I’m Sorry IF I Upset You

Don’t you hate the “IF” in that phrase? It’s like the canned, fake apologies we receive from call center employees reading from a script. Yet we hear “I’m sorry if I upset you” or something just like it over and over again from business colleagues and yes, even friends.

What is an apology?

What is an apology and when should we provide one? A few years ago, I ran across an expert, Lee Taft, a Dallas lawyer also educated in ethics and religion at Harvard Divinity School, and who was recently highlighted in the Dallas Morning News. He takes a holistic approach to dispute resolution, and an apology is at the center. He believes that “if someone is at fault in causing harm, the party causing the injury should offer a fault-admitting apology, an explanation of what happened and reparation.” His five step process, explained on his website, includes: Remorse (experience of sorrow/regret), Explanation, Apology (expression of remorse), Accommodation (reparations) and Lessons Learned.

When I acted as a mediator, I was amazed at how fast an apology led to a settlement. Of course, the lawyers feared that an apology was an admission of responsibility (and it was), but in reality it was more than that. To the person receiving the apology it meant that the person giving it actually felt sincere remorse, and wasn’t going to do “it” again to someone else. That assumes, of course, that it was a sincere apology, pretty much following Lee’s formula, rather than just going through the motions.

More apology on the web

Getting to know Lee got me thinking more deeply about the topic, and I looked into what’s available on the web on apology. Here are some great sites with valuable contributions on the subject:

PerfectApology.com. It’s got everything you wanted to know about apologies. A section called “Apology Central” even has pages on “how to apologize” (complete with ads somehow related to apologizing); “Apology Ideas” for sharing ways to apologize; and an “Apology Board” where people can post their apologies for others to learn from.

Those who created this site say they are “a few friends and colleagues who have always been on the lookout for the perfect apology.” They created the site because “we’re human, we tend to screw up on occasion, and we inevitably need to deal with the problem.” They’ve even created an Apology Blog. One of the things I like most about this site is that both the developers and the contributors seem to be into acknowledging the offense that needs an apology, rather than simply making excuses. And they give advice on how to say you’re sorry in a variety of situations. So, next time you mess up, take a look at the How to Say I’m Sorry page.

Mediate.com. This site devotes a full page to articles about apology in the context of disputes in a variety of legal settings. It was there that I discovered Vivian Scott, who wrote the best titled blog I’ve seen on this topic: “I’m Sorry You’re Such a Crybaby Isn’t Really An Apology”. In fact, I liked the title so much that I called Vivian to learn more. Turns out she authored “Conflict Resolution at Work for Dummies” and has other writing to her credit. In “Crybaby” Vivian says that when she “hears an apology laden with sarcastic tones or Ill-chosen words [she tries] to give the speaker the benefit of the doubt and assume the reason he’s delivering such a lousy apology is because he’s uninformed about the must-have attributes of a real one.” Her blog is a must read for the four elements of a real apology.

WriteExpress.com. If you ever wanted to know how to write just about anything, take a look at this site. I’ve hyperlinked the apology page, and there’s so much more here.

It’s Personal

I’d like to share an additional perspective on apology. Inspired by numerous encounters with those plastic call center apologies, I’ve suggested to my coaching clients a distinction between the need for an apology (which includes acknowledging what happened and taking responsibility) and the need for simply the acknowledgment and taking responsibility without feeling and expressing remorse. Lee Taft’s apology approach includes: “the party causing the injury” should offer the apology. To me, an “injury” occurs when there is personal harm. I define “personal” pretty broadly – something like when the action we do or words we say have a negative impact on others – their jobs , their finances (like affecting a bonus), their lives, their health, and even their egos. In business, there are things we do that merit apologies, and other things that merit only the acknowledgment and taking responsibility portion of apologies. When there is a need for an apology, follow the advice of the experts and give a complete and sincere one. If not, acknowledge what you did, take responsibility and move on.

If you have anything to add, or other suggestions of where to find great advice for apologies or blogs on the topic, please post!

Managing For Trust

Supposed you asked me the score of the latest Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees game, and I told you “12.”

You: Twelve? What kind of score is that?

Me: Twelve points were scored in the game; you asked the score, that’s it.

You: Well, who scored how many?

Me: New York scored 7 and Boston scored 5.

You: Well thanks; you could have led with that!

Silly. But that’s exactly what happens with trust metrics. People say, “Trust in business is down.” Cue the dialogue.

