What is “influence?”
The Merriam-Webster dictionary tells us that the definition of influence is “the power to change or affect someone or something : the power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen.”
This is exactly the definition of “influence” as we refer to it in sales. Selling is not just about demand fulfillment – nor is it about forcing, persuading, pushing, or manipulating. It’s about influence.
Contrary to what people might believe about sellers, influence is not convincing people to do what you want them to do, it’s about changing their beliefs so that they see the world in a new way, and potentially, change their behavior or decision accordingly.
Your goal as a seller is to open your customer’s mind to consider the full scope of a situation and make an educated decision about what’s best for themselves, their employees, and their business. It’s about getting them to change their beliefs.
But “influence” doesn’t just happen – it has to be earned. We’ve found that there are five main barriers that sellers encounter along their journey to influence.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our previous blog posts on the first three barriers to influence:
Barrier #1 – Changing the customer’s perception of you.
Barrier #2 – Opening a closed door (i.e. getting access).
Barrier #3 – Discovering the unfiltered truth.
Today we’ll discuss the fourth barrier to influence, changing your customer’s beliefs.
If you’d prefer to listen to a podcast on this topic, check out SALES with ASLAN episode 123:
The Formula for Change
When it comes to changing someone’s beliefs, there are really three components or steps:
- Setting the stage.
- Getting them to logically understand the need to change.
- Getting them to emotionally experience/ embrace the need to change.
The most difficult thing to do is to get someone to emotionally experience the benefit of a change, so that’s what we’ll focus on today.
When talking about changing beliefs, we often reference the ABC formula:
Action = Belief + Care
In other words, for someone to take action, they have to believe that the change is needed (they believe what you’re telling them is true) but they also have to care (to emotionally experience the benefit or payoff of that change).
We can all grasp that there are things we need to do differently, but to actually do them, we have to emotionally experience that benefit. Think about your eating or exercise habits. Most people believe that they should eat healthier or exercise more – but they often don’t make behavior changes until a major life event (a health scare for example) forces them to emotionally experience the benefit of change (or the detriment of not changing).
In terms of selling, the question then becomes: How do we get customers to emotionally experience the benefit of our recommendation?
It’s easy to understand why this approach is necessary, but it’s harder to pull off. So let’s look at some strategies for helping your customer emotionally experience the payoff.
Your Customer Should Emotionally Experience the Payoff
There is a simple but powerful way to help your customers emotionally experience the benefit of your solution – we call them “Word Pictures.”
What are Word Pictures?
Word Pictures are basically a fancy term for analogies or metaphors. A Word Picture takes something you don’t understand, and connects it to something that you do. They are a great tool for sellers to use to simplify the complex, to help the customer picture something they don’t understand, or to elicit a desired emotion by drawing on a past experience.
A mental image can be a powerful tool to help explain your solution. It evokes more emotion (which is the key!) than a bunch of numbers and statistics. It can conjure up feelings of what life would be like with or without the benefits of what you offer.
We use Word Pictures all the time when selling our own solution. Below is an example for reference:
Our sales training solution is both nuanced and complex, so we want our potential customers to spend enough time evaluating it to really appreciate the unique benefits we offer. It’s not something that can be easily communicated in a quick call or meeting, because it can be hard to distinguish from the competition. So part of our sales process involves asking the customer to actually experience our solution.
But oftentimes, we have to “sell” that process, we have to “sell” the customer on spending that extra time to evaluate our solution fully.
This is where a Word Picture comes in handy. It could sound something like this:
“If you’re “evaluating” or deciding on a restaurant for dinner, typically, you’d look at the menu. Right? But if you look at the menus for five different restaurants, they’re all going to look pretty similar: appetizers, entrees, desserts, sides, wine list, etc.
So what’s the best way to distinguish between the food at different restaurants?”
Almost every potential customer usually answers, “Taste it.”
And I always reply, “Exactly.”
If you look at the “menu” of programs and content that most sales training companies offer, it all looks pretty much the same. The best way for you to evaluate our offering is to spend the time to “demo” it and experience our program.
And typically, our prospects agree that that approach makes the most sense. They want to “taste” it.
Another quick Word Picture we often use to sell our process is this:
You don’t want to buy a car by reading a brochure about it or having someone describe it to you. You want to see it. You want to test drive it.
The customer then usually agrees that they want to “test drive” our solution.
Creating Word Pictures
Word Pictures work when you connect something you want to say to something that the customer cares about and can understand. Do some research on your potential customer and find out about their interests. If you can tailor a Word Picture specifically to them, it will be much more powerful. Emotion is the key. They have to care – because remember: Action = Belief + Care.
To build your library of Word Pictures, here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Figure out and rank the most difficult but important concepts required to sell your product, service, or solution. Where do you “get stuck” when trying to sell to customers? What is hard for them to understand?
- Set aside time to develop 3 to 5 Word Pictures for your most critical but complex concepts. Why so many? Remember, Word Pictures will fall flat unless they connect to something the listener cares about and understands. Some people hate sports analogies but love cars. Some hate cars and sports, but love cooking or wine or music or politics. Develop a few Word Pictures that will appeal to every type of customer.
- Lastly, test them out. Some of the seemingly best Word Pictures fall flat when delivered live. Like all good comedians, find a few friends to test out your material and refine your analogies accordingly.
Share with your colleagues and brainstorm some Word Pictures you can all use when selling your product or service. Get creative together and share what works in your practice. You will all reap the benefits.
Use Word Pictures in These 2 Situations
The biggest villain in selling is time. We just don’t have enough time and attention from our customers and the decision makers to really explain and demonstrate the total value of our solution. Word Pictures are a great way to communicate what your solution does or its value in an efficient way.
If the value of your solution is easy to communicate or understand, you may not need to use a Word Picture. But there are two scenarios where Word Pictures are particularly helpful in selling:
1) To explain – i.e. when you are trying to simplify the complex nature of what your solution does.
If your customer doesn’t quite understand a complicated solution, Word Pictures can help simplify and clarify your message. For example:
- If you sell a high end, very expensive product, you need a Word Picture to help the listener experience what quality feels like, the cost of shortcuts, or why the expensive materials used in manufacturing the product really matter.
- If you sell an intangible service, like marketing or consulting, you need Word Pictures to differentiate you from the competition or to simplify the complex nature of your offering.
- If you sell a product or service that, in the mind of the customer, is a commodity — or maybe what you offer is simple to understand and therefore, it all looks the same or is easy to be misjudged (e.g., insurance, medical supplies) — you need a Word Picture.
2) To demonstrate value – i.e. when it’s difficult for the customer to understand the value of your solution.
Overall, the idea is to capture your customer’s attention with a quick and simple analogy that takes a complicated idea and distills it down into something they understand or relate to.
Summing it Up
Remember, the goal is to help your customer experience the emotional benefit of your solution. This is how you will ultimately be able to gain influence, change their beliefs, and get them to take action.
Word Pictures are a great tool in your belt to accomplish this.
If you found this blog helpful and want to go deeper into the concepts we covered, check out the new book, UnReceptive, at unreceptivebook.com.