To sell or not to sell; that is the question!

We humans like to buy, but really don’t like to be sold to. Many small businesses believe that successful growth comes from chasing sales. I think this is a mistake and want to propose an alternative strategy. In doing so, I know I am taking a contrary position to those who think that selling is a teachable skill, those who often make a living as sales people or by teaching others their sales techniques. I am not intending to give time and space to their arguments that businesses grow by becoming good at sales, I just intend to outline an alternative way of having conversations with prospective clients aimed at growing your business – a way that does not involve any sales techniques.

I think my preferred approach is particularly suited to Services businesses, particularly in the Professional Services space. Businesses involved in law, accountancy and the provision of financial advice come to mind. I think the approach is equally efficacious for IT Professional Services, human resources, and management consultancy professionals. I have worked with individuals from these six groups to implement this alternative approach and have successfully adopted it in my own business.

My approach is used in conjunction with first applying the principles outlined by Professor Robert Cialdini in his seminal book, first published in 1984, entitled ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’. Cialdini set out to understand the factors that cause one person to say ‘yes’ to another person, and to identify the techniques that most effectively use those factors to bring about compliance. Cialdini describes his work as research into the psychology of compliance. He wanted to find out which psychological principles influence the tendency to comply with a request. Cialdini’s work identified six principles, six ‘Weapons of Influence’. I hope you are familiar with Cialdini’s work, perhaps from two previous WTT Results Ltd newsletters but if you are not you can access the briefing here:-

Having used the six principles to attract people into your business, you now have someone who is considering buying from you, and so you have the opportunity for them to say ‘yes’. You can use this alternative approach to getting them saying ‘yes’ to you heartily, eagerly and joyfully. Rather than trying to be a sales person, what is required is for you to be completely and genuinely true to who you are. To remain true to the person you want to be, and want to be known as. This theme of being true to yourself is reflected in the acronym given to my alternative approach – which is known as ALIGNED. The acronym stands for:

A Assume control
L Learn their situation and desires
I Injuries and pains
G Get commitment
N Nirvana – the Well-Formed Outcome
E Elegant solutions
D Decide or die

The application of this framework is explained in detail in my book ‘Dance with the Elephants’ but I offer a three important pieces of advice in this newsletter.

The first point to note is that the ALIGNED framework starts with the prospective client and does not involve any pre-defined products, services or solutions of yours. The first stages are about you listening intently to the prospective client, without any of your brain asking yourself the question ‘what can I sell them?’ This can be difficult initially as our natural tendency is often to want to help, to give the prospective client what they really want, perhaps to solve a problem that they might have. However, if we do not fully understand what it is they want, why they want it, and what having it would mean to them we run the risk of producing a partial solution that ultimately will disappoint. Similarly, if we do not fully understand the issue or problem they have (if they have one), the impact it is having on them, and how they have tried to resolve the problem so far, then we may end up proposing a solution to their problem that doesn’t provide a complete and permanent answer.

It is really important to take the time to fully understand their current situation and their desired future situation. You will often find that they haven’t actually spent the time themselves, so they don’t have a full understanding either. The very act of working together to get understanding builds strong bonds between you, often based on new, shared understandings and new insights.

Once you have fully understood everything that the prospective client has to tell you about their situation, make sure that it is not only you who is judging whether or not you have fully understood. Invite the prospective client to decide whether you fully understand, if they have any doubt at all that you really do get it, if there is one last piece that they haven’t actually told you yet. This is a key element because it gives both sides the opportunity to create an emotional contract, one based on mutual understanding, respect and trust. Once you have that ‘contract’ honour it by being creative in building your possible solutions for them. Don’t just trot out in your mind the ‘same old, same old’ for you to consider using. Honour and respect your prospective client by diligently answering the questions ‘Can I provide the perfect fit?’, ‘Can I truly delight them as a client?’, ‘Can this client become one of my fans?’ Ensure your solution is elegant in form, that it enables them to achieve their nirvana and that it addresses any barriers to success you discovered earlier. This is the most important moment in determining whether they will say an enthusiastic ‘yes’ to you.

A partial solution will ultimately disappoint; this is my third point. Businesses grow through delighted customers encouraging others to do business with them. Testimonials and referrals are key to successful growth, particularly in Services businesses. When did you last recommend to a loved-one or close friend a product or service that merely satisfied you? We tell people about our experiences at the extremes, not in the middle. If we experience fantastic service, we want to tell others about it. We certainly tell many people if we have a bad experience. The mediocre we just let go. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t awful, it doesn’t merit comment and certainly not enthusiastic praise or brickbats.

You want your prospective client to be a real supporter, to heartily recommend you to others, to give you that great testimonial for your website. So don’t give them anything that is less than the perfect match to all their requirements and desires. If you don’t have that perfect match, be honest and tell them that you cannot provide perfection for them in this instance. Your honesty will be refreshing (especially when contrasted with the sales person who focuses them on the features and benefits of what they can provide, and ignores any shortfalls), will most likely be appreciated and will form the bedrock of a strong potential relationship for the future.

An army of fans

So that is my alternative process for developing new business. I have described it in terms of a prospective client, but it is even more effective when used with an existing customer where you already have some basis of a relationship and a common understanding. The three key elements are

  • to banish any thoughts of predefined solutions,
  • to ensure you establish agreement that you really have understood and honour that agreement by being diligent and creative,
  • and finally to provide only the perfect solution, honouring and respecting the hopes and desires of your prospective customer and not disappointing them.

If you are not a natural sales person, feel discomfort when assuming the sales role and would like to remain true to who you really are as a professional trying to grow their business, I commend my alternative to you. The ALIGNED framework is now available and can be delivered into your business through a variety of mechanisms and as the Congruent Business Development System™ – let’s discuss what would be the ideal solution for you and your business.

Best wishes,

Phil Walker
WTT Results Ltd

Twitter   @PIW_WTT


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