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Selling Without Making Buyers Feel Sold (Part 1 of 2)

 

(This post was originally published in RainToday.com).

One obvious purpose of selling is to persuade buyers to buy what you are selling. Most people have no trouble agreeing to that proposition.

Yet the harder you try to get people to do what you want them to do, the more likely they are to push back, resist, and generally behave contrarily.

Again, I think most people would agree.

Put those two statements together, and we can easily see selling as an ongoing struggle to get people to do what we want without making them feel that we are trying to get them to do what we want. Selling has at its heart a struggle to reconcile these two truths. You want to sell. They don’t want to be sold.

When two truths collide, one tends to lose, or they both tend to get watered down. But the way out is not to give up one goal (to sell) or the other (to not cause the feeling of being sold); it is to fully recognize both and transcend the apparent paradox.

It can be done. Here’s how.

The Tension Between Sellers and Customers

This paradox is hardly new. Sellers have palpably felt since time immemorial the tension to selling. Most sellers resolve the tension by one of three strategies:

  1. Defaulting to Truth One: hard selling 24-7 to anyone who comes within feeding range
  2. Defaulting to Truth Two: being nice and giving away money, relying on the hope that guilt will induce a sale
  3. Living With It: internalizing some form of denial, schizophrenia, or multiple personalities.

But there is another way.

The Other Way to Sell: Time, Gifts, and Trust

People resist being sold. But people love receiving gifts. In fact, receiving a gift induces a sense of obligation on the part of the recipient. Which suggests a strategy of "feels like" gift-giving might be the best form of selling.

For services businesses, there is an analogue to gifts—it’s what’s called sample selling in product businesses. Sample selling in the services might mean brainstorming, a small project, a "lunch and learn," a webinar, a series of articles, a series of conversations for which you don’t bill time, or sharing of some previous work.

Sample selling works even better in intangible services than in businesses that have "hard" products. The best way for a client to learn how to work with you is to let the client work with you. Create a sample experience.

But that’s only half the problem. The other half: if you set out to give a gift with the express intent of inducing guilt-based buying, you’ll get the reverse—outraged backlash at what is perceived as bait and switch, duplicity, two-facedness.

A gift has two features: it is open-ended, and it implies an ongoing relationship. (Think of Don Corleone in the movie The Godfather: "Perhaps, sometime in the future, and that time may never come, I will call upon you for a favor.") It is non-specific. It is not legally or logically binding, but it carries huge emotional obligation.

When we try to use the language of the market: "If you give me this, I will give you that" or "If you do this for me, I will do that for you," things change. That is the language of a contract, of money, of transactions.
The trick is for the seller to give up attachment to the specific short-term outcome of a particular gift to a particular buyer in a particular timeframe. The seller needs to give a sample as a gift, a generally social-obligating offer, not as a hard-obligating transaction.

Applied to selling, this means a strategy of loosely controlled sample selling is far more powerful than a tightly controlled strategy of transactions.

In simple terms, if you’re generous as a policy to a sensible group of people in the short term, many of them will buy in the long term.

Part 2, tomorrow: Why this kind of selling is so hard; how to do it; the paradox of great selling.

Great All-Time Trust-based Selling Insights, #17

I’m going to hand over the space today to a guest-blogger: Walt Shill at Accenture.  Walt does a weekly internal blog for ACC, and was kind enough to grant us permission to slavishly “re-tweet” his recent blogpost.

If you’re wondering just how to make sense of Trust-based Selling, or to see the power of low self-orientation in the Trust Quotient, I can’t think of a better story than the one Walt shares here.   (Look for the ZZ Top reference).

Take it away, Walt.

Bob and his Two Simple Questions

Years ago I was assigned to work with Bob – a senior Director. I was a struggling manager. People whispered about Bob and many avoided working with him … You see, he had an unusual style that was reminiscent of Columbo – the brilliant TV homicide detective from the 70s played by Peter Falk.

