Sales and Sales Management Blog

February 5, 2015

Objection? Buying Signal? Maybe Neither–Maybe You’re Being Put Under the Microscope

A few years ago I wrote an article titled “How to Take the Sting Out of the Price Question Early in the Sale.”  In the course of the article I argued that it is natural for a prospect to ask about price–and often to do so too early in the sale, before the seller has had an opportunity to create real value for the prospect—because price is one of the factors prospects use as they seek to qualify the seller and the purchasing opportunity.

In response to that article I received numerous emails and comments from salespeople and sales leaders that they had never thought about the idea that the prospect is qualifying them and their offering at the same time they are trying to qualify the prospect.

Yet the prospect’s qualifying the seller and the seller’s value/solution is the crux of the whole sales process.

We are all familiar with the concepts of qualifying the prospect, investigating needs, developing a solution and creating real value for the prospect, overcoming objections, and the other aspects of making a sale.  All of these concepts are views of the sales process from the seller’s perspective.  These are the constructs that we as sellers tend to concentrate on.

We then view the prospect’s questions as either worrisome objections that are nothing but a smokescreen or are out-n-out buying signals.  For many of us, the questions and actions of the prospect are either those of an enemy or those of someone telling us they are ready to buy.

What if neither of those choices is true?

What if all of those questions and the statements by the prospect, instead of being obstacles to our sale or indications of their desire to consummate the purchase, are simply questions and statements to help them qualify us and our offering? 

What if they are doing the same to us as we are doing to them?

If that is the case, then that means we’re neither dealing with an enemy to be overcome nor are we dealing with someone asking us to close them.  Instead we’re dealing with a human being who wants to know whether or not we’re trustworthy, whether or not our offering is appropriate for them, whether or not we’re wasting their time.

In other words, they are in the process of qualifying us just as much as we’re qualifying them.  When we qualify a prospect we ask questions and probe to discover who we’re dealing with and what we might be able to do for them.  When we’re asking questions we’re not trying to play the ‘gotcha’ game.  Most of us aren’t trying to trap them into a sale.  We’re honestly seeking information that allows us to know whether or not we are in front of a real prospect with a real need that we can help solve in a way that produces real value for them.

The prospect is going through the same process with us.  Whether they are conscious of it or not, they’re trying to determine whether or not we are someone they want to do business with, and then, whether or not our product/service/company presents any real solid worthwhile value for them.

The traditional terms sellers think in—overcoming objections, closing the sale, etc.—tend to set up an adversarial relationship where we are on the lookout for the dreaded objection and the opportunity to pounce with the closing question.

However, if we recognize that the sales process involves both parties qualifying one another and that the qualifying process involves the investigation and questioning of each party, we can relax and begin to address the prospect’s questions for what they really are—a legitimate desire to find out who we are and whether or not we are someone they want to work with.

Go forth and qualify—and let yourself be qualified.  It’s a whole lot more fun to sell when you’re working with a prospect to mutually qualify one another than it is to try to out fox and overcome an adversary.

 

January 27, 2015

Do You Talk To Your Prospects and Clients or Do You Talk At Them?

Knowledge should be one of the most powerful tools in our toolbox. 

Knowing how to use specialized industry vocabularies should also be one of our basic and power tools.

In reality, for many of us, knowledge and specialized lingo are powerful—in costing us business.

Naturally a great many new salespeople are tempted to try to impress prospects and clients by demonstrating their product knowledge and slinging their newly learned industry vocabulary around.  They tend to oversell, answer questions no prospect has ever had, dazzle with words the prospect and client may not be familiar with.  They talk about the fine points of their product or service; discuss how their service or product will impact ROI; how best to onboard new employees or products or services;  how their product or service creates a new paradigm to address the prospect’s issues or needs; and the list goes on.

Impact ROI?  I see, you mean whether or not it makes me more money than it costs.  Onboarding new employees or products or services?  I get it, you mean purchasing and integrating a new product or service or hiring and orienting a new employee.  Creating a new paradigm to address issues or needs?  You mean a different way of dealing with the problem, right? 

