A collision in sales

Do you ever wonder why you feel the way you do about selling? For example:

  • You probably want customers to think of you as anything but a “salesperson.”
  • Your prospects’ defenses seem to go up almost before you say “Hello” on cold calls.
  • You can’t seem to shake the feeling that the customer is doing you a favor just by meeting with you.
  • You try to be real and authentic, but customers seem to take it the wrong way.
  • Customers react to things you ask or say (sometimes even just a single word) in a way that seems way out of proportion with what was asked or said.

shutterstock_362050724-[Converted]If you experience any of those, you’re not alone! They’re just a few of the more common feelings expressed to me by thousands of salespeople through the years.

Three human behaviors collide

Your experience is the result of three forces of human behavior colliding – second-by-second – in your customer interactions. And while those colliding forces largely control the salesperson’s outcomes, most salespeople aren’t even aware of their action simply because of the hidden, automatic and almost subconscious way in which they operate, even though books have been written about each of them. Here they are in a nutshell:

  1. We start in a hole: One of the most eye-opening activities in my training has participants answer the question, “What, if anything, do you wish were different about the way customers view salespeople in general?”
    Everyone responds, then we aggregate with hundreds of others. Finally, participants look for trends among the responses. Turns out, they see only one trend and they see it immediately: customers don’t trust salespeople (surprise, surprise).
    We then go into exercises that illustrate the anthropology (believe it or not) of that reality. The bottom line is that in their primal minds, customers view an interaction with a salesperson as a threat to their lives. It’s a parallel to our minds not being able to distinguish the stress of an encounter with a tiger from the stress of an encounter with a bad boss.
  2. We wear our labels: It is well-known that stereotyped people themselves react differently when they are aware of the label they are forced to wear.
    Duke University’s Dan Ariely wrote the book on this subject and I’ve confirmed his findings for years in my company’s survey. One quick example: all salespeople (statistically, it is 100 percent) automatically operate with a “customer-as-master” mindset. Unfortunately, this reinforces the salesman stereotype.
  3. Our customers are “mindless”: This is the most important of the three, and it’s simply this: We humans don’t analyze conversation; we process it automatically using thousands of “mindless” mental shortcuts and stereotypes.
    The problem is, this natural mental shortcutting is so automatic that we tend to blow right past it as we evaluate our customer interactions. But do so at your peril. For example, watch the customer’s defenses go up if you use the words “information” or “ask you some questions” to frame up a meeting wherein you plan to ask questions to get information. You’ve just – most unintentionally – triggered the “probing, snooping salesman” stereotype.

Five takeaway tips

Here are five things to get you started harnessing the power of the collision:

  1. Eliminate the word “needs.” Wherever you would normally say “needs,” use instead, “what you’re trying to accomplish.” Huge difference in response.
  2. Be very aware of how – not how well – you listen. Once you do, you’ll quickly realize that you are almost completely focused on transactional information (the deal, the opportunity, the timing, the requirements, etc.) to the exclusion of almost everything else. Customers pick up on this transactional mode of operating.
  3. Find ways to use the phrase, “Explore the fit that I think might exist between our two companies” when dealing with prospects.
  4. Try to incorporate the language: “I wonder if we could step back so I can get a little better feel for the big picture.”
  5. Don’t say: “Thanks for your time,” “I know you’re busy,” “I appreciate the time,” “I’ll get right to the point,” “I’ll let you get back to work,” “I’ll get out of your hair.” Try this instead: “I’ve been looking forward to our meeting; glad we could make our calendars connect.”

Once you see the collision in action, you will never look at your conversations the same way.

-Jerry Stapleton, owner of Milwaukee-based Stapleton Resources, has spent most of his adult life looking at real customer interactions through the lens of a microscope and loves to share what he’s learned. He can be reached at jstapleton@stapletonresources.com.

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