Persuasion is overrated. What’s more important in sales than persuasion? Influence. Credibility. Support. Accuracy.
Over 30 years ago I listened to my first sales training podcast, although we called it a cassette tape in those days. My heroes were (and remain) people like Tom Hopkins, Zig Ziglar, Earl Nightingale, and other legends in the sales training field. It took me a few years, however, to figure out that something was flawed in their messages.
I realized that they were teaching salespeople how to close the deal. Their methods worked well if you were selling steak knives, vacuum cleaners, or cars to a consumer. The challenge we face is that we are not selling to consumers who will buy a product from us only once or twice in a lifetime. We’re pursuing relationships with buyers who will continue to buy from us throughout our lifetime.
That’s when it hit me. Closing is not an all-or-nothing, pinnacle moment of confrontation. Closing is incremental. Closing is a series of little victories. Closing is timing. In my second book, “The Sales Secret,” I explored this concept in detail after considering what really happened when I successfully closed sales, which is to say more properly “opened new relationships.”
Business-to-consumer sales usually involves a high degree of uncertainty, which is to say that the salesperson has a short window of time and few interactions with the buyer before a decision is made. Conversely, in business-to-business selling the salesperson discovers that a short window is actually a warning sign.
A sale that comes after only one or two interactions is a sign that the buyer might be a bad credit risk, disloyal to vendors or, at worst, that you have made a mistake in your pricing. Good selling is not a matter of persuading a buyer to buy when you want them to buy as a result of your tricks and gimmicks. True sales leadership requires deep awareness of the factors that create sustainable business relationships such as influence, credibility, support, and accuracy. Influence, as I am referring to it here, is different than persuasion. Persuasion is a push for results that creates personal gain with little consideration, or perhaps feigned benefit for the buyer. Influence is a more comfortable and confident level of sales leadership; the salesperson doesn’t need or expect a sale but is sincerely interested in the buyer’s best interests.
Credibility results a sincere interest to help, an understanding of the business landscape, and the competence to take on a role as a business advisor. The credible salesperson possesses knowledge of the market, best business practices, and advisory business skills on which the buyer can rely.
Support means delivering tangible resources and support prior to the launch of the business relationship. Resources come in the form of marketing advice, a sales lead, operational insights, a professional referral, and other assets that provide little monetary return for the salesperson up front while creating the credibility and influence that produce enduring relationships.
Accuracy includes all the little details that produce customer fulfillment. Too often in our industry we presume the final step in the sales process is something called “follow-up.” The problem is that follow-up often means putting out a fire that could have been prevented. Instead, fulfillment means figuring out what needs to happen at the moment an order is being placed. Take the time early in the process to sweat the details and avoid disruptions down the road. In construction we measure twice and cut once; in sales we proofread twice and order once.
The key to a lasting relationship is not about persuading a buyer to place an order. The better approach is to plan a successful journey with each client that produces influence and relationships of unbreakable loyalty.
Rick Davis, president of Building Leaders, is a premier sales trainer in the building materials industry. His latest book, Sales Economics: The Science of Selling, is now available at buildingleaders.com. Rick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org