You can say ROI, onboarding, or paradigm, or you could just talk to your prospect.  Some say that if you want credibility with your prospects and clients you have to speak their language.  I don’t have a problem with that in the least—if you’re actually speaking your prospect’s language.  But how many prospects actually talk about onboarding a new product or service or creating a new paradigm to address an issue or problem?  And there’s certainly something to be said about just talking to the prospect in plain English.

And very often new sellers butcher their newly acquired vocabulary and confound and frustrate their prospects with their enthusiastic demonstration of their knowledge of the minutiae of their product or service.  Many lose more sales than they capture because of their lack of discipline and their need to impress.

Unfortunately I’ve noticed over the past three years that this desire to impress isn’t confined to new sellers.  I consistently run across experienced sellers who should know better that are making the same rookie mistakes.  The only real difference between these experienced sellers and new salespeople is experienced sellers tend to have a better grasp of the industry lingo.

In the current tough selling environment even experienced sellers are falling into the trap of trying to oversell and to impress with their knowledge and ‘deep’ understanding of the prospect’s issues.  We tend to pull out all the stops and often end up losing our discipline and the prospect’s attention.  We try to force the sale.

Rather than creating new clients, we end up alienating them. 

Whether you’re a relatively new seller bursting with enthusiasm and wanting to impress your prospects or an experienced seller feeling the pressure to produce, you need to step back and relax.  Giving in to the pressure to oversell and force the sale is self defeating.  Address your prospect’s needs and leave the unnecessary demonstration of knowledge and the impressive vocabulary at the office. 

January 8, 2013

Is There a Dehumanizing Impact From Social Media?

Filed under: Communication,Sales 2.0,technology — Paul McCord @ 12:37 pm
Tags: , ,

Last week I wrote a post about the many emails I get from sales trainers asking me to post their articles on my blog but who, rather than recognizing that they are in a sales situation, take a completely self-centered approach to making the request.  These are presumably smart individuals that have simply forgotten what they know about sales and make the most basic selling mistake possible—making it all about themselves.

But I’ve noticed this “all about me” attitude is creeping into many other places such as responses to blog posts, on forums, and in Facebook and Twitter discussions.  Worse, I’ve noticed a gradual coarsening of language.

Certainly much of the above has existed for quite some time in the realm of political and sports discourse on social media, but slowly over time this self-centeredness and rudeness seems to be creeping into the normal everyday discourse including, on occasion, sales discourse—and not just between sellers but with customers or potential customers also.

With this observation comes the natural question of what’s the cause and remedy?

Is the cause a callusing of our culture?  Is it the impersonal nature of the technology?  Or as the world becomes more hectic and our lives become more demanding are we simply unconsciously reacting by becoming more self-centered?

I can certainly see that any or all of the above could be a catalyst for the obnoxious behavior we are seeing more of on social media—as well as other technology such as email, text messaging, and such.

I suspect the majority of the behavior and the attitude the behavior emanates from comes primarily from the dehumanizing impact of the technology itself.  More and more we find ourselves interacting with machines rather than people—and it is easy to divorce ourselves from the human on the other and focus on the medium; and once we start talking to the medium instead of a person it isn’t that difficult to toss aside the normal rules of human interaction, for after all, we are no longer dealing with a person but an impersonal, unfeeling machine.

Or maybe it is a sense that we have virtually the freedom of anonymity as we often know little or nothing about the other person or persons we are addressing; they aren’t people but just disembodied words that show up on a forum, a text message, a tweet, or an email..

Certainly we don’t encounter the above behavior on a regular basis—at least not at this point.

But I am concerned.

Technology is a very useful tool—but simply a tool, not a replacement for human interaction.  More than once I’ve been visiting with a salesperson who texted their manager or another seller who was no more than 10 feet away.  Slowly face-to-face or even phone interaction is being replace with the idea that a text message is quicker—and who wants to get into a conversation when a question can be asked and answered in seconds rather than minutes?