You: Trust is down? What kind of metric is that?

Me: Well, some people trust less, some businesses are less trustworthy; the net is down.

You: Wait: how much of the “down” is made up of people trusting less; and how much of the “down” is made up of business being less trustworthy?

Me: 73% of it is business being less trustworthy; 27% of it is people being less inclined to trust.

You: Well thanks; you could have led with that!

Are you trying to improve trust in your organization? You might want to start with clarifying the problem you’re trying to fix.

Are you trying to create more trustworthy employees and managers, so that customers and other stakeholders will trust you? Then focus on the personal attributes of trustworthy people, and on the kinds of principles and values that are observed in trustworthy companies.

Or are you trying to get your people more willing to trust others? Getting better at trusting means better risk management, delegation, personal growth, people development and innovation, to name a few benefits.

What is it that you are trying to manage?

Never mind, “You can’t tell the players without a scorecard.” Heck, you can’t tell the score without knowing what game you’re playing!

Building Trust By Design

Pat’s story…

This past Memorial Day at our family picnic, neighbor Pat Pannone shared a story. An architect who often gives away his professional expertise as a volunteer on projects, Pat at times is asked by fellow volunteers to do architectural work for them. About a year ago, one of them invited Pat to design a home renovation. It was a big job. The main reason for the renovation was to build a master suite. Pat was excited. A job this size was something he enjoyed doing, and the fees would more than address some expenses that came with his newborn son.

Pat looked at the house and asked to see the attic. It had a large vaulted ceiling and was used for storage. He said he’d be happy to design what they wanted, but, perhaps they should consider having the attic converted into the master suite, and save themselves a lot of money. He suggested that they move their bedroom furniture there for a couple of weeks just to test it out.

The result – they loved it. No need for major work. No need for an architect. No fee for Pat. I asked what he thought about that. His response? He felt great about it! He could have done what the client originally asked and designed the addition. Instead, he was creative and thoughtful.

How Fear Chases Out Creativity

Some people are afraid of losing fees, especially when the fee will put food on the table. Pat had other work, so maybe fear is too strong a word. But he definitely wanted that new project. Letting go of that desire for the sake of the client is a great example of low self-orientation.

Wally Bock’s blog “Drive out Fear” talks about fear from a team perspective. He says: “When people are scared, what they think about is what they’re scared of. While they’re doing that, they can’t think of other things, like how to do a better job…”

If Pat had been worried about making sure he got that fee, he might not have seen the easy, low cost solution for his client.

Putting the Client First Pays Off

Pat smiled when he finished telling us about the big job that got away. The story wasn’t over, he said. 4-5 months later, that same couple called him again. This time, they were buying a new property, and needed an architect for a job that would not be solved by moving furniture into an existing room. And they wanted Pat because they knew he would put them first.

How about you? Have you met people like Pat? Have you ever managed to set aside your own fear and unleash your creative energy?

Showdown at the Used Car Corral

They wanted to sell a used truck. My son wanted to buy one for his business. He asked me to come along to help negotiate.

An enticing ad had gotten us onto their lot. At this point, the truck was pretty much pre-sold. All that was left was to agree on a price that worked for my son, and to pass our mechanic’s inspection. Done deal.

That is…until they decided they had to sell us.

My son was an eager buyer. But instead of asking my son about his business, or even why he wanted the truck, the salesman was all about getting the sale.

The Negotiation

It started with a little lie: “There’s another customer looking at that truck now”

This annoyed my son. Claiming scarcity only works when it’s true. The only other folks on the lot were looking at cars, not trucks.

Then the salesman began to negotiate price. It turns out that the trade-in value was within my son’s range, but my son wanted a lower final price. After some discussion, the price went down a little and then I gave our bottom line number. It was ok. The salesman then stuck out his hand and said: “This is our final price. Deal?”

The “presumptive close,” accompanied by a smug smile. It just didn’t work.

He was all about trying to sell a truck; he couldn’t see this was about my son buying one.

Despite his eagerness, my son ignored the salesman’s attempt to close. We said he’d buy if the price was really final, with no additional document prep fee–and, we still needed our mechanic to look at the truck.

“EVERYONE pays the documentation fee,” said the salesman.

Funny; after more discussion, the price was reduced by the amount of the fee. Then came the final issue – our mechanic’s approval.

