Avoid ‘the collision’

Travis was late for a meeting. His phone rang as he scurried from his office. He went through the normal, “Answer? Or voicemail?”

He chose the former. “Hello, Mr. Smith, this is Mark Williams from XYZ Company, how are you today?” said the voice on the other end. Travis Smith replied, “I don’t have time for this (expletive)!”


In the few milliseconds Travis had to process the caller’s greeting did he stop and analyze: “Ok, I don’t know this person. Who does he think he is asking me how I am? He doesn’t know me well enough to have the right to be inquiring as to my wellbeing. Besides, I’m sure he really doesn’t care. I find this altogether too intrusive and inappropriate from a complete stranger. I think I’ll just hang up on him.”

Of course not! He – and the caller – just had an encounter with the sales paradigm.

It’s the same paradigm you experience in every one of your customer interactions. And it’s keeping you from harnessing those interactions’ vast untapped potential.

No sales activity is more vital – or has more bottled up potential – than the customer interaction. Like the nucleus of an atom, its power is almost unlimited.

Unfortunately, despite a few generations of strategic sales processes, consultative methodologies, questioning techniques and relationship building, we’re still harnessing only a fraction of its astonishing power.

Why? Because the sales paradigm itself keeps that from happening!

The customer’s half of the sales paradigm

Sales – perhaps more than any other profession – depends on trust. Yet nobody argues that the entire sales profession is burdened with an evolutionary identity, an inherited professional stereotype, that is associated with extreme distrust…a “salesman!”

Mitt Romney wore blue jeans through the campaign because polls said he looked like a “salesman” when he wore a suit.

This insidious and automatic association is active in the customer’s mind throughout every interaction with a salesperson. It’s not conscious or malicious.

Unfortunately, it’s also not possible for customers to shut it off. We humans are hard-wired to use mental shortcuts and stereotypes. It’s how our brains function.

The salesperson’s half of the paradigm

Virtually all salespeople have inherited thought processes, practices and language that naturally predispose them to think, act, and speak in certain ways during customer conversations. These are not “rookie behaviors.” They stay with salespeople throughout their careers. And why wouldn’t they? They’re not wrong.

Unfortunately, these normal, benign, inherited practices and language unwittingly trigger the subconscious and automatic “salesman” stereotype that is coded into the customer’s DNA (The stereotype is most definitely a “salesman.” And in a supreme act of injustice, that fact does not help female salespeople.).

The collision of the two halves of the paradigm sabotage the interaction.

The collision of the salesperson’s inherited selling behaviors with the customer’s inherited stereotyping behaviors creates subconscious distrust, second-by-second, in the customer’s mind. Think about Travis’ cold call encounter. That interaction was over in less than a second…for this very reason.

It’s neither fair nor logical but, salespeople’s normal, everyday practices and language will always trigger the customer’s “salesman” stereotype, causing the customer to respond automatically and subconsciously by thinking this salesperson:

  • Sounds like a salesman.
  • Like all salesmen, is transactional. He/she listens for and responds to only information related to the deal; the opportunity.
  • Seems to be on a salesman’s information mission…interrogation, survey or needs assessment.
  • Seems to be applying the salesman’s technique of using rapport-building as a sales tool.
  • Has – like all salesmen – a greater desire to educate and inform than to gain context and understanding.
  • Projects the salesman’s hyper-accommodating, master/servant demeanor.

And just imagine the customer’s automatic response if the salesperson exhibits any sales behaviors to excess!

You’ll never change customer’s half of the paradigm; so get busy changing yours.

Your customers trust you. It’s your stock in trade. You would have washed out long ago if they didn’t because everyone knows trust is the ultimate source of all results in sales.

But there’s clearly something that happens to trust “from hello” inside the customer interaction. It’s usually not good, it happens almost naturally and it has almost nothing to do with the trust you bring “from hello” in the interaction.

Once you embrace the reality of the paradigm, and how it plays out inside the customer interaction, you will realize that anything – yes, the slightest thing, like asking about the fish on the wall or even just using the word “needs” – that a “salesman” might do, you have just caused another collision of the two halves of the paradigm.

You’ll never change the customer’s half of the sales paradigm. But if you’re willing to rethink yours, you’ll be on your way to unleashing the power of your customer interactions.

Jerry Stapleton is the founder of Waukesha-based Stapleton Resources LLC (www.stapletonresources.com). He is also the author of the book, “From Vendor to Business Resource.”

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