirsch
        Stewart Hirsch says:

        Thanks Ed and Rich. Rich I completely agree with you – it really is personally rewarding and fun to help others. And it is great to be appreciated. I think it also ultimately often translates into work. When we truly are more concerned about the person and their business or issues, our client is more likely to want to work with us. That’s why, as Ed says, they will want to come back.

      4. Eric Altholz
        Eric Altholz says:

        Great points, Stewart, and an enjoyable read. Along those lines, when I talk to our associates (and partners too) about networking I urge them not to go to an event with the goal of delivering a “elevator spiel” to as many people as possible. I urge them simply to be open to meeting people who they might actually find interesting and to take pleasure in introducing people to each other. If you connect two people who can help each other in business – even if it doesn’t translate into business for you – you will either make two solid contacts for yourself or at least solidify your relationship with existing contacts.

      5. Chris Downing
        Chris Downing says:

        I wrote a script for another guy to deliver to a big networking meeting in London about 8 years ago on this very subject. It radically split the audience into two main groups – I’ve never seen such passionate post-presentation discussion. Half the audience – the guys who’d made a living selling – thought the idea of putting the client first; focusing on listening and trying to match core skills to that client’s needs, were off the wall and totally unrealistic. They had targets, and they were going to hit, them despite what the client might think he wants! The other half of the audience were the non-sales people who thought the ideas were great and gained belief that they could win new business despite never having had traditional sales training. To say the event was interesting would be an understatement. It clearly demonstrated that a large tranche of the sales community (or anyone involved in business development as a career element) was wedded to the macho, neo-military terminology and approach to selling and their own targets and agenda.

        Trying to change the training managers and sales managers’ approach to focusing their sales staff we found very difficult – mostly because so many trainers and managers are actually failed sales people who never stuck at it long enough to realize that most big ticket sales deals are not won by low value sales tactics. They love that macho, let’s close soon and often stuff. Buying in this sort of hard sell training looks like it will deliver those sales they need to keep their jobs and their sales guys are going to learn this aggressive stuff and sell sell sell!

        Ironically, when later on that month we were dealing with a leading UK bank, we were faced with business development directors wanting to grow and protect revenues, but they were worried they hadn’t ever had formal sales training. We were able to tell them that the fact that they hadn’t had sales training was going to be a positive issue. Sales tactics as taught to so many people just don’t work – but they look great to those who misunderstand the sales process. Their subsequent results were outstanding – in fact one the guy who brought us in to do the training got a huge salary and promotion when he was asked to join a competitor – because of the work we had done with him and his team. They wanted him and some more of what we had been teaching. It was exactly the same stuff you’ll find in Trusted Advisor.

        You above article is right on the money.

      6. Stewart Hirsch
        Stewart Hirsch says:


        Very interesting that you did this 8 years ago AND that the reaction was so mixed. Congratulations to you for being so creative at a time when it was hardly on the radar screen to…well…actually put the client first!

        Interestingly – I never had sales training, and I think you’re right on the money. Some types of sales training teach targets, techniques or tactics. Sounds like you were teaching people to just do the right thing. It’s certainly more natural and comfortable. And tactics are all about the person using them, not about the client or customer.

        So, if the program for that script you wrote was delivered today – do you think the result would be the same?. 50-50 with passion?

      7. Stewart Hirsch
        Stewart Hirsch says:

        Eric – I so agree. It’s all about helping people, and connecting them is one way to do it! Thanks for sharing.

      8. Chris Downing
        Chris Downing says:

        Well I think I still have the script so you might like to try it out on an audience or a course. A colleague who worked with me 8 years ago carried on our ideas forward into a training job with a company called Siemens – and has had great success. Interestingly, he constantly runs into the same issues about relationships v. ‘sales training’ approaches. However, I did three 6 minute videos for them about using a relationship based approach to setting up meetings with new high level contacts. Cold calls. Despite the scepticsm about a relationship based route, it ended up being translated into five languages and was sent all around the World, and is still used 5 years on. (Think I should have charged them a bigger fee!)

        Certainly a lot more people are now talking about customer focused approaches and customer service than 8 years ago. But I still find the reception to our ideas of what a business relationship should be, divides the audience into those who want real relationships and those who want to use it as a manipulative tactic – they don’t see it as core to their attitude. These guys are usually the old stagers who’ve been in some sort of sales or development role for at least 10 years.

        However my son, who works in the City in London, reports that he was surprised to see his dad’s ideas alive and extremely well, and my methods are exactly what he’s seen the top earners do with their clients. So if the guys earning £1+ million, are using our methods, we are getting it right at the top level of selling.

      9. Christine Glasco
        Christine Glasco says:

        Stewart, this is great information and as you indicated, this applies to coaches and consultants as well. Sometimes we focus on prospecting and not on becoming a trusted resource.

      10. Andrea Howe
        Andrea Howe says:

        Stewart, a simple and eloquent post that really explores the key difference between traditional selling (convincing others to buy from you) and trust-based selling (helping others do what’s best for them).

        Eric, I love your advice to go to networking events with the goals of being curious and connecting others — a PERFECT example of a simple mindset shift with dramatic results.

        Chris, I also love the notion that those who have never had sales training are in a much better position to sell effectively — a gem right there!

        Thanks to all for the insights I gained today.


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