How to sell to humans

Door Shad Raouf, 31 augustus 2019

Deze presentatie is gegeven tijdens Wordcamp Nijmegen 2018. Hieronder zijn de speaker notes gepresenteerd. Dit waren mijn gedachten bij het in elkaar zetten van de presentatie en het uiteindelijke resultaat was ook grotendeels hetzelfde. Geniet van mijn engelse overwegingen bij het mooie vakgebied van sales.

How to sell to humans

I’ll tell you a little about why I chose this title. I’ve had my share of sales training. And the one thing they all had in common was the singular focus on the salesman. The prospect or client is merely something you can convince or mould by pressing the right buttons and saying the right things. This always bugged me, and I think this is also why people have negative feelings towards salespeople. We notice they have a singular goal and our well-being is just a way to get to that goal. And there’s definitely a value to this way of thinking. You get people that close a lot of deals. But it doesn’t work for most people. Most of you are not salesmen, doing sales is just one part of your business and you don’t want to chase down deals. In fact, you might rather respect someone’s decision not to work with you, instead of trying to convince them, which is very reasonable. But nonetheless it’s an unavoidable part of any business, and I’ve been wondering for a while now whether we can take the useful aspects of sales and still treat our prospects and customers like human beings. So how to sell to humans means selling to people we don’t view as objects of manipulation but as free agents. I think we can, but it requires that we recognize a few truths about humans. So in the following, I will layout 8 characteristics of humans which should help you understand how to adapt a sales mindset without reducing the other to an object. 

Humans have personal responsibility

Ok, this is something we first need to agree on. This what sales trainers get right. If you want to get anywhere in life, you háve to act as if you have something like personal responsibility. Or else you won’t be able to attune to how you can adjust your behaviour and adapt. Even more so in a sales context. Often times deals will fail and in those cases, if you want to learn from them, it doesn’t help to attribute that to anything outside of yourself. Because you’re the only thing you have any control over. So, while you might’ve dealt with someone who was impossible to work with, it’s good to envision how you would handle such a person in the future because you will run into those kinds of people again. Or maybe you’ll choose to evade them all together, fair enough. But you have to accept your responsibility for any situation if you’re going to get anywhere and improve your sales. Now I’m not saying you have control over everything, or that any success or failure is 100% on you. But by definition, you’re only responsible for what is within your control, so in a sense, you do have 100% responsibility. A big part of this is figuring what is under your control and what isn’t. What you control, you can change, what you don’t control, you’re going to have to adapt to. 

Humans are selfish

People really don’t care about you. At least in a sales context. If a prospective client is browsing the web or talking to you about your solutions, they’re not interested in who you are, they’re interested in what you can do for them. They’re trying to understand whether you can help them. So, when you’re having a salestalk, it’s in no one’s best interest that they know everything about you, but it’s in everyone’s best interest that you know all about them. This is pretty standard practice in any self-respecting sales department. “Don’t pitch” is a well-known mantra. It’s a reaction to the antique and aggressive way of selling, where you stop people in the streets or knock on their door, they have no interest in you whatsoever but you need to ‘hook’ them. I assume most of you won’t be out in the streets selling your products, so if you remember humans are selfish, and you assume your responsibility for dealing with this, you realize not to talk about yourself. Learn everything you can about your prospect and only then tell them how you can help them achieve their goals. While this is true in face to face conversations, it’s absolutely true for your text on a website. What’s in it for me, is what most people think, and ‘’what IS in it for them” is what you should think.

Humans have goals

But they’re not selfish just for the sake of being selfish. People have goals that need to be fulfilled. They’re not looking for products or services. You are just a way of getting there. So always remember, that it isn’t about you or what you can do. It’s about them, and what you can do for them. Realizing this will allow you to think outside of the box of your ‘profession’ or ‘the way you work’ and adjust to the needs and goals of the people you’re supposed to help. You should ask about the goals of your clients with their current project, with their business now, in a year and even 10 years. Understanding them will make you invaluable to them. Talk about these goals, learn your customer’s challenges and you’ll find you’re having very different conversations with customers and prospects. You’ll get to know them in different ways, you’ll understand their business on a level that can’t be replaced. Who would you rather call back? Someone who’s talking about their USP’s or someone who understands your vision and knows how bring you closer to that vision

Humans build relationships

You’ll start to build a relationship. You’ve probably built up relationships with people you’ve worked with before. These people come to trust you. They’ll listen to your expertise and will send more customers your way. And when you talk with them, it’s more about unrelated stuff. You might find these are reasonable and nice people, quite unlike those difficult clients who don’t take you on your word, doubt your expertise and just want the lowest possible price. Well, that might be the case, but it’s more likely the people you’ve built up a relationship with trust you because, well, you have a relationship with them. You’ve worked together, you know each other, you share core values about the world and doing business. This is a different kind of way of relating to each other than between a customer and a professional. Always be striving to build relationships with the people you speak and the easiest way to do that is to understand their goals, challenges and worldview. 

