Shifting focus from selling to relationship building

I received an email the other day from Ari Galper.  Ari runs a sales training business called "Unlock the Game" (www.unlockthegame.com) which focuses on shifting the perspective from selling to relationship building.  At the core of his teaching is an understanding that the key to sales success is in reducing stress, not increasing the pressure. That is, of course, counter intuitive when compared to the traditional ABC sales view ("Always Be Closing").  In the traditional view, moving the sale forward is the key to success and the goal is to get increasing commitments throughout the process (strings of "yesses," even in the face of a few no's).

But as a psychologist by training and as a sales person, I have always been uncomfortable with the traditional view.  I have always felt that building solid relationships is the key to success, both in sales lead generation and in most other areas of human interaction.

People need to feel in control of their choices.  I know I do.  You may be able to pressure some people into agreeing to an appointment, and maybe even into a sale, but that  person will not become a valued client and they will not trust you with the "share of wallet" that you need to sustain a long-term, mutually profitable relationship.

The key here is the word "mutual."  There needs to be a base of trust and a mutually agreed perception that the deal meets the needs of everyone involved.  When you achieve that status -- when there is a match between what you have to offer and what your prospective client needs - that's the point at which a sale can be closed and a long-term partnership established.

We here at ETI Sales Support are active proponents of this philosophy.  Here are the elements of Ari's recent email that we have adopted to support our clients:

1. Stop the sales pitch. Start a conversation.  When you call someone, never start out with a mini-presentation about yourself, our client's company, or what you have to offer.

Instead, start with a conversational phrase that focuses on a specific problem that the product, service or solution solves. For example, you might say, “I'm just calling to see if you are open to some different ideas related to preventing downtime across your computer network?"

Notice that you are not pitching a solution with this opening phrase. Instead, you're addressing a problem that, based on your experience in their field, you believe they might be having.

2. Speak to the level of the contact with whom you are speaking. Don't speak about details with a C-Level executive; they are interested in the big picture, not in the nitty-gritty minutiae. And don't speak about more esoteric, lofty things with someone who is responsible for day to day details.  Always consider the person with whom you are speaking and focus your discussion on the kinds of things that are their key concerns -- the things that keep them up at night.

3. Your goal is always to discover whether our client and their prospect are a good fit.  If you let go of trying to close the sale or get the appointment, you’ll discover that you don't have to take responsibility for moving the sales process forward.  By simply focusing your conversation on problems that you can help prospects solve, and by not jumping the gun by trying to move the sales process forward, you’ll discover that prospects will give you the direction you need.

4. Never be defensive about our client or what they have to offer. This only creates more sales pressure.  When prospects say, “Why should I choose you over your competition?,” your instinctive reaction is to defend our client's product or service because you believe that they are the best choice, and you want to convince them of that. But what goes through their minds at that point?

Something like, “This ‘salesperson’ is trying to sell me, and I hate feeling as if I'm being sold.”

Stop being defensive. In fact, come right out and tell them that you aren’t going to try to convince them of anything because that only creates sales pressure. Instead, ask them again about key problems they’re trying to solve.  Then explore how our client's product or service might solve those problems. Give up trying to persuade. Let prospects feel they can choose you without feeling sold.

The sooner you can let go of the traditional sales beliefs that we’ve all been exposed to, the more quickly you’ll start seeing better results.

5. Hidden sales pressure causes rejection. Eliminate sales pressure, and you'll rarely experience rejection.  Prospects don’t trigger rejection. You do -- when something you say, and it could be very subtle, triggers a defensive reaction from your prospect.

Yes, something you say.

You can eliminate rejection forever simply by giving up the hidden agenda of hoping to make a sale. Instead, be sure that everything you say and do stems from the basic mindset that you’re there to help prospects identify and solve their issues.

6. Never chase prospects. Instead, get to the truth of whether there’s a fit or not.  Chasing prospects has always been considered normal and necessary, but it’s rooted in the macho selling image that “If you don’t keep chasing, you’re giving up, which means you’re a failure." This is dead wrong.

Instead, ask your prospects if they’d be open to connecting again at a certain time and date so you can both avoid the phone tag game.

The sooner you can let go of the traditional sales beliefs that we’ve all been exposed to, the better you’ll feel about your job, and the more quickly you'll start seeing better results.

1. Stop the sales pitch. Start a conversation.  When you call someone, never start out with a mini-presentation about yourself, our client's company, or what you have to offer.

Instead, start with a conversational phrase that focuses on a specific problem that the product, service or solution solves. For example, you might say, “I'm just calling to see if you are open to some different ideas related to preventing downtime across your computer network?"

Notice that you are not pitching a solution with this opening phrase. Instead, you're addressing a problem that, based on your experience in their field, you believe they might be having.

2. Speak to the level of the contact with whom you are speaking. Don't speak about details with a C-Level executive; they are interested in the big picture, not in the nitty-gritty minutiae. And don't speak about more esoteric, lofty things with someone who is responsible for day to day details.  Always consider the person with whom you are speaking and focus your discussion on the kinds of things that are their key concerns -- the things that keep them up at night.

3. Your goal is always to discover whether our client and their prospect are a good fit.  If you let go of trying to close the sale or get the appointment, you’ll discover that you don't have to take responsibility for moving the sales process forward.  By simply focusing your conversation on problems that you can help prospects solve, and by not jumping the gun by trying to move the sales process forward, you’ll discover that prospects will give you the direction you need.

4. Never be defensive about our client or what they have to offer. This only creates more sales pressure.  When prospects say, “Why should I choose you over your competition?,” your instinctive reaction is to defend our client's product or service because you believe that they are the best choice, and you want to convince them of that. But what goes through their minds at that point?

Something like, “This ‘salesperson’ is trying to sell me, and I hate feeling as if I'm being sold.”

Stop being defensive. In fact, come right out and tell them that you aren’t going to try to convince them of anything because that only creates sales pressure. Instead, ask them again about key problems they’re trying to solve.  Then explore how our client's product or service might solve those problems. Give up trying to persuade. Let prospects feel they can choose you without feeling sold.

The sooner you can let go of the traditional sales beliefs that we’ve all been exposed to, the more quickly you’ll start seeing better results.

5. Hidden sales pressure causes rejection. Eliminate sales pressure, and you'll rarely experience rejection.  Prospects don’t trigger rejection. You do -- when something you say, and it could be very subtle, triggers a defensive reaction from your prospect.

Yes, something you say.

You can eliminate rejection forever simply by giving up the hidden agenda of hoping to make a sale. Instead, be sure that everything you say and do stems from the basic mindset that you’re there to help prospects identify and solve their issues.

6. Never chase prospects. Instead, get to the truth of whether there’s a fit or not.  Chasing prospects has always been considered normal and necessary, but it’s rooted in the macho selling image that “If you don’t keep chasing, you’re giving up, which means you’re a failure." This is dead wrong.

Instead, ask your prospects if they’d be open to connecting again at a certain time and date so you can both avoid the phone tag game.

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