“Our policy is that we don’t let cars leave the lot for mechanic’s inspections. Very few of our customers even ask to have cars looked at by their own mechanics,” said the salesman.

My son called our mechanic from the lot. The mechanic said he’d never heard of a dealer taking that position.

My son got more doubtful by the minute.

The salesman explained that the reason customers aren’t concerned with having used cars seen by their own mechanic is because they buy the dealer’s extended warranty which protects them. Another follow-on service for us to buy, in other words.

We said no, and got up to leave, whereupon the salesman made another offer: “We’ll give you another $500 off.”

I said my son would pay the price without the additional $500 off, as long as the mechanic could OK the truck, but he couldn’t buy without that inspection. The response: “Do you want to put down a deposit? There’s another customer interested, and the deposit will hold it for you.”

They just weren’t listening. At this we gave up and left, disappointed and discouraged. My son really wanted to buy the truck. But we understood they had a policy, and we accepted that was endgame.

But Wait There’s More…

Then, two minutes after driving out, my son’s cell phone rang. Now the dealer was willing to bring the truck to our mechanic–a request we never even made. This last sale attempt convinced my son: “I wouldn’t buy a truck from them at all. I don’t trust them.”

A Few Simple Guidelines

How did this seller permanently lose such an eager customer? What are the lessons this dealer can learn?

  1. Just stop with the lying. Just stop it. Why do dealers lie so much?. Lying loses trust, and trust loses sales.
  2. Don’t fake scarcity. Yes it’s used a lot as a sales tactic. That doesn’t make it right.
  3. Make sure policies are grounded in some principle that is important. “You can’t take the truck to your mechanic” was a policy. And if you’re going to claim you have a policy, at least have the good sense to stick to it.
  4. Stop with the closing. Good closing happens when the buyer is ready to buy. It doesn’t happen because the seller says “deal!”
  5. Listen to your customers. Should it really be that hard?

I guess it’s not all bad. My son got to see how trusting (or not trusting) the salesman can affect a decision to buy even more than the object itself. I’m pretty glad about that.

Trust Primer Volume 11

Our goal at Trusted Advisor Associates is to help people and their organizations become more trustworthy and trust-enhancing. It’s always exciting when we meet people who believe as we do. It’s even more exciting to talk to those who have found success by applying the same principles we talk about.

This month we place a spotlight on real trusted advisors, success stories of real professionals who make trust part of the foundation of their business strategies.

The Trust Primer Volume 11 features three powerful interviews: Chip Grizzard, CEO of Grizzard Communications; Jeb Brooks, son of author Bill Brooks and Executive Vice President of the Brooks Group; and Mahan Khalsa, partner of Ninety-five-5 and author of Let’s Get Real Or Let’s Not Play.

Each of these three demonstrate in their own unique ways how concepts of trust have played out for them in sales and leadership careers.

Get the Trust Primer volume 11 here

If you enjoy this ebook, you can email it to friends by following this link. Better yet, stop by the blog and join in the conversation. If you received this from a friend or colleague and would like to subscribe to the series, click here.

Serving To Win

Which of these statements resonates more with you?

1. I try to win, because losing sucks.

2. I try to serve my clients, because then I win too.

3. I try to serve my clients, which generally works out best for me as well.

If you chose #1, OK, I get it, I like competing as much as the next guy, but come back another time, we’re not talking to you today.

Today we’re talking about service, winning, and the link between them.

Do you serve to win? Does serving cause winning? Or is winning an occasional byproduct of serving?

What it comes down to is: Why are you serving?

Does Doing Good Cause Doing Well?

There’s a myth being perpetuated by well-intended, wishful-thinking, creative, holistic people out there: the myth that if you do right, you absolutely will do well.

In its more extreme forms, this belief would suggest that all highly ethical and socially responsible companies always make more money, every quarter.

Of course, there’s no shortage of cynical, embittered, hard-bitten “realists” who just can’t wait to whump the idealists upside the head with a good “oh-yeah-take-Bernie-Madoff” or two.

Who’s right?

Prisoner’s Dilemma

Social scientists and game theorists are enamored of The Prisoner’s Dilemma, a two-person game about cooperation and competition. In each game, each player can choose to cooperate or compete.

  • If one chooses to cooperate and the other to compete, the cooperator gets 10 years in prison, while the competitor goes free.
  • If they each choose to compete, they each get 5 years in prison.
  • If they each choose to cooperate, they each get 6 months in prison.