Bob was never accused of being a sharp dressed man …. He always seemed a bit disorganized and seemingly slow to pick up key points …. Bob was unfailingly polite, but he had a way of asking clients odd questions at awkward times… I must admit, as I started I was a little embarrassed to be with him.

I did most of the grunt work of analysis and preparing decks for Bob, but I also accompanied him to many meetings in the C Suites of half a dozen companies…. And just like Columbo’s (and Steve Jobs’) famous line, “Just one more thing”, Bob somehow managed to always ask some version of two simple questions in every meeting……

How’s business? As a meeting started Bob would casually ask “So… How’s business ?” The client would start with a basic answer, but Bob cleverly teased out evermore detail by mumbling: “uh huh”, “yea”, and innocently asking over and over again – “hmmm, so why is that?”

He never, never, never responded that we could help…. in fact he hardly spoke at all… he was just listening very, very intently… and asking gentle questions with such childlike curiosity that the clients could not resist telling him more.

Sometimes the entire hour would pass with Bob’s wandering questions and we would have to reschedule. …Frequently I had been up all night preparing a document for the meeting –and I would get angry that he was wasting valuable time that I could use to impress the client with my brilliant charts and precise data and blinding insights…..

Weeks or even months later, we would follow up on the key issues. …. And our proposals were always spot on – Bob had an incredible insight to the core issues facing the company…..

I began to realize that Bob’s simple question – “How’s business?” had been creating a massive pipeline for us.

How are YOU doing??  As we were wrapping up a meeting, Bob would innocently ask, “So, how are you doing ?” If the client started talking about the company or business, Bob would gently interrupt them and say, “no, I meant how are YOU personally doing ?” ….followed by his usual “why is that ?” ..his odd style conveyed genuine interest and caring … After just 2 or 3 meetings Bob had started a deep personal relationship because of how much the client had revealed about their aspirations, frustrations and personal lives… all of which were filed somewhere in the recesses of Bob’s complex but powerful brain.

My respect for Bob grew ……and today I marvel at how he faithfully served senior leaders on their most critical issues, grew a very big practice and built his career (and helped mine!) … all by simply asking and then intently listening and genuinely caring about the answers to two simple questions:

“So, how’s business?”

“So, how are YOU doing?”

———

What Walt said. 

 

Why B2B Salespeople Love Value Propositions – But Shouldn’t

I wrote yesterday about how value propositions play a role in B2B sales analogous to models in economics. Useful, but not to be confused with what really happens.

In the real B2B world, buying decisions are far more emotional than salespeople—or buyers!—like to admit. And while salespeople will admit the truth of this, only the really natural salespeople actually incorporate it into their selling.

Why is that? Why are B2B salespeople afraid to bring emotional connectedness to the sales game? Even when they acknowledge its power?

Let me clarify what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about shooting the breeze, ‘how ‘bout them Bulls,’ or commenting about the kids’ pictures on the bookshelf. I’m not talking about cheap fake intimacy, scripted active listening, or golf outings.

I’m talking about genuine concern for the whole-person well-being of the buyer as individual, and the buying organization as a group. Why do most sellers find it hard to go there?

It’s partly about fear, of course—it usually is. But in this case, something else is at work. It’s an inner conflict that too many salespeople contain within themselves: a battle between the desire to help other people, and the feeling that they must betray those same people to serve the capitalist imperatives of their corporate parent.

In other words: most salespeople think they are fundamentally at war with their customers. They think that business is a zero-sum game. They feel that “good social skills” exist ultimately to con the customer. (A study once showed that insurance salespeople all felt trust was very important, but they themselves were extremely untrusting of others).

They are hardly crazy to think this way. The reigning strategic model of our time is based on Five Forces of competition, including competition with our customers and our suppliers. Salespeople, whose job it is to make nice with customers, are simply internalizing the contradiction—no surprise if they feel schizophrenic.

