At our startup Inreal, we offer service based visualization solutions for real estate companies. Our client contact is done via direct sales. During the last years, I strongly focused on training our sales team and developing our sales strategy. Let me share an insight with you and learn about a mindset difference between the good and the great people in sales.
The sticky point
As with the mastery of every skill, there are no shortcuts for learning the basics. However, a lot of good sales reps seem to know the basics amazingly well – not saying these people are not rare, but hard skills can be acquired and checked. They know the importance of questions, they listen first to hear where the customer has a pain and try hard and honest to solve it. You might debate about the “style” of their approaches, but at least they utilize their tools properly. By investing in those skills, you’ll increase the reliability of your sales forecasts and earn some results – great!
After a while, you feel like you eliminated the strong mistakes and calibrated the sales process, pitches and questions to fit your offering. The application of solid sales skills makes it uneasy to spot further optimization potential in sales processes, because you can’t follow the literature anymore. If you now strive for more, you quickly reach the point where it boils down to changing the product, blaming the marketing, travel budget, presentation material etc. In short: All the things, the sales team can’t change – you’re stuck.
But yet: Some sales guys achieve far better results than others, even continuously. They use the same presentation materials, drive the same cars, even approach the same type of customer.
Of course, having a happy and lasting customer is mainly the result of hard work and dedication. Working harder and focusing more helps, no exception here. But I think there is something else, that’s being overlooked far too often.
Let me quote Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP (I think it’s adapted from Theodore Roosevelt):
The customer only cares about how much you know, until he knows how much you care.
Besides the fact that this quote sounds brilliant and convincing, it can be misinterpreted.
Everyone of us likes to be handled individually and carefully. The result of care, as many involved in sales think to know, is that your customer likes you. Nothing wrong here! But, out of this observation, a whole bunch of methods emerged: You ask questions and show interest to be liked. You begin to change your appearance to someone who is never insulted, always happy and in a good mood, ready to give compliments and laugh at everyone’s jokes.
Basically, the type of sales guy we avoid as a customer.
The reason why this never works, is that the longer a conversation lasts, the increasingly impossible it becomes to fake an emotion. Your purposive mindset becomes obvious and you’ll achieve the opposite of what you intended.
Quite a few years ago, I listened to a great sales rep who was taking part in a conversation with a client at a trade fair. Nothing special that would have pointed towards sealing the deal, it was just meaningless, classic small talk that lasted far too long. As a random listener, you would have thought that the two coincidentally shared the same hobby and found each other to chat. However, I knew that the sales rep had no relation to the topic at all – which shed the light of a shifty, unauthentic sales tactic.
There was an unstoppable, growing rapport between the two, hence I concluded the existence of a special jedi mind trick sales strategy – I tried to reverse engineer it. But even doing the analysis was exhausting, I felt like doing the moves by myself will feel like running a marathon. But he seemed to radiate a sense of calm. After the conversation, I noted:
You showed such a lasting attention for this topic, impressive. It must have been tiring.
And then, he responded with a statement that engraved in my brain.
Showing interest in something is not hard if it’s honest. He just felt like a good friend to me – not saying that I know him intensively enough, but you find an interesting and charming aspect in most people if you look close enough.
It was not a big deal for him, I’m sure he didn’t even contemplate to give me a lesson. For him, it was common sense. But it is not for most people, including me at the time.
The immeasurable difference
As written by Robert Cialdini, most people like other people if they are liked by them. Which becomes a chicken egg problem and can lead to social stuck states, where everyone waits for the first emotional endorsement of the other one. It is generally a big achievement to like someone first, because it makes you vulnerable – at least emotionally. If you truly like and trust someone, you put him into your circle of friends, even if that happens temporally. We all feel sincerity in the care and treatment people put on us, you can’t just play it back or learn it by heart from a guide. As a sales person, you want to start an interaction, which makes a solution to this potential stuck state crucial for you.
But it is exactly this emotional honesty that can’t be simply required, expected or forced by a leader. But we can change it by ourselves and act as an example like someone was for me in the story above. Risk the openness of liking someone without expecting a return. And with this change, we might become better listeners, partners, friends and at the end: a little better human fellows.