The person economists assume we all are—rational maximizer of self-interest—will rationally choose to compete. So will his competitor. Boom.

That approach sums up approach number 1—play to win. Turns out that businesspeople in controlled tests of prisoner’s dilemma strongly favor approach number one; it fits with what they learned in business school, be number 1 or 2 in your market, competitive advantage, etc.

In a connected world: boom. So much for statement number 1 at the outset of this post. Because in the real world, prisoner’s dilemma doesn’t just get played once.

Playing the Game More than Once

Part of the “trick” of prisoner’s dilemma is to play it more than once. Over time, the optimal strategy turns out to be “tit for tat,” i.e. assume the other party will cooperate, and do likewise. This generally ends up in iterative decisions to cooperate, with only occasional breakdowns of order.

But why do people continue to choose “cooperate?” Is it because the economists are right, and we’re all rational maximizers of self-interest who look at the long run? Do we calculate the odds and figure that the net present value of cooperating is greater than that of competing? Turns out it’s a little murkier than that.

Playing the Game With More Than One Player

In addition to frequency, the game is affected by participation. If there are high levels of information, visibility and interaction about how other players are engaging in the same game, then the cooperation strategy becomes even more dominant. There are fewer defectors from the cooperative strategy trying to squeeze in that last little bit of competitive edge.

Fewer Madoffs.

But: if you have more people choosing to tweak those odds, looking for just the right moment to sucker-punch the other guy after having lulled them into somnolence by a series of apparently cooperative gestures, looking to gain that final advantage—then the system starts to fall apart.

Why We Play the Game Matters

Prisoner’s dilemma is a pretty good metaphor for life. The economists’ fiction of individual actors is just that—a fiction. Francis Fukuyama puts it this way in The Origins of Political Order:

It is in fact individualism and not sociability that developed over the course of human history. That individualism seems today like a solid core of our economic and political behavior is only because we have developed institutions that override our more naturally communal instincts. Aristotle was more correct…when he said that human beings were political by nature.

The only serious debate is between statements two and three. Do you cooperate to win? Or do you cooperate because—that’s what you do? It’s the latter attitude, held by enough people over a long enough time period, that drives economic wealth.

  • A business strategist who advises any given company to be socially responsible because they’ll make more money that way is detracting, not contributing, to social responsibility;
  • An investor looking for socially responsible companies solely in order to make more money on their investment is a risk-seeking investor;
  • A society of people who cooperate “in order to win” is in trouble.

The Paradox of Trust

Belief number two—serving your clients because that way you win—is ultimately self-defeating. Because if “to win” is your ultimate goal, you’ll sooner or later end up facing a situation where you have to choose between serving and winning. And you’ll choose winning.

And then people will stop trusting you. And that disease is communicable.

Two variables make it all work: time, and numbers. Play the game enough times, with enough players, and it works. Where it goes wrong is when we:

  • Start managing to quarterly earnings
  • Start analyzing performance metrics in the short term
  • Analyze individual psychology outside of group psychology
  • Use the language of self-interest instead of group interest.

The paradox is: economics work if we justify it ethically. But if we try to justify ethics economically, it all falls apart. Beware of those who justify ethical behavior by the bottom lines.

Answer three—serve your clients because things generally work out better that way—is the “right” answer for all of us. If we remember to keep it long-term, and keep it social, then it works.

Reciprocity and Inbound Marketing

How can you get your message out in an insanely message-cluttered world?

Major media are re-organizing and/or in free-fall; new social media are emerging weekly. Should you blog, buy ads, buy an email list, publish a book (and if so, self-publish or not?), do podcasts, hire a publicist, jazz up your website, buy Google ad-clicks, devote resources to PR, hire an SEO specialist, collect 10,000 twitter followers?

It sounds clichéd, but it’s probably true: never have there been so many options for the would-be marketer. And never has it been so hard to evaluate the best solution.

Into this world comes a new solution—inbound marketing—which turns out to be based on some tried-and-true principles. How did we forget them in the first place?

The Challenge. There’s this thing called spam. And we have developed spam filters to fight back. Some of those filters exist at the email client level, others at the site or host level.

The concept of filtering, however, is not unique to email. We also have do-not-call lists, government-mandated ways of opting out of unwanted telemarketers pursuing us during the dinner hour. Caller-ID is a popular telecom feature for precisely the same reason—it gives the phone-answerer power over the phone-caller.

