Upcoming Events and Appearances: Trusted Advisor Associates

Join us at one or more upcoming Trusted Advisor Associates events. This Spring, we’ll be hosting and participating in events in New York, NY; Washington, DC; Fargo, ND; Boston, MA; London, England and through globally accessed webinars.

Also, a word about the Trusted Advisor Mastery Program.


Mon. Apr. 4th Global Charles H. Green

Charlie will be participating in a three person roundtable discussion through the Focus Roundtable Series. The Moderator is David A. Brock (President and CEO, Partners in EXCELLENCE), the panelists are Charlie Green (CEO, Trusted Advisor Associates) and Dave Stein (CEO and Founder of ES Research Group). They will be talking on the subject of “Professional Selling: Are We At an Inflection Point?” Click here for more information and to listen in on the discussion.

Wed. Apr. 20th Washington, DC Andrea P. Howe
Andrea will be speaking at the Washington DC Chapter of the Project Management Institute on “Trust and Influence: What Every Successful Project Manager Needs to Know.” Paolo’s Ristorante, 11898 Market Street, Reston, VA, 11:30am. Open to public: Sign up here. PMIWDC Members $30; Non-Members: $30; lunch will be served. PDUs will be available for Project Management Professionals (PMPs).


Wed. Apr. 27th Fargo, ND Sandra Styer

Sandy Styer will be presenting “The Heart of Trust: Keys to Becoming a Trusted Advisor” at the Tristate Trust Conference of the North Dakota Bankers Association on April 27th.


Wed. May 18th Boston, MA Stewart Hirsch

Stewart Hirsch will be a guest lecturer at Emerson College, speaking on “Becoming a Trusted Advisor.” The class to which Stewart will be addressing is a part of a professional services marketing course taught by Prof. Silvia Hodges, Ph.D.


Tues. & Wed. May 24th-25th London, England Julian Powe & Charles H. Green

In a highly interactive, practical and lively day-and-a-half program, TAA will be offering the opportunity to accelerate your professional growth, identify and strengthen the outstanding practice you already have, and address areas for improvement. This is the first time these two extraordinary presenters have offered this program together! Our early-booking price for the program will be $2200, with discounts available for group participation. For more information or to register contact Julian Powe or Tracey Del Camp, respectively.


The first tranche of the Trusted Advisor Mastery Program has completed the 19th module in the program, individual coaching calls and its third group call, and the members have agreed to keep up lively discussions on the online Forum. Here’s what one participant has to say about the program:

“This course works because it is not based upon the newest fly-by-night pet theory, but upon rock solid principles of human nature and social psychology. The ability to engender trust is the one attribute that separates those who succeed in both business and in life. Take this course and you will be well on your way to success in both realms.” (Nils Victor Montan, Of Counsel Danneman Siemsen Bigler & Ipanema Moreira, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

To be notified of the next available program, email us at: [email protected].

Accelerating Trust: Woo Woo before you Do Do (Part I)

When I lead our Being a Trusted Advisor and Trust-Based Selling programs, I ask participants early on what’s the “one big thing” they want to get out of their participation. Invariably, at least a quarter of people in the room will say something along the lines of “tools for accelerating trust-building.” And those who don’t say it usually vigorously nod their heads in agreement.

How to build trust quickly boils down to a simple three-step approach. Today I’ll tackle the first two steps—arguably the most important and least practiced.

1.     Mind your mindset. What are the stories you’re carrying in your head—about trust-building, about the people you’re meeting with, about yourself? Take stock. Be vigilant. Bust the myths. If you assume trust will take time, you’ll miss opportunities that are right in front of you (See Top Trust Myths: 1 of 2: Trust Takes Time) . If you assume it’s going to be difficult to bond quickly with your prospective client, well, you’re probably right. Being trustworthy is as much about attitude as it is about skill.

2.     Set your intentions carefully. Be committed, not attached, to a specific outcome. Let go. If you’re meeting a prospective client for the first time, you can be certain of the strengths of your offering while at the same time realizing that it may not be the best solution for her/him right now. If you’re taking over an account for your colleague, you can be confident in your abilities while also being open to the possibility that you’re not the right replacement. Attachment equates to high Self-Orientation, and I can’t think of a better way to lower or destroy trust quickly; it’s the obvious opposite of rapid trust creation. On the other hand, giving people the psychic freedom to choose increases trust. Be someone around whom they experience freedom, not pressure.