As a result, they are torn. They know they have powerful skills—they can seduce buyers. But they believe those skills must be deployed on behalf of their company—and therefore against their customers’ interests. Hence to sell well is to harm the people they sell to.

Psychologically, there are only three resolutions for this dilemma. Some salespeople give in to the dark side and simply accept that their role is to move the merchandise, gain share of wallet, get the sale.

Most, I suspect, just live with the contradiction and suppress thinking about it.

But the really great salespeople rise above it. They realize that the best short-term performance comes not from managing short-term, but from managing long-term.

That means relationships–not transactions. And relationships mean emotional connections.

The great salespeople ignore the sales managers’ pleas to tweak end of quarter numbers, because they are truly in it for their customers. They know not only that long-term relationships are more profitable, but also that you don’t get them by re-inventing value propositions on every sale.

You get relationships the same way you get them in the real world. You take risks, you invest, you absorb the minor irritations, and subordinate your ego to the larger good of the relationship.

The best salespeople have opted out of the “competition” game. They do not obsess about “closing,” and don’t worry too much about short-term metrics. They don’t constantly ask themselves how they’re doing, but rather whether they’ve been doing enough right for their customers and for the relationship. They know that sales are simply the fruit on the tree of relationships.

They are other-oriented, not self-oriented; more collaborative than competitive (at least, with their customers). And above all, they don’t shy away from deeply emotional selling. Because they care—big time and long term. And it pays off.

Those people don’t sell by economic value propositions. They sell by personal commitment. They have resolved the schizophrenia problem by squarely opting for the side of the relationship, and realizing there really is no contradiction between doing that and enjoying great economics.

And paradoxically, they do better as a result. Not because they try harder to do better. But because doing better is the byproduct, the side-benefit, of doing the thing that val-prop selling just doesn’t do.

Trust-based selling just works.

September Carnival of Trust is Up

 

The September Carnival of Trust is up, and it’s a great read. 

Our hard-working host this month is Ann Bares, of Altura Consulting Group, who writes at Compensation Force.  For those of you new to "carnivals," the concept is this: each month, a guest host combs the internet for the best blog posts relating to trust: trust in sales and marketing, leadership and management, strategy/economics/politics, and advising/influencing.  Each host adds their own particular perspective and commentary n teh Top 10 choices they made.

Ann has done a terrific job surveying the field–her selections convey the range of situations within which trust is relevant.  She introduces and shares with us posts on trust relations between citizens and local government; the role of trust in social networking; how saying "No" can create trust; and my personal favorite, the use of trust as a substitute for controls in the business world.  Congratulations to all the posts selected by Ann to make the Top Ten List–it’s an honor!

It’s a great read–I recommend the September Carnival of Trust to you.

Past Carnivals can be found here.  If you’d like to enter a blog posting for the next Carnival, click here.  The next Carnival of Trust will be held at the beginning of October.

 

Live Webinar on How to Build Trust in Sales Conversations — Thursday, August 21

I don’t do a lot of webinars—but I will be giving one live next week—Thursday, August 21, from 2-3:30PM Eastern Daylight Time--on the subject of Building Trust in Sales Conversations.

The session is being hosted by the good people at RainToday, a powerful site focused on marketing and business development for professional services; the cost is $90, you can sign up here at RainToday.com.

Why the topic Building Trust in Sales Conversations? Because it tackles a lot of myths and misconceptions about selling.

For one, most of us think that selling draws down on trust. Rightly done, however, sales interactions are one of the best situations in which to create trust.

For another, trust is largely created (in intangible services or complex sales) not by branding, eloquence, speeches or credentials, but by personal interactions. Conversations. Sales conversations, about what people need and want.

Finally, many people think of trust-based sales conversations as things that can happen only after a long period of time has allowed trust to develop and grow. The truth is, it is in sales conversations that the trust grows. Just like other types of human relationships, trust doesn’t happen before real, honest conversations—it is created in them. Trust doesn’t enable selling; selling enables trust. This means trust can be created far more rapidly than we oftne think.