While visiting with one seller, she sent an email to her manager asking a rather detailed question.  I asked her why she just didn’t pick up the phone and get the answer without having to wait for a response to her email.  She said that if she called her manager she’d have to answer questions about this prospect or that deal and she just didn’t like having to answer all those questions–and email and text messaging kept her boss away—it was a very real insulator from having to interact with another human..

Are the rules of interaction changing due to technology?  Are we slowly losing our human-ness, at least as we’ve known it?  Is there really a dehumanizing impact to social media and communication technology?

I would love to see a solution, but based on the history of social media in other areas I suspect the trend will continue.  Possibly the most I can hope for is that the trend be slow.  The good news is that there will always be a segment of users who will not forget that the technology is nothing more than the medium and that the real focus is the other person.  Hopefully that segment will always be the vast majority.  In the long run, I’m not sure it will be.

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September 12, 2012

Guest Article: “Selling Your Relevance, Not Your Product,” by Babette Ten Haken

Filed under: Communication,developing expert reputation — Paul McCord @ 10:02 am
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Selling Your Relevance, Not Your Product
by Babette Ten Haken

Have you ever listened to yourself speak with your prospects and customers? If you’ve gone through any type of sales training, the goal of your discussion usually is finding out what your prospective customer “needs”. Then it’s supposed to be a straight-line shot to showing them why your product or technology is the only solution.

So what?

That’s the spiel your current and prospective customers are expecting to hear.

If you are an engineer, and your current and prospective customers call you directly (trying to avoid this commoditized sales scenario), listen to yourself as well. If you’re an engineer, the customer has you from “hello”. You immediately respond by problem solving and offering up solutions. Even if the person on the other end of the phone or computer is shopping your solution – and your willingness to give it up. Even if this individual has bigger fish to fry than the project they are using to vet you, and your company.

So what if you solved their problem in 10 seconds flat? Sort of like engineering roping and hog tying.

Your customers and prospects want a dialogue. A conversation. It isn’t a contest to see how many solutions or suggestions you can come up with. Or how clever you can be responding to questions they throw at you.

Why are you wasting their hard-to-get time?

The best conversations you can have with customers are those conversations even they didn’t know they wanted to have with you. The relevant conversations that involve industry and marketplace dynamics, economies of scale and nations, the context in which they are (trying) to make a decision, and the chaos of their business model.

Bet they didn’t teach you how to have those discussions in business school, sales training or engineering school.

These are the relevant conversations that stick in customers’ minds long after they have them with you. Because they know you took the time to build up your knowledge base beyond the status-quo of selling your solution. Because they appreciate the breadth and depth of your vision. Because they understand how your perspective helps them run their businesses. Because they are grateful for you taking the time to speak with them.

Relevance could be the definition of “value” that everyone’s been throwing around lately. And value’s just a noun in need of a descriptor.

Relevant value.

I like the sound of that.

Babette Ten Haken provides sellers with a methodology on how to explain a product, its benefits, and its value, in ways that are comfortable for the buyer to hear, and the salesperson or technical professional to say.  Babette is President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers and writes the Sales Aerobics for Engineers Blog.

May 18, 2012

It’s Time We Get Right with Our Words

Filed under: career development,Communication,sales,selling — Paul McCord @ 11:35 am
Tags: , ,

Almost every sales seminar or workshop I go to and the majority of sales books I read at some point talk about the need to address the prospect’s or client’s emotional side; that sales, all sales, are at their heart emotion based decisions.  And with that statement, for many the doors to manipulating the prospect are flung wide open.

Language and emotion are so important in sales yet we seem to take them so lightly.  Most sales books, seminars, and courses spend little to no time addressing language and how to use it ethically.

Most of us pick up our use of words and language on the fly, not really understanding the forces behind it.  If we discover something that seems to work we use it, never asking whether it is a legitimate use of language or whether it is nothing more than a cheap way to manipulate.

I suggest that every seller take the time to head back to your local community college or the university in town and take three courses that will help you clarify how you are using the words you use–and in addition will give you some powerful new tools to use when putting together your prospect solutions, not to mention the advantages you’ll gain in terms of constructing your presentations.

