This series of articles challenges the "realities" most of us were taught about selling: that you need to control customers in order to succeed in selling, that you have to deliver a great sales pitch or presentation to get the customer to say "yes," or that selling is based on what you do to customers instead of what you do with them.
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If establishing "control" is important to you, ask yourself why. What personal concerns or maybe even fears cause you to want to "make things happen your way?" For many people, the desire for control is an unconscious reaction to doubts about credibility, confidence and self-worth. Get together with someone you trust and talk about your concerns. Brainstorm how you could be, and feel, even more successful if you collaborated more and controlled less.
When you try to control customers, what are the results that your behavior triggers in customers? Look for ways to share control with customers by asking more questions, and inviting them to problem-solve with you how you can create a win/win solution to their real concerns or problems.
Other Articles in this Series
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Sales Myth #1 - Controlling the Customer
The widespread fallacy that successful selling requires you to control customers is easy to understand; it's how most of us were taught to sell. Here's a sampling of "best practices" from widely-read books on sales and sales training programs:
So what's wrong with that advice? Simple - at a conscious, and more likely, at a subconscious level, most people don't like or want to be controlled. Guided, advised, helped, supported, encouraged, even challenged - sure - but not controlled.So the desire to control customers depends for success on two dubious possibilities:
In either case, if you're successful, you may gain a "one-off" sale, but you certainly won't develop the kind of high-value loyal customer relationship you need to grow your business.At a deep subconscious level, the feeling that we're being controlled can be so threatening to our self-esteem and sense of personal safety that it triggers a similarly unconscious stress response: "fight" in the form of objections, or "flight" in the form of avoidance and evasion. Most of the time, when the defense mechanisms in our mind take over to protect us, it happens on "autopilot." The stress response bypasses the thinking functions of the brain to launch a powerful physical and emotional gut reaction. Once the stress response takes over, attempts to logically or rationally "argue" customer into changing their minds don't work because the rational mind isn't involved in the decision. A good source to learn how the subconscious mind can shape what happens in a sales call without our - or the customer's awareness - is the discussion of Emotional Intelligence in the opening chapters of Daniel Goleman's Primal Leadership. Goleman is also excellent in describing how to reshape your thinking to help you change your behavior to get better results.
For the same reason, even if you manipulate the customer into saying "yes," that agreement lasts only as long as you're in the room. The verbal "yes" above the surface gets negated by the subconscious "no" below the surface. The Fallacy of "Verbal" Control Over the years, I've worked with thousands of salespeople who focus all their efforts to get customers to say "yes," and use rational arguments to convince the customer that "yes," is a wiser, smarter answer than "no" or "maybe." The first clue that this belief might be a fallacy, and the practice of it a mistake, comes from observing what happens when salespeople say to customers: "I'm right, you're wrong." "I know more about this than you do." (Real message: I'm smart, you're dumb." "I'm logical, you're illogical.") Salespeople who are skilled at using evidence and facts may convince the customer they are right. And customers may say "yes" but that "yes" often turns into a indecision, or even the loss of a "sale."
If you want to examine this thought in greater depth, read what Sharon Drew Morgen says in Selling with Integrity, or see her newest E-book, "Buying Facilitation." newsalesparadigm.com. Jeff Thull, in Exceptional Selling, is also powerful and clear on this subject.
Sharing control starts with a basic premise: "I will never sell you anything or let you buy from me unless we both believe you'll benefit from the sale in ways that make a real difference for you, personally and/or professionally." The reason you share control with customers is so that at the end, you both come out winners. If what you're selling isn't right for this customer, at this time, the faster you learn that, the faster you can get on to the next opportunity.What this means to you: Surrendering the desire to control sales outcomes opens the possibility that you and the customer can achieve more by working together than you ever could accomplish by yourself - working against the customer.
Some key questions:
What I hear a lot from workshop participants, readers of The Tao of Sales and subscribers to the sales forum I recommend, SalesPractice.com is the question: "But suppose customers don't want to be partners? Suppose they're only interested in the lowest price?"The answer to that question? Practicing and mastering the techniques that help you clarify the choices customers face and the consequences of those choices to their goals. If you develop the questioning skills that allow customers to examine their choices, the customers you want to work with will start re-considering their own thinking, and begin to be more open to a conversation about value over price. The ones who can't get past their belief that "cheap is better" are the customers you want to walk away from, as quickly as possible. Your time is precious, and they're wasting it.
I'll discuss these techniques in later posts. The simple version is based on questions like:
I also hear salespeople bring up the concern that their boss wants them to use sales practices that either don't work, or ones the salesperson doesn't believe in. That, too, will be the subject of a later article, but for now, read the review of Jim Collins'Good to Great for ideas on how to become a great salesperson in spite of your boss.The bottom line: trying to control customers is a losing game, unless you're really serious about manipulating their subconscious decision-making (on that, see my forth-coming article "the Dark Side of Influence.") As Margaret Wheatley says in Leadership and the New Science, "... seeking to impose control is suicide. If we believe that [sales success] means exerting control , then we cannot hope for anything except what we already have-a treadmill of effort and life-destroying stress. What if we could reframe the search? What if we stopped looking for control and began, in earnest, the search for order?