In the television world, the VCR allowed time-shifting and rudimentary editing—both ways of avoiding the advertising that funded the US model of television programming delivery. TIVO was an evolved technology for doing the same thing, forcing cable TV to respond in kind, carrying with its signal the means to avoid watching the commercial uses of that same signal. Podcasts do much the same for audio content.

The common theme is that media users—aka ‘consumers’—have increasingly gained the means of shutting out marketers. Marketers have upped the ante—sophisticated email blasts, product placement, infomercials—but consumers have arguably gained the upper hand.

What’s a poor marketer to do?

A New Answer: Inbound Marketing.

People are still buying—cars, iPads, restaurant meals, accounting services. The GDP may be slower-growth, but the decline in the power of media is not going to stop consumption itself. The question is: from where will people get their information and recommendations?

An increasingly common answer is Inbound Marketing. If that term is new to you, here is Wikipedia’s (as of March 2011) definition:

Inbound marketing is a marketing strategy that focuses on getting found by customers…related to relationship marketing and Seth Godin‘s idea of permission marketing.

Or, to put it more prosaically—we increasingly get our information and advice from those we trust. Or at least, from those we allow into our Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, no-spam email addresses, YouTube and Feedly lists. All else need not apply.

Inbound marketing means being invited in to the consumer’s living room, rather than continuing to knock loudly at the door as a stranger.

Sounds good, of course; but it begs the $64,000 Question: How Do You Get Them To Invite You In?

An Old Principle–Reciprocity. Why It Works.

The concept of Inbound Marketing is still evolving; one of the better discussions is by Hubspot Marketing, a highly successful practitioner of the approach. They tend to describe it in terms of recent technological innovation.

Third Tribe Marketing and Chris Brogan highlight something deeper: if you do things for other people, they tend to return the favor.

This is no random insight. Psychologist Robert Cialdini has for a couple of decades now been talking about reciprocity as the number one driver of influence among human beings. The generic form of reciprocity is:

If you do X for me, I will do Y for you.

This generic formula covers a multitude of human behaviors, from illegal monopolistic tie-ins and Mafia agreements to the rules of social etiquette. And despite a few decades of fixating on human behavior as solely driven by the rational pursuit of economic self-interest, the reciprocity principle is alive and well in business.

Reciprocity is simple: do good things for customers, and they’ll do good things for you. Samples-selling is one approach to it. Giving away a great diagnostic tool is another, the approach HubSpot takes. Complimenting and publicizing others has done wonders for Chris Brogan.

Reciprocity in inbound marketing is old wine in new bottles. That’s not a knock; good wine gets better with age. And reciprocity has a great lineage.

Dale Carnegie preached it; his number one to-do on the list of making people like you is—“become genuinely interested in them.” And the rest of the book is more of the same.

Zig Ziglar, the King of Cornpone and a great philosopher of success (and the best speaker I ever saw), puts it this way:

If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.

What Ziglar says precisely illustrates the paradoxical quality of trust: the best way to sell is to stop trying to sell; the best way to convince someone is to stop trying to convince them; the best way to make a profit is to let it be the byproduct of customer focus, rather than the ultimate objective.

These seeming paradoxes make perfect linear sense, if we think of them in terms of reciprocity. Do for others, and they’ll do for you. It won’t work every time; it shouldn’t—otherwise it’d just be a tool for manipulation and self-aggrandizement. What is given must be freely given. But it works on the whole, in the long run, in large part, for both parties.

Reciprocity is a major key to successful inbound marketing.

What You Can Do About It.

How can you use reciprocity to implement inbound marketing? Here’s a baker’s dozen of things you can do:

  1. Go comment on other people’s blog postings—without using them to advertise your own material;
  2. Give away free sample analyses or diagnostics, based on whatever it is that you do;
  3. Give away free samples of what you actually do or sell;
  4. Write a blog about the subject matter of your business—share your best thinking;
  5. Invite other writers in your subject area (sometimes known as competitors) to guest-post on your blog;
  6. Review books or interview authors of interest to your customers;
  7. Offer to do occasional free talks or speeches to industry or customer groups interested in what you do;
  8. Set up an occasional phone-in for free consultation “office hours” event—give free advice;
  9. Tweet about subject-matter and related experts of interest to your customer base—include links to their articles and blogposts in your tweets;
  10. Follow the Annual Rule of tweets—12 tweets about other people’s material to one tweet about your own;

11. Recommend people on LinkedIn without being asked;

12. Do all the preceding 11 items with good intentions—to improve the lot of your customers and others, rather than solely to make money for your business;

13. If item 12 is a problem for you, go back and read Dale Carnegie and Zig Ziglar. There’s very little new under the sun.