Here’s why Steps 1 and 2 usually get short-shrifted: they seem a little woo woo. You may be tempted to skip them in favor of something more concrete and action-oriented. It’s a common trap; don’t fall into it.

These steps are woo woo in the sense that they are more about being than doing. And it’s precisely the kind of self-work required to alter who you’re being that makes the difference between a good consultant and an extraordinary consultant, a so-so salesperson and a longstanding member of the President’s Club, and an average advisor and a Trusted Advisor.  (The woo-woo thing has some pretty solid science behind it too–thought drives actions which then result in outcomes. You can be scientific and believe this too).

Sure, the doing part matters—we’ll look at practical ways to accelerate trust in Part II of this blog—it’s just that the choices we make and impact we have in the realm of doing are directly tied to our mindsets and intentions. Lead with the woo woo and you’ll go beyond “good,” “so-so,” and “average” in a very short time frame.

Trust-based Selling Between Cultures

The hardest thing about describing Trust-based Selling to Americans is the idea that the first step in selling has nothing to do with selling. They just don’t get it. Maybe this will help.

Jim Peterson—lawyer, accountant, former newspaper columnist, blogger—told me this delightful story about himself.

I’m an American, and had moved to Paris as an expat, to be senior in-house counsel in Europe for my global firm. The dossier included oversight of our litigation, disputes and risk management.

I inherited a very large piece of pending litigation: we were one of the several defendants — the lead plaintiff was a large French bank. The case had been going on in the course of Germany for several years — but it was then dormant.

I got from the files the name of my in-house counterpart at the bank — whose office was near mine in Paris — and invited him to meet over lunch. The ground rule was–no discussion of the case or its details or merits, since I had no background on the matter and there was no activity then or on the horizon. We did in fact meet up — had a fine and proper French meal including a good bottle of wine — and parted company.

The case ran on in Germany for a year and a half or so. Eventually the local lawyers for both sides called to say that it was time for a settlement, but that they were at an impasse and there was no prospect for fruitful discussions.

I went back to my phonebook. I called the bank’s lawyer in Paris, got caught up on the current status, and asked for a meeting. In a Paris conference room, in about an hour, a successful resolution was reached.

To the French, relationships are vitally important in the conduct of business of all kinds. This could not have happened if we had been coming together for the first time. (The American mis-apprehension about the rudeness of French shop-keepers, waiters and taxi drivers is misplaced — they simply don’t know or have any relationship with a new arrival. By taking the time to be courteous and conversational, ahead of the desire to transact business, the entire atmosphere can be changed. And even more so when you become a repeat customer.)

We Americans, with characteristic brevity and impatience, have an urge to "get on with it." We consider this a virtue, despite the fact that this approach will often leave us frustrated and will yield sub-optimal results. Neither does this alter our belief that we are results-driven.  But the truth is: slowing down rather than rushing to finish in time to catch the afternoon plane will often yield a better outcome.

By extension, I have used variations on this approach even in the American context — where the investment of a small amount of time and effort is often seen to bear fruit.

Jim is not alone. One Japanese bargaining technique (as per Riding the Waves of Culture, a great book) is to wait until the Americans have confirmed their return flights before demanding an additional item or making a small concession in their position. The urge to hold to a preset plan is so strong that the Americans will jump at the offer rather than reschedule.

The point is not just that Americans are prisoners to our own US-centric views of culture, but that we are mistaken even about our own culture. The simple powerful truth, anywhere in the world, is that people prefer to do business with those with whom they have some kind of relationship. The mechanics of that differ; the principle does not. Tons of sales are left on the table in the US because of an inability to deal with relationships. 

Want to sell? Then first Stop Trying to Sell

This truth is no less truthful for being a truism: People don’t care what you know, until they know that you care.

The best sales begin with relationship. Deal with it.

Giving and Getting Respect

Respect is a theme I run across in my work with trust. Many people say they want to be trusted. Yet they feel disrespected by those from whom they seek trust.   In such cases, “they don’t trust me” quickly breaks down into “they behave disrespectfully toward me.”   A desire morphs into a resentment. 

The unconscious implication is that “if they don’t trust me, it’s their fault, because they don’t respect me in the first place. And if they don’t respect me, then I won’t respect them either. Their lack of trust in me is their fault, not mine.”

There’s a lot going on in that little circle of mis-logic. How is it that we respect others, and that they respect us? What does disrespect have to do with trust?