Understanding how to create trust in a sales conversation is a great source of freedom; trust doesn’t take time, it isn’t a business process, it doesn’t come about from following metrics, and it isn’t a business process. It is something each of us can do, personally, far better than we think.

Join me in a conversation (well, a webinar anyway) about this exciting topic. Sign up here for How to Build Trust in Sales Conversations.

I look forward to the time together.

 

 

 

 

Trust-based Selling Program June 19 in the Baltimore-Washington Area

 

I will be offering a special one-day open enrollment session of Trust-Based Selling on June 19 in Columbia, Maryland. Attendees will be capped at 25, and I’m announcing it first here.

If you’d like to be more trusted by your clients and customers, if you’re tired of sales models that are seller-centric at heart, if you wish there were an approach to sales that combines high integrity with high profit—this program is for you.

I will co-lead the session with Mark Slatin of True Colors Consulting. My page on the Trust-Based Selling program offers more detailed information on the what the workshop will cover.

Breakfast and lunch are provided, as well as a signed copy of the book Trust-Based Selling, and a workbook from the program. Cost is $500 per attendee. I rarely do open-enrollment programs, and this special one-day program is priced lower than my corporate programs.

You can learn more and sign up for the Trust-Based Selling Program here.


Look forward to seeing you there!

 

The Limits of Needs-based Selling and Consultative Selling

These are popular concepts in today’s sales world:

Consultative Selling Amazon 568 mentions
Consultative Selling Google 270,000 mentions
Needs-based Selling Amazon 158 mentions
Needs-based Selling Google 22,800 mentions.

Both approaches ask questions to define buyer needs, so that the seller can alter or position the product to address those needs, thereby raising the value to the customer and the likelihood of closing the sale.

This may sound stunningly obvious and commonsensical. To that extent, it’s a tribute to the triumph over the old product-focused approach of convincing people they needed whatever it was you had to sell.

(At the same time, sounding obvious doesn’t mean it gets practiced all the time, or even usually. Product-based selling is far from dead).
The mainstream view among sales practitioners is that needs-based selling and consultative selling represent the state of the art, the high road, professionalism in selling.

But it’s just not true.

Reading the consultative or needs-based books, websites or training programs, you’ll find two beliefs—implicit or explicit—that limit the value of these approaches to selling. Those beliefs are:

1. Their primary intent is to close the sale
2. A secondary intent is to qualify prospects.

Those may sound obvious and benign as well, but look at it from the customer’s side.  Together, those two beliefs mean that if you’re paying attention to me as a customer, it’s only for as long as you think this transaction will result in a sale for you.

That means:

a. while you’re definitely in it for you, you’re only in it for me if it bodes well for you, and
b. while you’re willing to talk about my needs, you’re not willing to do so unless you see a sale close at hand.

Either way, it certainly appears you don’t have my interests very much at heart.

There is another way. It’s called Trust-based Selling®. It says focus on buyer needs, so that you can better articulate them and get them met.  Period.

You don’t focus on their needs because it’ll get you the sale—you do it so you can help them better articulate their needs and get them met.  Period.

You don’t focus on buyer needs in order to screen out buyers who don’t need what you have to sell. You do it so you  can help them better articulate those needs and get them met. Period.

The key difference lies in liberating sales from the transaction.  Trust flourishes only when then quid and the quo have some blue sky between them.  Screening at the transaction level screams “I only care about your wallet;” trust-based sales screens at the strategic customer selection level, not the tactical transaction level.

For needs-based or consultative selling to become trust-based, you need to migrate away from the tight leash of the transaction.  Loosen up.  Get free of the “pay me now or I quit doing this consulting” mentality.

Trust-based selling says, if you consistently do the right thing by your customer, then when the customer needs what you’re selling, you’ll get the first call. And you’ll therefore make more money.

The highest profit comes when you make profit a byproduct—not a goal—of a truly customer-centric sales process.