What Your Client Really Means By Price Objecting

Most of us know in our bones that if a client objects on price, the problem is not really price. Conventional wisdom says the problem isn’t price—it’s value.

But conventional wisdom is occasionally wrong; and price is often one of those cases. To test the truth of this, just check your own experience. How often have you tried to convince a price-objecting client that actually, really, the value is quite high, a bargain, under priced for the value you get, etc. I don’t know about you, but in my experience, that has rarely worked.

The reason is: both price and value are economic issues; but price objections are usually emotional.

Why Price is Like Dating

Remember (if you’re a guy) asking out the prettiest girl in school for Friday night? If she said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m busy Friday night,” did you get the hint? The hint was not that she was actually busy Friday night—she was telling you ‘no’ in a kind and socially acceptable way, allowing you to pretend it was a scheduling problem.

The truth was—she didn’t feel like going out with you. And you probably got the hint; you instinctively didn’t push for Saturday. You didn’t try to respond to what was really an emotional issue with a scheduling solution,

You knew that if she had wanted to go out with you, she’d have said, “I’d love to—I’ve got a previous commitment for Friday, but could we make it next Tuesday or Thursday?”

Price works the same way. If your client says to you, “Oh, I’d like to, but that’s really just too expensive for me,” they probably don’t mean it’s too expensive They mean they don’t feel like buying that insurance from you. If you respond by trying to argue value, it’s like trying to convince the “I’m busy Friday” girl to reconsider for Saturday—it’s just not going to happen. You don’t respond to emotional objections with economic arguments.

Respond to Emotional Objections with Emotion

Instead, meet emotional objections with emotional responses. Your client just told you that they’re not interested in dealing with you, at least not on this subject. That’s not a price problem, that’s a relationship problem. And that’s a big deal. You need to quickly show that you respect them, by showing them you respect their objection—even if it was an “I’m busy Friday” kind of objection.

First—stop pushing the sale. Don’t argue value—don’t argue at all. Show that you respect the client by respecting their wishes—drop the subject. If you suspect that price is masking an emotional reluctance, then you need to earn back the right to offer advice. You do that by empathetically listening to the client.

You might try something like this:

“Too expensive? Oh, OK. Sounds like maybe this might not be the right thing for you. I might have misunderstood your situation, sorry about that. Would you mind backing up and going over again with me how you see your needs in this area?”

Your objective here isn’t to see what you missed the first time; it’s to make sure that this time, the client feels really heard, really listened to. They may or may not change their mind—that’s not the point. The point is for you to leave them feeling that you care about them and their needs, and that you’re committed to helping them rather than selling them.

If you can do that, you’ve done a lot. The client will let you know if and when they’re willing to re-engage. If they do, they’ll suggest the equivalent of “how about next Tuesday or Thursday?” and you’ll know the difference.

Why Closing Is Hazardous to Your Sales Health

If you’re focused on closing sales–then you are most likely hurting your sales. You need to stop closing–so that you can start selling.

The Implication of Closing

You may have been trained in various kinds of ‘closes’—the assumptive close (“shall I start the credit check now?”), the either/or close (“would you like that in red or green?”), and many others. What all “closes” have in common is they are all ways to persuade the buyer to do what the seller wants.

And “persuade” is a nice word. There is a whiff of coercion, trickery, and manipulation about the term—at least from the buyer’s viewpoint. The simple truth is: closing is not buyer-centric–it’s seller-centric. And all of us as buyers know what it feels like to have another person try to force their will on us—and deny it’s happening even while they’re doing it.

Closing sends the wrong message–that you are getting your customers to do something you want them to do. This works with some people in the short run; but with very few people in the long run.

Here’s what you want your buyers to feel; what closing actually conveys; why we focus on closing; and 3 things you can do to stop closing, and start selling.

You Want to Convey Trustworthiness

Nothing—nothing at all—makes a buyer feel like buying more than the feeling that they can trust the seller. And the best way to be trusted is—to actually be trustworthy. That is not a vague concept: trustworthiness means four precise things.

