“We’re not here to help a customer with their needs, we’re here to make as much money out of each customer as possible.”
This was the mantra of many sales managers that I worked for in the past - you know the type; Survives on a diet of Grant Cardone Youtube videos, takes style advice from Jordan Belfort, and cites their favourite film as “Glengarry Glen Ross”.
I had one particularly...challenging… manager, who would always say - “Customers are not people - they’re walking wallets.” This kind of short-sighted vernacular completely ignores a universally agreed upon statement: nobody wants to be sold to.
Serve more, sell more.
We’ve all been there - you answer the phone to a number you don’t recognise, only to have a recycled sales pitch forced down your ear. Yuck.
The role of the “pushy sales-person” - one that uses tactics of manipulation and grinds you down every day until they get your money - is dying. Especially when considering that we’re in a recession, demanding money from people (often strangers) comes across as acutely tone deaf.
If you’re in a sales role - whether that be the director of your company, an account manager, or in business development, listen up; Stop selling and start serving your leads.
Sales isn’t about forcing a client into something, telling them what to do, or making wild assumptions about their problems. As Chris Do, founder of The Futur, puts it - “Our role is to inspire our leads to make a decision, and we facilitate this by asking purposefully crafted questions to help us understand, empathise, and most importantly, solve their problems in a meaningful way.”
Don’t expect this to be a change you can make overnight. Like any process, you’re going to have to unlearn what you’ve been doing, possibly for years, in order to shift your behaviour into this new way of providing solutions. It starts by looking at yourself as less as a salesperson, more of a trustee. Your sales lead doesn’t want someone to sell them something - they want you to take care of their money and their best interests
Silence the “Advice Monster”
This is a huge one, because I know some of you will have read the last couple of paragraphs and taken them as a directive to “give more advice”. I just want to clarify - that isn’t what I’m saying at all. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to feed your “Advice Monster. “
Michael Bungay Stanier talks at length in his book The Coaching Habit about how important it is to silence the Advice Monster. You’ve just entered a meeting, you exchange pleasantries and the client will begin to talk about the project. It’s at this point they’ll start mentioning the minor symptoms of a greater issue - and your brain will want to start giving advice. You don’t have the full picture yet, you don’t understand the full problem, and you haven’t wrapped your mind around the issue - but somehow you think you’re ready to give advice. You want to prove that you know something, that you have experience, and that you can ultimately help.
The client often knows what the problem is - it's just hidden at the very bottom of a dark, murky lake. Seldom is the first problem you hear the real problem. It’s then our job to ask the right questions, the ones that help the client reveal to themselves what the issue truly is. If you allow your “advice monster” to get in the way and take over the conversation, you might find that you’re so caught up with giving advice on a minor problem, that you lose clarity on the greater issue.
A common misconception is that we need to have the answers to all of our clients questions, right away. The client is coming to you for answers - sure - but they’re coming to you for answers that they have likely thought about for a while, and couldn’t work out themselves.
I think I understand, but what questions should I be asking?
I’ll refer again to my friend, Michael Bungay Stanier. The best questions start with “what” - “what” is a neutral, unbiased way of opening the discussion.
- What’s the real challenge here for you?
- …and, what else?
- What do you want?
- What would be a big win for you?
You’ll notice that none of these questions assume, instead they are inherently curious. You’re drilling down to discover and explore in a non-accusatory manner. You’re not selling, you’re serving the prospect in a way that allows for them to come to their own solutions - solutions that, if your company is a good fit for the prospect, you can then provide.
Don’t forget to shut up.
Listen more, talk less. As habits go, this is one that will come in handy time and time again. If you’re overwhelming the conversation with whatever is popping into your mind, then you’re losing the valuable moments where you can listen to the prospects' real issues. Everything the client says matters. You? Not so much. You’re not there to show off how many words you know, or how much advice you can give. You’re there to help solve a problem.
Now that we’re listening, we want to make sure the client knows we’re listening. What I mean by that is you need to show signs that you’re actively listening. Small affirmations, mirroring speech and writing notes.
Summarise your findings
No, this isn’t the part where you give advice either. You want to make sure that you’re both leaving the conversation on the right page. Chris Do, from The Futur does this perfectly by proposing we use a If/Then hypothetical close. For example, if you were talking about a content marketing strategy for a client, you would conclude the meeting by saying something like:
“If a vendor could create engaging content and deploy it with a highly targeted marketing strategy, ensuring that the right people are being talked to with the right content, then you’d consider that a home run?”. If the answer is no, you’ve clearly misunderstood the problem (maybe let your Advice Monster run wild), and it’s time to go into damage control - but that can be an article for another day. The reason that we use a hypothetical, as Chris says, is because the proposition of “if” is safe. It’s low commitment, it’s hypothetical - but it is helping us gently move from a hypothetical proposition, to a real one.
I’m sure if Glengarry Glen Ross was written today, the catchphrase would be “always be conditional hypothetical closing”. Maybe.
Things to remember
- Stop selling and start behaving like a trustee for your clients.
- Shut up & stop giving premature advice.
- Start asking the right questions
- No really, shut up. Listen more, talk less.
- Wrap up with a “If/Then” hypothetical close.