Note the grammatical parallels between trust and respect. Both are used as verb, as adjective, and as adjectival phrase:

I trust you; I am trustworthy; I am trusted by you

I respect you; I am respectable; I am respected by you

Are there causal links here? And if so, what are they?

There’s an old truism: the fastest way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him. This is one truism that has been proven true to me.

Of course, there is a loose correlation between being trustworthy and being trusted, just as there is between being respectable and being respected.

But – and this is critical – there is no guarantee with either one. Not only can you not always get someone to trust or respect you, but the harder you try – the less likely you are to succeed. This is why trust-based selling is so much more powerful than linear, logic-based selling.

Giving Respect and Trusting

Both trust and respect must be freely given. If demanded or coerced, the results are the opposite–distrust and disrespect.   This is why I tell my clients never to call themselves trusted advisors—let your clients make that determination for themselves, and make it public, or not, on their own. Being called a trusted advisor is great marketing, but only if never suborned.

The ability to trust and to respect is a sign of an evolved ability to relate to others. That doesn’t make blind trust or respect a virtue: there is nothing noble about trusting a thief, or respecting a scoundrel. That’s just stupid.

But equally stupid, and more common, is a refusal to trust or to respect others. That refusal is driven by fear and, by way of paranoia, gums up the works of human interactions and commerce.

Being Respected and Being Trusted

Just as trusting others helps but doesn’t guarantee being trusted by them, so does respecting others not guarantee being respected by them. And that’s where we end up feeling “it’s not fair.”

Let’s be clear. When it comes to trust and respect, fairness is not an issue. If your spouse buys you a gift for the holidays, do you think of it as ‘fair’ or not? (Hint: the right answer is ‘no, of course I don’t, Charlie, what do you take me for!’)

Give Respect to Get It? Or Give Respect and Detach?

Too often we try to put conditions on what must be freely given. You can’t reduce trust to a controlled conditional transaction: “If you give me this, I’ll trust you to do that, but you’d better be fair.” There is no trust without risk; if you try to control the outcome, you’ll destroy the trust. 

I’m coming to think respect is the same. To respect someone is good; partly because it can make the other person feel respected–but mainly because it shows you’re the kind of person who has an evolved ability to relate to others.

The distinction becomes important when we look for others to respect us. If we crave respect from others, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. But worst, we are trying to force (via guilt trip) others to do what we want them to

Book Review: Mastering the World of Selling

I read a fair number of books. Most I don’t blog about. Here’s one I chose to.


1.    I am one of the featured authors in this book

2.    The link below is through an Amazon affiliate link.

Mastering the World of Selling is subtitled “The Ultimate Training Resource from the Biggest Names in Sales.” And for once, that is not hyperbole.

Edited by Eric Taylor and David Riklan, the book features 89 articles by distinct authors. Priced under $14, that works out to 16 cents per article—and look at just some of the authors you get at that rate (besides me):

Neil Rackham

Jeffrey Gitomer

Jill Konrath

Rick Page

Paul McCord

Ford Harding

Linda Richardson


Patricia Fripp

Mahan Khalsa

Tony Alessandra

Ian Brodie

Robert Cialdini

Sharon Drew Morgen

…and that doesn’t even count ‘classics’ like Dale Carnegie and Zig Ziglar.  

My own article in here is one of my best, and I suspect the same of the other authors. This honestly qualifies as one of those books you ought to have on your bookshelf.

Is this a shameless plug? Well, it’s a plug, but I’m not ashamed. I like this book.  

How Much Should Sales Approaches Vary by Industry?

An open letter to my readers:

Hi everyone. First, let me thank you for following TrustMatters. 

Now, let me tell you a bit about your fellow readers (and by extension, yourself). You are a disproportionately well-educated businessperson. You are most likely a professional—law, communications, accounting, consulting. Some of you are in financial services, some in software and technology; a lot of you follow new media heavily, some of you are curmudgeons. You’re more likely young than old, you’re pretty hip, and you’re pretty literate.

In the field of sales, there is a lot of range. More of you are in B2B than B2C. Some of you sell into government vs. selling into the private sector. Some of you sell to purchasing agents, others to ultimate users.  Many of you don’t like to think of yourselves as being in sales, though you know you have an impact on clients’ buying decisions.  And we all tend to look for that slice of life, those lessons, those situations that speak uniquely to our own little corner of experience—often dismissing the experiences of those who look different.  