The first course would be a good course in Rhetoric.  Many schools call their basic composition class a rhetoric class.  That isn’t the class I’m speaking of here.  Rhetoric is the study of the art of argumentation and discourse with the aim of improving one’s ability to persuade, influence, and motivate–ethically.  You’ll acquire tools that will help you become a better communicator and you’ll be able to recognize some of the flim flam manipulation strategies used in marketing (and heaven forbid, by sellers also).

Next I would suggest an Introduction to Logic course.  Although it is true that emotion plays a strong part in the sales process, so does logic, especially in more sophisticated sales environments.  A course in logic can help attune you to how easy it is to go awry when constructing an argument.  You will learn about deductive and inductive reasoning along with consistency, validity, and completeness, as well as learning about logical fallacies of which there are a ton.  And to your delight, you’ll have the joy (sarcasm here) of analyzing syllogism after syllogism after syllogism. The important thing is you’ll learn how to recognize logical inconsistencies and how to construct an argument that holds together and leads to a logical conclusion.

After your introductory course I’d advise you go one step further and take a symbolic logic course.  You’ll get further immersed in the rules of logic and go well beyond the syllogism.  After this class you should be able to recognize logical fallacies and be able to knock those false arguments down.  (And if you’re not good at or are afraid of math you need not know that this is a course taught in conjunction with the math department and is usually a senior level math class.)

Of course none of these courses are necessary to be a seller–or to be a top seller.  But I guarantee they will make you a better seller.  Take a look at your local college or university’s offerings and register for a class next fall.  You will be glad you did (but maybe not until after the semester).

April 11, 2012

Lessons for Sellers from the Unsocial Media

Filed under: Communication,Sales 2.0 — Paul McCord @ 4:14 pm
Tags: , , ,

Is it just me or are others finding that they’re getting more and more brazen sales solicitations of various kinds from their new “friends,” “followers,” and “connections” than in the past?

It seems that when I friend or follow or connect with someone I’m far more likely now than in the past to get a direct message or inmail or email thanking me for following and “as a special gift” they offer me a super duper deal on their services or books or whatever. 

Often I’ll get an inmail thanking me for the connection and since they know that I’d love to follow their company page on Facebook they’ve taken the liberty to provide the link. 

Other times it is an outright blatant solicitation to sell me something without even the guise of a special offer. 

And sometimes it’s more subtle with an invitation to get to know one another on the phone—that within 30 seconds becomes a hard-line sales pitch.

It may simply be because more and more sellers are using Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media and they’re ignorant of proper social media etiquette.

But it might also be a symptom of something more fundamental–the hazard of using a medium that is inherently unsocial—a computer.

Rude and obnoxious anonymous postings on forums and blogs have long been issues, along with the occasional in your face attempt to sell from a new friend, follower or connection. 

I’ve always chalked up the clumsy sales attempt as simply an etiquette error.  The rude and obnoxious comments on blogs and forums I’ve assumed was simply a result of having the luxury of being anonymous combined with “talking” to an inanimate computer screen.

But I’m beginning to think that there is a deeper inherent problem with social media than simply learning proper social media etiquette–and that problem is the impersonal nature of the computer itself.

Even though intellectually we know our emails, direct messages and inmails are going to another human, we are interacting with an inanimate object to talk to someone we do not know and whom know little to nothing about. 

Our message is then received by someone who is looking at an impersonal screen while reading the words of someone they do not know and many very well have never heard of before.

That is not a humanizing combination.  In fact, it makes it easy to dehumanize the other person because in a sense we’re not talking to a person until we get to know them a bit on a personal level.

In addition we may have a tendency to misinterpret the other person’s meaning when they friended or followed us.  Maybe they were looking to make a connection not because they were chomping at the bit to buy our stuff. 

But when dealing with a faceless person who we do not know and who we only have the barest of connections with it is easy to forget about their side of the equation and go full bore to satisfy our wants and needs.

