The plaintive question suddenly took me back a few decades. I remember feeling exactly as the person described it:
What am I supposed to do? On the one hand, I genuinely want to do right by my client. At the same time, my firm is depending on me to drive revenue there. They’re not asking me to do anything wrong, of course, but the pressure is there nonetheless; it’s on me to figure out how to do it, how to ring the bell. And I’ve got to make it happen; it’s my job.
I feel caught between two grinding wheels: everyone’s nice about it, but that just makes it worse. I don’t know how to make both sides happy, and it’s just grinding me down.
Exactly. Boy do I remember that. And if you sell systems, or professional services, or complex B2B services, I bet you can relate too.
So here’s what I’ve learned that’s kept me away from the grinding wheels for a long time now.
What You Must Remember
Here’s the thing. Three things, actually.
Thing 1. You can’t make people do what they don’t want. Trying to do so just makes it worse. And much ‘selling’ rhymes with trying to do just that. (One of my favorite findings in Neil Rackham’s great work SPIN Selling is that attempts to teach ‘closing’ actually made students worse at closing).
Thing 2. If you help other people, it predisposes them to help you. And “help” comes in many flavors, including – very much including – just plain old listening. Listening to people predisposes them to listen to you. And listening to you tends to increase the odds of their buying.
Thing 3. Principle-based behavior beats tactical behavior. If your actions are always based on short-term self-interest, others will not trust you. If your actions are based on principles, others will see it and trust you, including in the buying process.
If you accept Thing 1, you’ll lose less. If you start doing Things 2 and 3, you’ll win more.
If you think rightly about these three ideas, and act on them – you can escape that feeling of being ground down. Here’s how.
Putting the Basic Things Together
In the happy event that your offering is better than your competitor’s, don’t blow it by over-reaching. Be calm, open, and natural. Be forthright, but confident that your offering can speak for itself.
If your offering is worse than your competitor’s, don’t blunt your sword. Admit it. Do what you can to help your client, including – yes, I’m serious – recommending your competitor (you’ll gain hugely in credibility). Then go back to your product people and convince them you’ve got a product problem, not a sales problem.
In the most usual case – your offering is comparable – you do not win by clever pricing, sexy presentations, or ingenious politics. And frankly, winning by adding more value or being cleverer at content is over-rated. Because let’s be honest: your competitors are more or less as smart or clever as you are. Expertise these days is a commodity.
Where you can win is by playing the long game, and the principles game. If you consistently aim to help your clients, being forthright at all times about what is in their best interest, they will notice. And you will get more than your “fair share” of business, i.e. more than just the share you might expect based solely on quality of service offering.
Because buyers prefer to deal with principled sellers who have their long-term interests at heart, rather than with serially selfish tacticians. For proof, just ask yourself and your firm how you behave as buyers.
Escaping the Grinding Wheels of Sales
Back to my workshop participant, caught between the grinding wheel of sales. How to escape it?
The answer is an inside job. It requires recognizing that all the tension comes from an inability to accept the Three Things:
- We feel tension when we try to get people to do something we know they don’t really want
- We feel tension when we try for what we want, rather than what helps the client
- We feel tension when we try for the transaction, not the relationship.
So – don’t do that.
You must believe in and act on those principles. If you decide the principles need a little nudge, that somehow they’re not strong enough on their own, then you are simply willing yourself back into that space between the grinding wheels. If you can’t live your principles, you will not benefit from them. Nor would you deserve to.
But if you can believe and act on them, you no longer have to worry. Just do the next right thing. Be client-helpful in the long term. Don’t Always Be Closing: instead, Always Be Helping.
Work hard, but don’t spend an ounce of your effort on trying to get others to do your short-term selfish bidding. Let your competitors play that game, because it simply helps you play yours.
What if your boss doesn’t buy it, you ask? Tell them you need 9 months to prove it. If they refuse to have anything to do with your view, then you must either come to peace with the grinding wheels, or accept that you’ll be happier in another place. The good news is, many managers are quite educable in this regard, particularly if you begin to deliver the numbers, and 9 months give or take is about enough time.
What if your clients don’t buy it, you ask? In my experience, about 80% of clients react the way I’ve described above. The others are either nasty people or monopolists, and they are the ones you should willingly cede to your competitors.
You can stop feeling ground down any time you choose to, starting now. Just choose to Always Be Helping.