Successful sales relationships are built on trust, acceptance, and understanding.
It’s a lot like a parenting relationship:
- You set a boundary — that boundary gets challenged
- You try to clearly communicate what’s expected — that can get ignored, misconstrued, or convoluted somehow
- Everyone can get heated or emotional
At the end of the day, you all want things to work out the right way.
I use this analogy because, as a parent, I feel there’s a meaningful connection between that experience and the sales process.
What Parenting Taught Me About Sales
Parenting has taught me how to nurture relationships, build open lines of communication, and become a trusted source of advice and guidance. These same principles apply to all types of relationships.
Rebellious teens will treat you much the same way as a resistant customer. Your goal isn’t to win anything, but to create openness.
The lecture doesn’t work. You have to win their hearts.
The good news? If you can influence a teenager, you can influence anybody.
Let’s dive deeper into how developing sales relationships mirrors parenting and what lessons you can take away that will make you better at both. (Even if you don’t have kids, you can still apply these lessons to any relationship.)
At ASLAN, we know that becoming a master salesperson is a journey. Challenge what you know. Consider the skills you’re developing. Think about the long-term relationships you can build. Connect with us anytime to learn more about our programs.
Care, Conform, and Counsel
Like parenting, sales relationships grow and evolve.
It all starts at what I call the “care” stage.
When your baby arrives home from the hospital, they need constant nurturing and attention to develop and thrive.
Cultivating a new customer relationship requires a similar level of commitment and devotion.
You need to dote on and occasionally coddle new customers during this critical stage to demonstrate your commitment to ensuring the relationship continues to grow.
Next comes the “conform” stage.
Once your child can function independently, you begin to set expectations and boundaries on what’s considered acceptable behavior.
Don’t jump on the couch.
Eat your vegetables.
Brush your teeth.
Kids push back on boundaries and test expectations. They want independence. In an effort to gain it, there’s resistance to your unreasonable flossing or manners expectations.
You’ll often feel frustrated and disappointed when they resist your attempts to influence their behavior, but you remain patient and understanding because it’s all part of the maturity process.
Customers will similarly push your buttons and test your limits. They’ll leave you shaking your head and wondering, “What the heck were they thinking?”
Even though you can’t ground them or send them to their room, you accept their perceived mistakes and use these moments to strengthen your relationship further.
Finally, we come to the stage that most parents and salespeople find hardest to embrace – the counsel stage.
Here is where the relationship begins to evolve beyond your limits of comfort and control.
Kids no longer need the nurturing support of their parents as they can fend for themselves in the world. They’ve outgrown set boundaries and have established their own expectations you may now struggle to meet.
This is firmly the teenage stage of their growth and development. It’s a time when life-defining decisions are made, and serious mistakes lead to severe consequences.
You’ll want to lecture.
You’ll want to insist that they listen.
You’ll want to shake them until they come to their senses. (Metaphorically, of course.)
Unfortunately, doing any of these things will have the opposite effect. Your child won’t listen or learn if you approach the conversation from the position of “the adult that knows better.”
Lecturing your customers won’t work either. Trying to alter their behavior to fit your expectations will leave you disconnected and them searching for a salesperson who better meets their needs.
At this stage, you need to wait for an invitation to join the conversation. Once that invitation arrives, your kids and customers will finally be ready to listen to what you have to say.
Validate to Win Acceptance
Accepting your invitation to become part of the conversation starts with validation. Your kids and customers need the validation of being heard before they’ll be willing to listen.
When helping my kids navigate dating, the stress they felt at school, or the pressures of growing up, it was tempting to tell them how I would handle their situation. It was very tempting to apply my years of experience and the power of hindsight to give practical advice that would keep them from making obvious mistakes.
Despite my good intentions, that’s not what my kids needed.
To accept what I had to say, I needed to first validate that they were being heard. I needed them to know that whatever they were going through, I would always be there to provide the love, compassion, and support they required.
It didn’t matter if I understood or even agreed with their feelings. I would always be an ally they could turn to for emotional support.
Once my kids understood that my role wasn’t just to judge their actions or tell them what to do, they began to invite me into having conversations where feelings were expressed and advice was received. By positioning myself as a coach and mentor, rather than as a know-it-all parent, my kids came to trust and rely on my advice.
Relationships with customers require this validation as well.
Your customers need to know that you support their decisions, regardless of whether you agree with them.
Telling your customer what to do or how to act without an invitation will lead them to push you away. They need to be ready to listen, just like your kids.
No one wants to work with a pushy salesperson who’s more interested in promoting their own agenda than listening to the needs of their customers.
As a coach and a salesperson, you must remember that it’s the customer’s world. You can’t tell them what to do, you can only guide them. You can’t control whether they accept that guidance, only how you react when they do or don’t.
If it Doesn’t Fly With Your Kids, it Won’t Work With Customers Either
While creating relationships based on openness, trust, and a willingness to listen is the key to successful parenting and sales, I’d like to share a few other observations I’ve learned from parenting that I apply when working with customers:
- You can’t tell a customer “I told you so.” If they make a mistake, be a source of understanding that helps them move on.
- Listen to what your customers have to say, no matter how it sounds. You’re trying to build a platform where your customers will listen to what you say. That all starts by allowing them to be heard.
- Be willing to take a metaphorical punch. Customers will say and do things that hurt your feelings. Whether intentional or not, you must find a way to shrug off these actions to preserve and strengthen the relationship.
- Never punch back. Pain and our own insecurities can make it tempting to retaliate to negative comments or actions. But as soon as you retaliate, you’ll lose any ability to influence the relationship in the future.
Strengthening Relationships is the Key to Parenting and Sales
Relationships in sales grow and evolve. Whether they become stronger or slowly dissolve depends on how you nurture those relationships.
As parents, we must accept that we can’t control our kids’ lives. We can only provide them with the tools to make the best decisions possible.
As salespeople, we must accept that we can’t control our customers. We can only support their decisions and provide guidance when asked.
If we focus on delivering the truth and position ourselves as someone always willing to listen, we create the foundation for becoming a trusted coach and dependable ally.
Over time, you can take satisfaction in seeing how the relationship you nurtured matured into something extraordinary.
ASLAN: Equipping Great Sales Leaders and Reps
At ASLAN, we invite you to reconsider how you approach the sales process. Our Other-CenteredⓇ Selling training program will change your sales team’s philosophy and measurably improve outcomes.
Feel free to reach out to learn more about our approach and how we can help improve your team’s performance.