Humans like humans like themselves

People like people like themselves. This is very important: The people we build relationships with, the ones we trust, are like ourselves. Just bear with me for a moment, I’m not talking about superficial looks, although that can be a part of it. I’m talking about having a shared idea of what the world looks like and how one should behave in it. If we can’t agree on that, it’s going to be hard for us to coöperate. So people like people who at least on some fundamental level are like them in the way they perceive the world, who align with them on fundamental principles. Ok, let me teach you a dirty secret salespeople use. A secret about how salespeople will misuse this given. Salespeople will covertly mimic their conversational partner by mirroring their body language or use the same words as they do. And it works really well, it’s been tested and people who mimic body language are perceived as more empathic and more likable. It even works if you have a robot do it. At least, if they don’t get caught, then they have a problem. There’s something about moving and talking like someone that signals: “I am like you, we understand the world in the same manner and if we were in a prehistoric environment we could communicate effectively and maybe even survive long enough to have offspring.” that last part is my own interpretation, but you get my point. People will do this subconsciously by the way. They will synchronize their body language and speech patterns. Don’t do this on purpose by the way. Although in some cases it can be very useful to use the same words as your client because words are not neutral, they have emotional value, and you want to be sensitive to that. But that’s for a different time. Point is, you want to align with the goals and values of your prospect or else you can’t cooperate. You could work for them fine, but you won’t be able to cooperate. If you understand someone’s goals and motivations you can align and synchronize on deeper topics than the product or service they’ve approached you for. And if you can get to that point, then everything else falls into place. Then it’s no longer a matter of the right price, specs or whatever, it’s a matter of figuring out, together, how to achieve the goals of your customer. 

Humans don’t know their needs

Because at the end of the day your client doesn’t know what they need. That’s why they’ve come to you. You’re the expert. Some might know exactly what they need, but most don’t, right? This is why you need to realize that you’re not selling a product or a service. You’re helping someone achieve their goals. You’re helping them rise above their challenges. And you need to exactly know how you fit in to this landscape of theirs. If you can learn to communicate on this deeper level, the value you provide to your clients will skyrocket. Because a lot of times they haven’t articulated their own goals and challenges very well, if they have at all. By asking the right questions you’ll help them articulate it, and you’ll be able to position your expertise in relation to these goals and become an integral part of the solution, not just a vendor. And there’s another advantage here. Clients and customers don’t tend to keep communicating when things go wrong or they have a falling out. But relationships, they actually deepen when there’s strife, or there’s tension or disagreement. Of course, not automatically, but the deeper a relationship goes, the more it can handle. So, if you understand your client’s goals, have built a relationship and you’re synchronized on important values, you can actually tell them what it is they need, far better than they can. And you should! Or at least you should come to an agreement about what that is. Sometimes I’ll talk to someone and they will say something like: “I know my clients need X, but they won’t listen or they don’t want to pay for it.” And I can’t understand that. Why would you let your client do something that is not in their best interest? Maybe they didn’t truly have the budget for X, but then they still should have the best option, given their budgetary constraint. But your client shouldn’t be the one making the decisions, you should. You’re the expert, you know what works and what doesn’t. Understand them, earn their trust and then show them what their best option is. They will thank you for it. We’ve all got enough decisions to make on a daily basis and if someone can take the load off some of them, oh man that would be great. So tell them what it is they need, they decide their goals, you decide your place in them. And don’t be afraid to get into heated arguments with your clients, at least if you’ve built up the needed trust and alignment so they know you have their best interests in mind.

Humans are emotional

So this was all pretty abstract and maybe you have a pretty clear image of what I’m trying to say, maybe you don’t. If you don’t, just try it for a while and see what happens. I could explain all kinds of techniques for building trust, structuring your conversations and in fact, a good sales trainer will try to teach you techniques that actually help you achieve what I just laid out. But, probably, what is holding back most of you, is your aversion towards being too sales-y. So your emotions towards salespeople are what’s holding you back. And what I want to do here is to change that emotion, to take the negativity out of ‘convincing’ people or selling yourself. It’s not about selling yourself, it’s about building trust, understanding and then positioning yourself within your client’s goals. And just as you have emotions towards certain things, ie tough clients, they have emotions too. We’re used to thinking that emotions are best left outside the sphere of professionals. While that might be true, we’d probably be all much more productive if we could turn off our emotions, that isn’t what we usually do. Usually, we just ignore them, push them down. And that doesn’t work. It just makes us frustrated. Because emotions are like sensors, that tell us when things are going well or going bad. Now, your sensors might be awfully calibrated, then you have a whole different set of problems, but assuming they’re well-calibrated, you need to address them. So make sure you do things and say things that feel “good” and if something feels wrong address it, hash it out, make sure you and your client or prospect are on the right track to their best interest. keep these pillars in mind in your future conversations and see what happens. You’ll start to view ‘selling’ differently, and it’ll be for the better.

Humans play for fun

Last slide. I’m still wondering whether I should’ve started with this or not. But it’s not always clear why you should play fair. Especially as a salesperson. Now most people won’t lie because that’s a bridge too far. But, and this is something that we were being taught actually, you can bend and stretch the truth as much as you want. Or you can, and this is the dark side of attuning to someone’s emotions, take someone emotionally hostage. One thing we were encouraged to do when I was working for a commercial company that would collect funds for charities, was to first build an emotional connection with someone, then have them emotionally connect to the cause, usually represented as a person, and if they decided not to participate or give any money, to question their morality. Like, that is extremely problematic, but it’s not lying. And if you’re a salesperson, who is judged on the amount of deals they win, you can actually rationalize why you should act in that manner. It’s the job you’re hired to do right? But ok, The point I want to make, when your goal is to win as many deals as possible, it’s not clear why you should should play fair. But your goal shouldn’t be to to win as many deals as possible as possible. Your goal should be to build deep and meaningful relationships. Because that’s going to give you the most satisfaction. And you will definitely lose some deals when you become more honest and try to put your client’s best interest above all. Because some people just won’t listen. But what you will be left with are the ones that you actually have fun with, and they will introduce you to other fun people. So losing deals actually is not a bad thing, unless you lose every deal of course. But compromising on what you feel is the right thing to do, for a deal, is only going to jeopardize your wellbeing and career in the future. 

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