1. Credibility. The credible salesperson conveys, “I am smart–and I will share my knowledge with you.” The effect is to create a confident buyer.

2. Reliability. The reliable salesperson is conveying, “You can depend on me to do what I say I’ll do; I’m a person of integrity.” The effect is to encourage reliance on the part of the buyer.

3. Intimacy. A salesperson who scores high on intimacy conveys, “You can share information, concerns and questions with me; there are no stupid questions, and I will never abuse your confidence.” The effect on the buyer is to genuinely share their concerns—all of them—with the seller.

4. Other-orientation. An other-oriented salesperson conveys, “I am genuinely interested in and curious about you; I’m in this for you.” The effect on the buyer is to think, “This person has my best interests at heart.”

If a customer feels all those things about you, they will trust you. And if you’re giving them honest advice that truly is for the best of them—they are very likely to buy.

Closing Says You Are Untrustworthy

Closing generally conveys the opposite of trustworthiness.

Credibility: Closing says, “I am smart–and so you should trust me when I tell you what to do.”

Reliability: Closing says, “You can depend on me to always come back around to asking for the sale.”

Intimacy: Closing says, “You are taking up my valuable time by asking unnecessary questions, to which I know all the answers—and I’ve already told you.”

Orientation: CIosing is not other-oriented, it is self-oriented. It says, “I am focused on my best interests–which are to get you to buy. Now are we ready to close yet?”

People who are ‘closed’ may or may not buy; but they won’t be happy about it, and they’re less likely to buy again. And they’ll tell their friends how they feel.

Why We Get Obsessed with Closing

We want to control our outcome, to increase our success. This is perfectly natural, and certainly common. But there are two problems with it:

1. Most people don’t like to be controlled (do you?)

2. Most of those who do get controlled will resent it and not re-buy

They’ll also tell others you’re not trustworthy. And nowadays, that means email, facebook, and twitter. Your reputation can degrade like wildfire.

Three Ways to Stop Closing, and Start Selling.

1. Stop being attached to the sale itself. Accept that you may not get every sale–including this one. Instead—focus on doing the right thing for the customer, whatever that may be. Learn to trust that doing so will gain you at least as many initial sales, more repeat sales, and far more referrals. Not to mention a reputation of trustworthiness.

2. Understand where the customer is coming from. Don’t answer questions or “handle objections” until the customer really feels you understand their concern. Focus less on the answers—more on empathy and understanding.

3. Don’t say your favorite closing phrase. Instead, just ask: “What do you want to do now?” Then do what they say.

You’ll like the feeling of being trusted. And it sells.

When to Ditch the Elevator Speech and Take the Escalator or the Stairs

You know the “Elevator Speech.” It is the hypothetical answer you would give if you were alone in a high-rise building elevator with the CEO of a potential client. Presumably the CEO says, “Tell me about your company,” or “Tell me why we should work with you.” Your presumed answer—sometimes called “the elevator pitch”—turns out to be a good solution in search of the right problem.

There are situations where a 30- to 60-second answer to those questions is exactly what’s called for. But there are other situations—far more, in fact—where different approaches are called for—let’s call them the Escalator Speech and the Stairs Speech.

The Standard Elevator Speech

Try searching “elevator speech.” Depending on whom you read your elevator speech should last 30 seconds—or maybe 120. It should answer the question, “What do you do?” or maybe it should just make an impression. It should—or shouldn’t—be a sales pitch. It is applicable to a job hunter, as well as to an entrepreneur in search of venture capital.

One size does not fit all, of course. But there is one simple question to help you craft your response speech, and it is this: What does the other person really want from you?

There are three possible answers, each requiring a different “speech”:

  1. Do I want to be involved with these people?
  2. What can these people do for me?
  3. Who are these people, and do I care?

Let’s examine each.

Do I Want to Be Involved with These People? The True Elevator Speech

If you’re an entrepreneur pitching a venture capitalist, there is a definite frame of reference established simply by naming those two roles. A venture capitalist’s key question is, “Shall I invest more time, and ultimately more money, in developing an investor relationship with these people?”

Answering that question is part of what venture capitalists do. They deal in business models, competitive analyses, concept descriptions, and corporate story lines. A snappy 60-second comprehensive, high-talk, low-listen pitch is very right—if you’re an entrepreneur in an elevator with a venture capitalist.

