An Overdeveloped Ego is the Enemy of a Trusted Advisor
I have always wondered why some of my traditional seminar participants who were smart, successful, and experienced sales people struggled with a practical sales strategy that was based heavily on thought-provoking questions, being open to accept and hear negative news, having a minimal emphasis on presenting information and a strong intention on focusing on getting to the truth. It finally dawned on me that this non-selling strategy placed one big huge demand on sales people that was very hard to integrate; momentarily suspending their ego. It is the hardest thing to do in the sales process; even more difficult than closing.
I have rarely met a traditional sales person who did not have the best of intentions to put their customer's interests first. Yet, something awful happens once they put on their sales hat. All of a sudden it becomes abundantly clear that all they really care about is themselves, closing the deal, meeting their goals, getting their sales points across and lining their pocketbook. Unfortunately, the road to hell is paved with the best of intentions.
The thing that I also observed is that sales people who were really good at asking thought-provoking questions, and were not emotionally vested in the outcome of the sale tended to be very self-aware. They were self-reflective and introspective. The idea of going deep into the customer's business to understand all the ins and outs of their operation, and to understand their most pressing challenges was not an alien task to them. They had a lot of personal self-knowledge and it was easy to help the customer go through a similar facilitation.
The following are some of the traits, characteristics, beliefs and behaviors that a sales person would have being an advisor the customer could trust:
- They are curious by nature. They are genuinely intrigued to learn more about others.
- They are willing to suspend their ego in the pursuit of the customer's truth.
- They are more concerned about finding the customer's reality, than trying to create their own reality for the customer.
- They are not emotionally invested in the outcome of the sale, so they are not afraid to ask tough questions.
- They encourage open dialogue regardless of whether it results in negative news for them.
- They are willing to take a low profile in the sales process and let the customer dominate the sales call with sharing important information.
- They put little pressure on themselves and hence put very little pressure on the customer.
- They know that to walk in another's shoes they have to be totally objective and open minded and sell from a position of minimal self-interest.
- They have a low need for validation so they tend to talk less than 20%. Essentially they let the customer do the heavy lifting.
- They realize that the best sales person at the selling event is the customer, so they get out of the customer's way and give them the freedom to do what they do best; find their own answers, draw their own conclusions and think for themselves. Customers are going to do this on their own anyway, with or without you, so do not fight it.
- They know that so often you do not have to say anything to be heard. They know that too often sales people are shouting so loud about their offering that they cannot be heard.
- They use the power of implication as opposed to using a lot of direct statements of facts.
- They ask questions not so much to gain information, but to trigger emotions in their customer.
- Their sales approach is balanced, authentic, unbiased, neutral, hype and dogma free and therefore more trustworthy.
- They focus on stark, unadorned realities. They are not afraid to walk away from deals that are not in the best interests of all parties. Because they are very realistic in their sales approach, customers tend to return the favor and be very realistic in their dealings with them.
- They are not burdened with the Puritan work ethic because they know that the way they sell is so simple and easy. Therefore, they do not believe selling should be a struggle. They realize so often that being overly persistent, playing the numbers game and constantly pushing, gives one just a heightened false sense of self-importance and drama.
- They know they lose battles when they are quick to fight (sell). So like Sun Tzu, in "The Art of War," they set up battles where fighting is unnecessary, or very much minimized.
- They realize that in the customer's mind perception is reality, so they sparingly fight City Hall. They choose their battles very carefully. And always try to sell under extremely good odds when possible.
- They realize that in order to gain the confidence of their customer to provide a future solution, they first must understand the customer's past problems. They are like any good historian; you must understand the past in order to predict the future.
- They are humble in their approach and they are the antithesis of being overbearing. This way they do not have to fight, posture and struggle for their legitimacy and authority. They realize it is the process, one's line of inquiry that is so telling, not the content (product or solution). They know that customers are swimming in content, but greatly lacking in context. This is what they bring to the table.
- They realize that the ever so popular, traditional selling approach of being outwardly enthusiastic, optimistic and pumped up is the antithesis of someone who is objective and more concerned with substance than rhetoric, dogma and hyperbole. How can you be a trusted advisor and probe for business problems, and at the same time be enthusiastic and excited? It would be totally out of context.
- They believe that no deal can make them and no deal can break them. They know that neediness is a foul smelling cologne.
It takes real maturity, poise and self-reflection for a sales person not to be ego-centric in their selling approach. Putting aside one's goals for the sake of another is very challenging for the uninitiated because it is doing nothing with style and substance. It does not feel like selling in the traditional way, it does not feel like you are trying hard enough. Being detached and disassociated from outcomes will be the hardest task any sales person does in their sales career, and yet it will be the most productive and rewarding.