The  direct messages, emails, and inmails we receive from other sellers should teach us a couple of hard and fast lessons:

  1. Slow down and consider why the other person might be wanting to connect with you—and realize that more than likely it isn’t because they’re dying to buy from you.
  2. Use the same rules of engagement you’d use if you met the person at a social gathering.  People are looking to make connections for all kinds of reasons but no matter the reason, trust and respect must be earned and built and that takes time.

Forget trying to push your wares or your website or your Facebook page as soon as you connect with someone.  Don’t screw up your new connection by immediately sending an unwanted, self-serving sales piece.  You may be typing to an inanimate computer screen, you may not know much about the person you’re writing to, and you may be anxious to make a sale, but the one thing you can count on is that whomever you’re writing to won’t appreciate being treated like a dollar sign to be rung up on the cash register.

March 28, 2012

George Orwell’s Negative Influence on Sales Language

The coincidence of timing: My friend Dan Waldschmidt published a post yesterday on why words matter.  After reading my post on how words a misused, I’d encourage you read Dan’s to see how words should be used.

What words do you use to describe yourself and your products and services?  Are there words you intentionally try to keep out the mind of your prospects or clients?  Do you use euphemisms instead of plain English when making a presentation in order to try to elicit a particular feeling or response from your prospect?

As salespeople, we’ve been taught to frame our conversations and presentations in ways that lead our prospects and clients to the conclusions and decisions we wish them to arrive at.  In order to do this, we are advised by some to refrain from using certain words that may evoke a negative reaction—or to use words that will evoke a negative reaction, depending on what we want our prospect to think or feel.

Much of this advice is based on the idea that if we control the conversation we control the prospect’s attitude, thinking, and ultimately, their decision making process.  In other words, by carefully controlling the words used in the conversation, we can control the prospect’s thought process. 

Some sales trainers even go so far as to recommend we not bring up potential negatives—don’t address a non-existent objection so as not to plant a potential objection in the prospect’s mind.  Or if an objection is raised, deflect it and return to the presentation or closing the sale.  Gloss over the objection and it will go away.    

It seems George Orwell has become the director of sales training.  Orwell’s Newspeak is now the new “sales speak.”  No longer is communicating with a prospect as a rational human sufficient; now we are exhorted to in essence treat them as nothing more than a computer, inputting only the data we want them to compute–as though if we don’t give them the words, they won’t be able to think the thoughts we don’t want them to think.

Orwell believed that words are the keys to thought.  If the words don’t exist to communicate a particular thought or concept, it isn’t possible to think the thought or concept.  Consequently, if you can control the words someone has available to them, you can control not only what they think, but eventually how they act.  Orwell later repudiated the concept.  Unfortunately, a version of this concept has become quite popular in some areas of sales training.

Like Orwell’s world of 1984, some view the world of sales as an arena where words are not simply powerful in influencing thought and behavior; they are the creators of thought and behavior.  If we don’t say it, the prospect will never think it.  If we can frame it using the words we want, the prospect will never think of their own words to describe it or question it.

Rather than trying to communicate, we are told by some that if we create the conversation we wish to have with the prospect, the prospect will unknowingly go along with us.  If only we learn the right words and phrases to use—and the words and phrases to avoid, we can direct the prospect to the ”proper” decision.  Selling in this view is simply an exercise in rhetoric.

So, we learn the right words and the right phrases; we engage the prospect by making sure we eliminate any words that might evoke thoughts, feeling, or concepts we don’t want them to have; and we ask for the order.  Instead of the automatic ‘yes’ we expected, we hear a resounding ‘no.’

What could possibly have gone wrong?  We did everything right.  We used the right words; we avoided the wrong ones.  We were careful to implant the ideas, concepts, and emotions we wanted the prospect to have.  We executed perfectly.  And they said no.  How could this possibly have happened?

Could it be that they did the unthinkable–they actually thought words and concepts that we worked diligently to keep out of their head?  Despite our best efforts to implant the right “data,”  when we pushed the “enter” button they exercised independent thought and rejected our attempt to manipulate their decision making process?

