The Three Pillars of Sales: ‘Relationships’ is not one of them

I’ve mentioned before that I spent the first 13 years of my sales training life doing joint calls with salespeople on their real accounts…but NOT as an artificial observer.

I actually carried my clients’ (about 40 of them over the years) business cards and more or less led the calls as a representative of the client’s leadership team. By the time that era of my business was over I’d flown just shy of 1 million miles and conducted about 1,000 of those calls.


What a long, strange trip it was
As a business model, joint calls made no sense; it was utterly un-scalable. That said, I had done something that no one else in the world of sales or sales training has even come close to duplicating. And wow, the crazy stories I could tell…and the crazy lessons I have learned.
Since that joint calls era, I’ve reviewed about 5,000 of my company’s famous “audio practice portal” calls, a type of real-time role play, and participated in about 300 full term role plays.

Pillar #2

A relentless journey to crack the code
As I look back, I now realize that for all those years I had been on a relentless quest to do one thing: unlock the mystery of the customer interaction! It was a journey to figure out why customers respond in what always seemed like unpredictable ways.
Turns out, those ways aren’t so unpredictable after all. Of course, it took me almost 25 years to figure it all out. But here it is: the mystery of the customer interaction…unlocked! I call it the Three Pillars of Sales.


Two obvious realities that support the pillars
Before summarizing those pillars let me lay down two supporting realities, which, while somewhat obvious, are the foundation on which the three pillars rest.
First reality: Customers do one – and only one – thing in the sales interaction; always have and always will. They make judgments about what will lead to a better outcome. Chapters could be written on what “outcome” can mean, of course.
The second foundational reality is that all – yes all – of the barriers between salespeople and their results can be boiled down to two – and only two: information and differentiation. Perfect diff and perfect info equals perfect results!
Pillar #1:
Where information and differentiation really come from.
Information: In our training we used to ask salespeople an open-ended question: why don’t salespeople get breakthrough information? After a few years without a single correct answer we turned the activity into a, “select from this list of ten reasons” the one reason they believe salespeople don’t get breakthrough information.
Seven percent of salespeople now answer correctly: “Because they haven’t given the customer enough reason to share breakthrough information with them.”
Differentiation: Next, we ask the following four questions:

  • Is it possible for a customer to trust your differentiation but not understand it? 92 percent of salespeople answer, correctly, yes.
  • Is it possible for a customer to understand your differentiation but not trust it? The same 92 percent answer, also correctly, yes.
  • On which one do most salespeople spend most of their energy? Statistically, 100 percent say “understand.”
  • If you had to choose one or the other (“both” is not an option), which would you pick? Incredibly (given 1-3), only 70 percent still say “trust.”

It certainly comes as no surprise that salespeople are prewired to “probe” for information (not a good way to make customers feel “safe”) and to get customers to understand their differentiation. And the harder they try, the less customers trust that differentiation.
Pillar #2:
The behaviors that trigger a positive judgment by customers.
We said earlier that customers do only one thing in the sales interaction: they form judgments about what will lead to a better outcome. Clearly, positive judgments translate into sharing information with you and embracing your differentiation.
The table below summarizes the six good/bad behaviors that trigger customers’ positive and negative judgments of what will lead to a better outcome.
Pillar #3:
The most surprising observation of all
What puzzled me more than anything else through all those years of joint calls was the way customers caught everything – everything – we as salespeople said and did in the interaction. It was nothing short of weird.
A single word, say “information” in positioning an information-gathering conversation, would trigger a negative reaction that truly defied all reason. By contrast, and in positioning that same information-gathering conversation, the use of a phrase like, “Step back and go into homework mode” made the customer putty in our hands.
Make the personal decision to put these three pillars into practice and you will never view sales the same way again…and you will start loving it more than you ever dreamed possible.
Jerry Stapleton is the founder of Delafield-based Stapleton Resources LLC (www.stapletonresources.com). He is also the author of the book, “From Vendor to Business Resource.”

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