What Can These People Do For Me? The Escalator Speech

That question rarely comes up in other corporate roles. A line executive doesn’t spend much of his time interviewing consulting firms or deciding on systems or communications vendors. Even an HR executive doesn’t spend a lot of time interviewing candidates.

If such clients are approached by someone in a captive audience situation and forced to endure a 60-second speech—no matter how insightful or clever—their reaction is likely to be one of resentment. They didn’t ask to be informed about the benefits of a relationship. If anything, it feels presumptuous if a consultant or vendor starts to talk about one. If they’re with you on a trip to the 46th floor, this is when they hit the 26th floor button and say, “Oh, I just remembered, I have to…”

And yet consultants and vendors are often encouraged to think about the “elevator speech” concept—to emulate the entrepreneur—and begin telling their “life story” to a stranger who hasn’t invited a relationship conversation.

Meanwhile, the client is stuck back at something like, “Relationship? Slow down—I don’t even know what you can do for me. Let’s not put the cart ahead of the horse.”

This is the question more commonly being asked in a happenstance business encounter. The client is not interested in an investment relationship, but they might be interested in a simple services relationship. It depends on what we can do for them. So, answer that question. Do it with what I’ll call the “Escalator Speech.”

The Escalator Speech should be limited to about 20 seconds and culminate in a question. The rest of the time is entirely up to the client—who can, after all, choose to invite you to continue the conversation on whatever building floor they choose.

Your “speech” needs to sound something like this:

Mr. Jones, I’m James Smith from XYZ Associates. We’ve worked with a customer of yours, ABC, and I’m acquainted with Janice Johnson of your firm. We work to improve trust levels in our clients’ sales processes. It’s always seemed to me there’s untapped potential for improved customer relationships in your insurance business by changing the way benefits payments are transmitted. Do you see it that way too? Why isn’t there more personal contact at that critical point in the industry’s business process models?

Then shut up and listen for the rest of the escalator ride. There are two possible outcomes to this conversation, and both are good:

  1. The client says, “You’re right, it’s a constant source of amazement to me that we don’t do a better job on that. Let’s talk some more about how you’ve gotten organizations to do that.” Good conversation ensues.
  2. The client says, “Ah, that’s what many people think, and it sounds right at first, but there’s a hidden reason it doesn’t happen this way, and I’ll let you in on it. The reason is….” Even better conversation ensues, because you learned something, and the client had the pleasant experience of giving a smart person an even better education. They get to look smart—always a fun thing. Your original insight doesn’t have to be right; it just has to be intelligent and thoughtful.

The Escalator Speech starts off by giving the bare minimum of information required for social comfort, then it offers a piece of free insight to the client, ending with a genuine question. This gives the client total control over whether to take the conversation further.

Do I Care Who They Are? The Stairs Speech

Both the elevator and escalator speeches happen in a business context—a semi-random event within a non-random environment. But other situations arise as well. You sit next to someone on an airplane who turns out to be a potential client. You go to a neighborhood cocktail party and run into someone who works at a potential client organization.

In such a situation, even an escalator speech is presumptive because the occasion is largely social. The impression you make here is based first on obeying the social roles that govern the situation. And rule number one is you don’t get deeply into business.

In this situation, if someone says, “What do you do?” they’re not inviting you to assess their business, much less pitch your own. And remember, they probably don’t care much about your answer. Their question was a social nicety; they didn’t come to this event looking for business contacts.

Here, you need to say something like this:

“I spent 12 years in consulting. I then joined a small healthcare client company as their CEO. Last year, I started my own consulting firm focused on the health industry. And you—what do you do?”

The rules of this dialogue are that it’s back and forth, and you shouldn’t spend more than 30 to 60 seconds on your side before tossing the conversational ball back to the other side. Your only business objective here is to give the client enough information to know if they care who you are. If they do care, then further discussions can be held later—exchange business cards or email addresses, and look for signs that the other party prefers to start talking about football. Follow their lead.

Let’s call this the Stairs Speech—so named because you take it one step at a time.

The next time someone says to you, “So, tell me—what is it that you do?” ask yourself what that questioner really wants to know.

  • Are they just being polite? Give the Stairs Speech.
  • Are they interested in what you might do for them? Use the Escalator Speech to escalate from monologue to dialogue.
  • Are they interested in investing serious time and money in you? Use the Elevator Speech to show you’re on top of your business and respectful of their time.

There are several ways to get up in a building, and only one involves an elevator.