Sometimes, though, we overstate the differences, and forget how much of great sales is fundamental, consistent, inviolable across nearly all sales situations.

I was reminded of this the other day by one of Jeffrey Gitomer’s weekly columns.

Jeffrey Gitomer: King of Sales

If you don’t know Jeffrey Gitomer, you’re missing something. He is bald, rumpled, given to 82-point powerpoint fonts, and looks disturbingly like late-night comic Dave Attell. He wears a red Staples-like shirt, and his normal volume level is a shout.

He grew up in rough-and-tumble sales, in central New Jersey. Cold-calling. Wearing out shoe-leather. Closing, handling objections, fighting for lead lists. Hard core.

I know what you’re thinking. I’ll say it for you. He looks like a hick. What could he possibly have to say to me, a successful (consultant / accountant / finance professional / commercial banker / software / technology) business developer?

Well, look again. By any measure of success and respect, he’s The Man. And if you go to his seminars, you’d be surprised at how much the crowd looks more like you than like him. So I’m very proud, by the way, to have a testimonial quote from Jeffrey Gitomer on the front page of my own Trust-based Selling.

Gitomer’s List of Smart and Dumb Sales

But don’t take my word for it. Take a look at Gitomer’s recent ezine article How to Sell Best: Ask Someone Who Buys. It’s a great collection of wisdom from a purchasing agent fan of his about how salespeople blow it, and how they succeed.

My point is not how bright the purchasing agent is (very), but the fact that Gitomer—with all his schticky-hicky presentation—chose to highlight it in his e-zine. Because he believes in it.

Here’s an abridged list of what Gitomer considers smart—and dumb. (For more detail, see his original piece).

smart 1. Honesty. Truth at all times and at all costs.

dumb 1. Telling an expedient lie.

smart 2. Give me valuable ideas.

dumb 2. Function only as an order-taker.

smart 3. Understand and be interested in my business.

dumb 3. Communicate non-sense.

smart 4. Treat me with respect.

dumb 4. Use bad manners.

smart 5. Be a decent human being, with some sense of ethics and morals.

dumb 5. Schmooze bad about the competition.

smart 6. Know your own business cold.

dumb 6. Assume that I know nothing about your business.

smart 7. Be friendly and personable.

dumb 7. Fail to attempt to form a relationship.

smart 8. Remember the details.

dumb 8. Make a presentation with no copy of your proposal or supporting materials to leave behind.

smart 9. Make good on your word.

smart 10. Take responsibility.

dumb 10. Refuse to take responsibility; shift blame to other people.

Single smartest. Don’t "sell" me. Let me "buy."

Single dumbest. Manipulate me.

Now, let me ask the accountants out there: is there any item on that list that is wrong for selling tax, attest or risk management work to your clients?

Systems consultants: which items don’t apply to you?

Financial planners: which items apply only to big box stores, but not to you?

And so on for the rest of us. 

For my part, I can’t think of one that doesn’t apply. More importantly, if I did my own Top Ten smart/dumb list, it wouldn’t add or subtract much, if anything. 

And if all that’s true—well, let’s explore some implications.

First, when it comes to the important things—sales is sales is sales.

Second, maybe it’s time for us “professionals” to stop looking down on sales, and recognize that great sales are great professionals in every relevant sense of the word. Sell is no longer a 4-letter word. (Note to self: send email to inform Webster’s).

Third, about all that content expertise you’re in love with? It’s there all right: see items 2,3, and 6. But the other 7 items? They’re about relationships. 

Bottom line for me: there’s a conceit that exists in the professions, a deeply-embedded cleaner-hands-than-thou mentality, when it comes to selling. It’s unjustified, it’s wrong, it’s just another form of arrogance, and no one benefits from maintaining it. We all need to just get over it.

Great selling, above all, is about service to others: it requires great relationships.

What a metaphor for life.


Trust Lessons from a Turkish Rug Dealer

Turkish RugIn November 2000 we traveled with another couple to Turkey.

We stayed at the Pera Palace in Istanbul and cruised the Bosphorous River. We visited the seaside town of Bodrum where we learned NOT to try and party like a British sailor. But no trip to Turkey would be complete without a shopping spree at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. We set out to find the perfect stall.

