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.