Is it possible the words we use aren’t as important as the communication and connection we make with the prospect?  Is it possible that our attempt to finesse the prospect by trying to direct their thinking through the careful manipulation of language isn’t as effective as we have been lead to believe?  Is it possible that less rhetoric and more communication would serve us better?  Could it be that more listening, more understanding, and more straight answers to prospect questions could prompt more trust in the prospect?

Maybe it is time to rethink the Newspeak of selling and learn instead to listen, to answer honestly and forthrightly, to drop the euphemisms and begin once again communicating with prospects and clients using plain English.  Maybe rather than the belief that the words we use will create the reality we want in the prospect, we should seek try to understand the prospect’s needs, wants, and issues and try to present our best solutions to those needs and wants as honestly and forthrightly as possible. 

The Orwellian experiment has been tried—and failed.  Orwell recognized the failure of the concept before he died.  Certainly, many trainers in the areas of communication and persuasion recognize the legitimate uses of rhetoric in the sales process.  Yet, there are still large numbers of trainers selling the Orwellian concept of easy sales through language manipulation and its false promise of controlling prospect thought and behavior.  There is a difference between the legitimate use of persuasive influence and the intent to deviously manipulation. 

We are selling to independent beings who exercise their capacity to think autonomously of our attempts to stage-manage their actions and decisions.  Our words can influence, they cannot create the reality we want.  Our words can help create an image, they cannot eliminate independent thought.   Our words can create conversation, dialog, and real communication, they cannot produce a pre-determined outcome.  The sooner we recognize their independence, the sooner we can get back to creating relationships built on trust, not on linguistic manipulation.

February 1, 2012

Killer Communication Strategy

So many prospects and clients to kill, so little time.  But don’t worry; salespeople all over the world are doing their damnedest to kill as many prospects and clients as possible every day.  Their weapon of choice?  Communication—or more specifically,  communication fraud.

I suspect you are like me, getting dozens of emails, phone calls, snail mail letters, and even face-to-face meetings with sellers who seem to have only one goal—waste as much of my time as possible.  They email and call wanting to know if I’m doing OK, or if I need anything, or if they can show me a new product or service without having the slightest idea if I could actually use it.  Some call to simply let me know they’re still around and want my business.

Many of these intrepid sellers have bombarded me with so much time wasting junk communication that they’ve taught me to completely ignore them.  When I see an email or letter from them or if I get a voice mail message from them I know that I need pay absolutely no attention to them.  Their time wasting communications have completely killed me off as a prospect—and, worse, I’ve even had some sellers kill me off as a client because of their insistence on trying to waste my time.

Sellers work hard to find and connect with quality prospects and then to win them as clients.  Why in the world would they want to then commit prospect and client genocide?

Obviously, their intent isn’t to become mass murderers, but that is the final result of many sellers’ communications.  Their killer communication strategy is to unintentionally kill off massive numbers of their prospects and clients by teaching them to ignore any of their communications. 

So many sellers think of communication as nothing that important.  Their object is to keep their name in front of the prospect or client and to that end they feel a need to contact the prospect or client even when they have nothing of import to communicate.  Actually and more correctly, they feel the need to draw attention to themselves even when they have nothing of value to communicate.  And even more correctly, they are just too damn lazy to find something of value to deliver to the prospect or client. 

In other words, their killer communication strategy is tell their prospects and clients in no uncertain terms that they just aren’t important enough for the seller to invest the time and energy necessary to add value for them.

Now that’s a killer communication strategy.

There is a very simple communication rule that I teach my clients:  every communication you have with a prospect or client is teaching them to either pay attention to you because you bring value to them or to ignore you because all you do is waste their time.  In other words, every communication you have with a prospect or client is teaching them that it’s worth taking your phone calls and reading your emails because they know you’re not going to waste their time–or you’re teaching them to avoid you because you have nothing of value for them. 

The next time you pick up the phone or write an email or want to schedule an appointment, ask yourself one simple question: “am I adding value to them or to just me?”  If your honest answer is that you’re only adding value for yourself, don’t make the call, don’t send the letter, don’t send the email until you have taken the time to make sure you’re adding as much or more value to them as you are for yourself.

