It’s rare to feel understood, but everyone needs understanding. And those who take a genuine interest in others stand out against the drab self-interest common in the business world. True interest in others is the key to effective selling. When you use your scarce time and attention to understand your customers and offer them a plan that enables them to succeed, you can sell effectively but never sound salesy.
In the early 2000s, I managed a bookstore. The job was pleasantly predictable. I enjoyed ordering music, books, and supplies to keep the shelves full of engaging products. Repeat customers often asked for my help to find what they needed—and being needed was a boost for my ego. But despite the idyllic work environment, one day each month was uncomfortable.
Whenever the familiar car of the Hallmark sales rep pulled into the parking lot, I cringed. I dreaded meeting with him. He was a nice guy, but I didn’t trust him. Our interests were not aligned—he wanted to sell greeting cards, and any card would do. But my job required me to buy only the products my customers needed. I would have rewarded a consultant who put me first with large repeat orders, but he just wanted a sale.
It was a missed opportunity for both of us. The salesman never got the large order he wanted, and my greeting card business languished without the expert guidance it deserved.
Self-interested sales tactics won’t work on your customers, but that’s good news! They are human beings, after all. Genuine relationships create opportunities for mutual benefit, and building friendships is probably easier than you think.
1. Embrace the Business of Transformation
Think of a product you purchased recently. Don’t over-analyze; the first thing you recall is perfect! Let’s use it as an example. Why did you buy it?
My most recent purchase is a Hershey’s, Mr. Goodbar. Buying a candy bar may seem insignificant, but I had good reasons for the transaction.
I was standing in the checkout line at Cracker Barrel with my daughter. Our meal had been mediocre, but the candy display was enticing! We enjoyed spending time together, but after the un-superb food, dessert seemed warranted. I thought it would be a win if we left the restaurant with a sweet treat and smiling faces. It was. Mr. Goodbar delivered!
What might have been a below-average experience became a happy memory, and a candy bar was the catalyst for this change. Trivial or extravagant, everything we buy is a vehicle of personal transformation.
This simple concept is powerful. When you identify the transformation your business offers, your sales conversations will flow. Rather than feeling depleted after a sales call, you will be energized!
Answer this question: What are my customers hoping to gain when they buy from me?
2. Demonstrate Your Value as a Leader
“You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.”
— Zig Ziglar
When I think of leadership, I imagine confidence, a forceful personality, and a desire to direct others toward a collective goal. That may be a good definition of leadership, but there is another form of leadership that is even more powerful.
When we help others achieve their potential, we increase our impact dramatically.
My self-perception is limited, and sometimes I take faltering steps toward success—groping my way forward. I often overlook opportunities to use my gifts, increase my income, and multiply my impact. But occasionally leaders have turned the lights on for me and helped me to see myself more clearly. They make me a better man.
Leaders who identify the talents, opportunities, and resources others have overlooked are worthy of our respect and admiration. The best leaders direct us to a new path and give us new vision.
We can all become powerful leaders by using our empathy and expertise to direct others to the life they want but cannot identify alone.
Answer this question: How can I chart a course to the transformation my customers desire?
3. Build Trust
“Sales is not about selling anymore, but about building trust and educating.”
– Siva Devaki
There is no transaction without trust, and nothing destroys relationships more than its absence. Trust is hard to restore when we squander it, but it is easy to establish with a new acquaintance.
Taking a genuine interest in others makes you instantly likable. And trust and likability are closely linked. When you listen empathically to your customers, understanding their fears and struggles, you are selling—effortlessly.
If you want get rid of sales friction, do what comes naturally. Listen to the challenges, obstacles, and dreams of your customers. Then, chart a course to their dream that gives a wide berth to the reefs and storms that would cause them to fail. Impart a vision that makes their fears and struggles seem small by comparison.
Answer this question: How can I use listening skills to gain credibility as a leader who points the way to a better life?
4. Call Them to Action
“We have a ‘strategic plan.’ It’s called doing things.”
— Herb Kelleher
Everything else is of little importance compared to taking action. Action is the one vehicle that brings new realities into existence. Keep this in mind during sales conversations. When you sell what your customer needs, you enable them to move toward their goals.
When you embrace the business of transformation, demonstrate your value as a leader, and build trust, buying from you is a no-brainer. For you, calling someone to action is not self-serving. You and your customer both know you care. Yes, asking for the sale opens you to rejection, but an act of vulnerability is generous. As you wait for a response to your question and it seems like it may never come, you can take comfort in knowing you are worthy of trust. You would never ask for a sale except to help others toward a life of success.
Answer this question: Do I understand my customers well enough to call them to action I know is in their best interest?
Say “So Long” to the Sales Struggle
If you put others first, your business will thrive. Most of us overcomplicate the sales process, but it’s simple. Show a deep interest in people: understand them, lead them, and serve them well. Then, call them to action.
Will you begin today?