Wendy and I ventured behind the curtain into a cozy shop owned by Mehmet. He welcomed us with a warmth and carpet dealer smile …Wendy and I were both suspicious and told Mehmet we were “just looking.” Anyone who has been to a carpet shop in Istanbul knows you don’t just look. It is nearly impossible. The carpets are piled, one on top of the other, several feet high. Hence the young, muscle-bound assistants lingering around, ready to “flip” carpets for would-be shoppers to assess.

Mehmet invited us to accept help in looking through the carpets. He said, “just pretend – like Monopoly.” We accepted his invitation and the next thing we knew we were hooked, enticed by his charm, fluency in many languages, and the offer of mint tea. “But our husbands…we don’t know where they are,” we protested. “Oh, it is no problem…we will find them and bring them here.” And his assistant did just that.

After several hours of looking through carpets two piles emerged: the “no” pile and the “maybe” pile. Our “yes” pile hadn’t yet emerged. This was “no problem” for Mehmet, the Turkish carpet dealer. He says, “we are just pretending, like Monopoly.” In the evening, after several glasses of tea and many rounds of negotiating, we exited Mehmet’s shop with our carpets. We were beyond satisfied with our perfect day of rug buying; and the rugs, while beautiful, were not as memorable as our experience with Mehmet.

Ten months later—9/11. We were on the email Mehmet sent to his American customers expressing his sympathy. Mehmet’s carpet business came to a screeching halt–80% of it had been from American buyers. Without his American customers he couldn’t provide for his special needs son.

So he brought his lovely carpets to the US. We hosted a show for him, and put him in touch with interior designers and people we knew would appreciate his carpets. He was and to this day is grateful for this.

A few years ago, Mehmet and his assistant, stopped at our home for a visit. I said, “Mehmet, can we pretend, play Monopoly?” And so we began the ritual of looking at the spot in our home where we wanted a carpet and then venturing to his truck to search through the piles of neatly folded rugs. After many hours of collaborating to haul rugs in, move furniture, look at the carpet in different light and from different angles we settled on one. Then the negotiating began.

He says, “Sarah, you are my sister.” And I say, “yes, Mehmet, you are my brother, and now we negotiate.” The business of negotiating wasn’t easy; there were tense moments when I thought we’d not reach agreement. But all business is easier from a foundation of trust – which there was and is with Mehmet. We reached agreement. We got another beautiful carpet; Mehmet made another sale. We then sat down to a lovely meal which Mehmet prepared for us in our home.

To this day, after a dozen trips to the US, Mehmet still calls us. The days of helping him find customers have long passed but the relationship endures. Mehmet drives across the US. He seeks no guarantee of a sale, only the possibility that someone might love one of his carpets as much he does.

He goes to his customers. He spends whatever time is needed with them. Sometimes they buy; sometimes they don’t. He knows that one day they might buy; that they might know someone who might want one of his rugs. He establishes friendships along the way, building relationships one home and one rug at a time.

He begins with the customer’s perspective by going to their home, looking at where they want a rug, and collaborating with the customer, to search through his piles of rugs. He then moves furniture and places the rug, just so, in his customer’s home. When they cannot decide he says “live with it for a while, I will come back before I fly home – then you decide.”

Without a deposit, without signing a contract about what happens if the rug is damaged, and without any assurance that leaving the rug with the customer for a few days will result in a sale, he continues on to his next customer. Mehmet takes the risk to trust by leaving his rugs–in return, his customers trust him.

He knows many will never buy. He also knows that by focusing on the long-term he will build a network of people who will first think of him when they need, or know someone who needs, a rug.

A carpet dealer may not be the profession we think of first when it comes to trust. Yet in many ways Mehmet embodies what it means to start from the customer’s perspective and to focus on the long-term. And, who doesn’t love to play a round of Monopoly every now and then?

The Paradox of Selling, Simple and In Your Face

rantRantmaster (among other titles) Jack Hubbard , over at St. Meyer & Hubbard, has a lovely little blog piece whose simple charm belies the depth of its message.

Seems Jack’s wife got laid up due to a fall. So Jack had to curtail his travel schedule.

This meant two things. First, an exploratory trip to a piano store to satisfy a long-lasting desire by Jack which would keep him (and his wife) entertained for the weeks of enforced home time.

Second, a call from American Airlines Platinum asking Jack if his many cancellations meant they’d done anything wrong.

The details are worth reading, but basically, the piano guy kept calling with harassing product-based demands for Jack to buy a piano. And the American Airlines guy called back just to see how Jack’s wife was doing.

Small difference? Big difference, as Jack explains well.

