Sellers, what would you say is the biggest challenge you face today in sales?
When we really dig into the real problem, it’s not about prospecting or pipeline management or closing ratios… it’s that customers today are more unreceptive than ever before. That’s the cold hard truth.
With the overwhelming amount of information now available, and how easily it can be accessed online, customers no longer want or feel the need to interact with sales reps. They’re closed off to people in our profession.
The good news is that knowing the problem is half the battle. We can embrace this truth and now begin to think strategically about how to overcome it.
If you’d prefer to listen to a podcast on this topic, check out SALES with ASLAN episode 121:
The Stigma of Selling
There’s an aspect of selling that those of us in sales universally dislike: customers that avoid us, dismiss us, or outright reject us. Why is this experience so common for sellers?
Selling has an interesting stigma attached to it. The population at large tends to think of sales professionals as “used car salesmen” with “commission breath.”
“It’s tough as a seller right now. The catch 22 is that we don’t know how to help customers unless they talk to us, but prospects don’t want to talk to us unless we tell them how we can help them.” – Marc Lamson
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
We’ve figured out a way to help eliminate resistance and make sales more enjoyable, meaningful, and successful. There’s a whole other dimension that sellers need to learn to navigate.
Because the reality is that sellers help people. They help their customers sort through the information and options at hand to choose the right solution for themselves and/or their business. Our role is to serve. So how can we eliminate that resistance and increase receptivity so that we can fulfill that role?
The Barriers to Influence
The issue that many salespeople run into in today’s climate is that when customers are unreceptive, the traditional approach to selling fails. What do we mean by traditional? It’s like taking someone to court to make your argument and win your case. Sellers ask for a customer’s time in order to list off their solution’s features & benefits, hammer out their value proposition, provide case studies, etc – and the belief is that logic will win out. But here’s the problem: nobody’s in the courtroom.
Here’s our simple but counterintuitive approach: stop selling and start with cultivating receptivity. This is the key to gaining influence with your customers.
Think about a farmer trying to grow a healthy crop. There are two elements she needs to consider – the seed and the soil. If the soil is not fertile, the quality of the seed doesn’t matter – it will not grow. The same idea applies in sales. If the customer is not receptive, your value proposition doesn’t matter.
Note: You may be thinking, “Well that’s not always true.” And you’d be right. If your customer is open (receptive), the traditional approach to selling works. But if they’re closed (unreceptive), it doesn’t. And the problem is that most customers nowadays are unreceptive to being sold. That’s when we need to shift our focus from selling to increasing receptivity.
So let’s unpack what this might look like in your practice by addressing two of the barriers to influence:
Barrier 1 – Changing Their Perception of You
The first step to thinking about changing someone’s perception of you is to consider this fact: true influence is preceded by an invitation.
Until your customer says, “What do you think I should do?” or “Why should I ____?” you don’t have influence. Until that moment occurs, you’re wasting your time trying to sell them.
So what does this have to do with their perception of you?
Think about it this way: the number one reason that anyone accepts an invitation is based on one thing… who it’s from.
The reason customers don’t accept “invitations” from sellers is based on how they feel about sales reps. They reject your invitation based on the sales title on your business card. They assume sellers are going to push them and manipulate them into buying something they don’t want or need. They have a certain perception of you, and that’s what you need to change first – that’s where we start.
The perception we need to shift revolves around one main issue: customers assume that sellers will pressure them.
In order to change their perception of us as sellers, we need to remove the pressure that our customer feels. How?
Remove Pressure by Dropping the Rope
During a customer/ seller interaction, there’s typically an invisible tug-o-war happening. Customers feel pressure from a seller (pulling the rope) and they instinctively pull back on it. It’s human nature. It creates tension and blocks our path towards influence.
To remove this pressure and tension, we simply need to “Drop the Rope.” We can do this in many ways, but specifically by articulating that our intention is not to pressure them. You could say something like, “I’m not really sure that it makes sense for you to spend more money on a solution,” or “I may not have the best solution for your business,” or “It might not make sense to consider my solution right now.”
Use words and phrases like “might,” “maybe,” “could,” or “it may be helpful to consider,” to relieve pressure that your customer is probably feeling. You want your customer to know that you won’t create pressure, because this will eliminate the tension and make room for collaboration.
You’re not giving up or walking away, you are communicating that your intention is not to lead by force.
Dropping the rope can feel counterintuitive at first. But the truth is, control is an illusion. Your customer already has the freedom to decide for themselves. You’re not giving them that freedom, you are simply acknowledging it and communicating that you respect it.
You’re trading control (which you never had in the first place) for an opportunity to influence.
Barrier 2 – Opening a Closed Door
Studies and surveys often list prospecting as the #1 aspect of selling that salespeople name as their biggest challenge. It’s difficult. Sellers struggle just to get in the door, to get access, to get a meeting with prospects.
The reason that reps fail (over 90% of the time) to get a meeting is how they position their meeting request, whether by phone, email, or another avenue. It’s not necessarily the email or voicemail itself, but the position you take that matters. It is the heart of the introductory message and it needs to answer the question, “Why should I meet with you?”
There are 3 basic elements that sellers should consider incorporating to effectively position their meeting request or introduction:
- Their Problem – lead with the customer’s whiteboard (their challenges/goals)
- A Disruptive Truth – some unknown insight, statistic, or fact related to their problem
- The Proprietary Benefit – how you can uniquely solve their problem
This Other-Centered Position works because it catches the customers attention by leading off with them. Start with their problem, their goals, their needs.
Think about it: if you show someone a picture of themselves, they will always look at it. People will pay attention to things that they care about (themselves, their goals, their problems), so begin there.
This is very different from the way that most sellers approach prospecting: by leading with their solution. Sales reps are comfortable talking about their solution, they’re experts on it – so they list off their features and benefits, and hope something sticks out to the customer. But this is actually the least interesting thing to an unreceptive prospect. And it’s why this approach fails to get sellers more meetings. (Customers don’t want to look at a picture of you).
Remember, your position should answer the question, “Why meet?” Why might it be worth their time to have a conversation with you. Just give them a good reason to talk to you.
The theory is easy to understand but harder to pull off. It’s common sense, but not always common practice. It’s natural to want to talk about ourselves and our solution, but it’s more effective to talk about them first.
If you can do that, if you understand and incorporate these elements into your own selling practice, your prospecting results will dramatically increase.
Summing it Up
When sellers embed this Other-Centered philosophy into their practice, customers notice. They will pay attention, instantly, when you take this approach with sincerity. You will stand out. Because the truth is, your motive is transparent. If your intention is truly to serve, you will find selling more fulfilling, rewarding, and successful.
We’ll address the next three barriers to influence in our blogs next week, so stay tuned for more.
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.