January 23, 2012

Dealing with Uncomfortable Questions from Prospects and Clients

Filed under: Client Relationships,Communication,politics — Paul McCord @ 12:20 pm
Tags: ,

Once again we are in the middle of the presidential political season.  For the next few months the Republicans will have center stage as candidates wrestle with one another to gain the Republican nomination to run for President.  Once that contest has been decided the focus will shift to a tussle between the Republican nominee and President Obama.

Whether we tend to be politically active or not, we will all have opinions about the candidates and issues involved in political combat this year.

We’ll also have some—hopefully just a very few–prospects and clients make comments about these people and issues or, worse, ask us directly about our opinions regarding them.

When these uncomfortable topics come up what should our response be?

As salespeople we spend a great deal of time trying to develop relationships built upon trust, honesty, and openness with our prospects and clients. We claim that we want to build relationships with our clients; we want to get to know them as people and not just as potential purchasers, and that we want to create friends, not just accounts.

Many of us go to great lengths to learn how to read body language, to communicate in a manner that caters to the prospect’s personality type, to read the unspoken signals the client sends through how they dress, how they decorate their office, what they drive, and what they do for recreation and relaxation. Our goal we say is to treat the prospect as a whole person.

Nevertheless, our holistic approach to sales is one sided. Most of us have been taught to avoid the social and political issues that could offend a prospect or client.  Let the conversation get close to the area of political or social opinion and all the sudden we’re no longer too anxious to build the relationship on honesty and openness. Rather than being open and honest when these subjects come up we try mightily to obfuscate or avoid.  The last thing we want is for our prospect or client to know where we actually stand on a candidate or issue.

Consequently we’ll spend the next few months doing a delicate dance of avoidance, trying to offend no one while insisting that we are open, honest, trustworthy individuals, intent only on meeting the prospect’s needs and becoming trusted advisors. We’ll try to build relationships based on getting to know our client while allowing them to get to know only what we have determined is safe for public consumption and that will allow them to get to know us only superficially. We’ll try to balance on the head of a pin, afraid that if we reveal ourselves as a politically or socially aware person we’ll offend, we’ll step on toes, we’ll lose a sale.

In my opinion–and experience–not only is this behavior disingenuous, but it is itself destructive. Prospects and clients expect each of us to have opinions and they are quite aware that those opinions may be counter to their own.

What are we communicating to prospects and clients when we try to sidestep discussion of the issues or candidates? Some will immediately assume we’re avoiding the issue because we hold opinions we believe are counter to theirs—so whether their assumption is correct or not, by avoiding the discussion we risk offending the prospect by unintentionally communicating a contrary opinion to theirs. A few may assume that we’re not informed well enough or care enough to have an opinion. Most will assume that we’re simply trying to play the game, trying to be ‘real’ as long as that reality doesn’t involve anything of substance in our personal lives.

Conventional wisdom has been to avoid political discussion at all costs. Conventional wisdom comes from a time when the emphasis wasn’t on building long-term, trust based relationships with prospects and clients.

I’m not advocating you initiate political and social discussion, but avoiding it isn’t going to advance the relationship either.

Seldom have I found discussing these issues to be, well, an issue. I have lost a few sales that I can trace to these types of discussions, but I can identify many more sales I’ve made where the sale had its roots in a willingness to answer questions—especially uncomfortable questions–honestly. 

As long as you are respectful of the prospects point of view, have reasoned arguments for your stance, and don’t engage in inflammatory or degrading language, there is no reason to fear alienating a prospect or client. In fact, if you can intelligently discuss the issues in light of how they may impact your prospect’s business, you may find that your discussion instead of being a potential minefield may be one of the most compelling reasons to do business with you.

Prospects and clients not only respect honesty, they also respect salespeople who understand their business and the future prospects for their business. By demonstrating an understanding of how political, economic and social issues may affect your prospect’s future, you demonstrate an intimate knowledge of their business—and prospects love to do business with people they trust and who really understand their problems, issues, and opportunities.

Follow Paul on Twitter: @paul_mccord

January 18, 2012

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The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

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