Buyers Are Happy to Buy, They Just Don’t Want to be Sold

The paradox of selling, put as simply as I can, is that if you are willing to give up your attachment to the sale, you are more likely to get the sale. And that is counter to almost every sales program you’ll read, which all teach you—in the latest and greatest neuro-behavioral-process language–precisely how to get the sale. Now, that’s attachment.

The real answer of how to get the sale is: stop trying to get the sale.

You do not increase sales by concentrating all your energy and attention on getting the sale: paradoxically that just broadcasts how selfish you are.

Instead, you do what the American Airlines guy did: you focus on the customer’s needs—even if those needs don’t immediately have to do with your product.

Does that mean the American Air guy didn’t want to sell? That he had no quota, or interest, or that he was giving away free product? Heck no. He just saw the bigger picture.

Stop Trying the Close the Sale

It’s accepted wisdom in most parts that you should pretty much always be trying to get, and to close, the sale. Well, not so fast.

The bigger picture is, people buy from those who actually seem to give a damn, to actually care about their customers. Customers know the deal, they know how you get paid and that you’re in business to make sales. They just don’t want you shoving it up their nose at every turn.

The paradox is: if you’re willing to help people and not turn every interaction into a “closing moment,” ironically people become more willing to buy from you. It’s not a trick, it’s not a gimmick: people genuinely prefer to deal with people who behave generously toward them.

Does it work? Of course it does. The amazing thing is, it’s so simple. Be decent to people–people prefer to buy from decent people. Why haven’t sales authors and sales trainers picked up on this non-secret?

Here’s Jack’s take-away:

Mrs. Hubbard? She is fine now, thanks. And she is much more likely to step onto an American Airlines plane in the future than to ever step foot back in that piano store.

‘Nuff said. Thanks, Jack.

Selling Without Making the Buyer Feel Sold (Part 2 of 2)

(This post was originally published in

In yesterday’s post, I suggested that most salespeople feel a tension between the felt need to sell, and the desire not to make buyers feel like they were being sold. There is a solution, I suggested, which parallels some characteristics of gifts. They create an obligation to buy, but not in the tight, transactional, market-based way we think of as selling. Instead, they create a friendly, bonding form of loose-obligation. Selling based on that approach–being willing to give freely of sample advice for a period of time to a select group of candidate firms, ends up being highly profitable. Today: Why it’s hard to do, how to do it, and thoughts on the paradox of selling this way.

Why This is So Hard to Practice

The best salespeople practice this technique already: they freely give of their expertise—a tiny bit to everyone, and a lot more to a select group of people.

They don’t expect sales from any particular person at any point—yet they definitely expect an aggregate amount of sales from an aggregate amount of leads. They just don’t know from whom or when. But as long as the return rate remains high, they are quite happy not to be more controlling with any one lead.

Unfortunately, this line of thinking is the opposite of what passes for Received Wisdom in sales these days. Tools like reinforce the idea of more control, smaller time increments, and more metrics. The dominant theme in improving sales is about efficiency, not effectiveness.

Every transaction is treated not only in isolation from others but is broken down even more finely. Behaviors are sliced and diced, incentives more finely tuned. Qualifying the lead happens more frequently and at shorter time intervals. The net effect on customers is to feel more mechanically processed. They will resent the actions and will push back.

How to Do It

It takes a strong personality to not give in to the general business demand for short-term and impersonal sales techniques. But the rewards of staying the course are great. The way to think about it mainly comes down to two changes: less control in timing and in metrics.

Timing: Take a longer view of the desirability of a particular lead. It’s the ability to show a sustained, genuine interest that offers the chance of a relationship. This doesn’t mean you don’t screen and exclude buyers; it means you do it more definitively and less frequently.

Metrics: In a longer timeframe, decision metrics become far simpler, and selling can focus on relationships, not evaluating transactions. Are you being invited in? Are they returning calls? Is there a real project being discussed? If yes, keep it up. If not, stop it.

The Paradox of Selling

Yes, you still want to sell what you sell. And yes, they still don’t want you to control them.

Don’t choose one or another, and don’t sub-optimize. By lengthening your timeframe and reducing the precision and number of metrics, you open up space for natural human instincts to work. In that context, you can intelligently give the gift of sample selling, and you can reduce the need to control that gift. That way people can feel the natural inclination to reciprocate rather than the resentful guilt or rejection that short-term control induces.

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


(This post was originally published in

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.