Lost in Translation
The sales profession is a Greek tragedy where the sins of the father is constantly visited upon their sons. In a perfect world sales people and their customers would communicate openly, honestly, and with complete clarity about problems and solutions, and possible motives to change. But it is not a perfect world. Customers need to be assured that it is safe to share sensitive information, and that sales people won't use that information to manipulate them and use it to satisfy their quotas and pocketbooks. As Leo Tolstoy said, "The simplest ethical precept is to be served by others as little as possible and to serve others as much as possible.
The first thing customers do when you meet them is to assess the risk/reward of potentially engaging you. The reason they ultimately do not do business with you is because the perception of the risk of doing business with you is greater than the perception of your credibility and what you can do for them. The way most sales organizations position and sell their offerings fit perfectly into the worst fears customers have of them. Warning lights go off—this sales person should not be trusted to serve my best interests.
"The paradox of trust; The best way to sell is to stop trying to sell; the best way to convince someone is to stop trying to convince someone," says Charles Greene author of The Trusted Advisor. This is the essence of the non-selling posture. Your job is to give your customers a sense of perspective with your questions, not to sell them on an idea.
You have to be truly gifted in selling or manipulative to consistently outwit, outflank and outsmart your prospects. Make it simple for both parties. Let them make the decision they believe is smart for them. Unless your income substantiates it, you are better off to stop your unsustainable selling campaigns. "Selling is what clients expect. The problem is most prospects do not want to be sold. The ones that do are likely the least attractive targets for your sales team. The unselling appeal is designed to resist the temptation to sell. The vast majority of a well-run sales call requires no selling, 90 percent is questioning and listening," says Peter Bourke author of Unselling.
The non-selling posture is starting with an undefined position. The title of your sales call is untitled because there is no agenda or preordained push. You are a centrist, self-controlled, letting the customer think for themselves, and you spend time challenging the status-quo. As Voltaire said, "Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so also."
We have net neutrality, why not have sales neutrality. The toughest thing to do is to get sales people to remain open-minded, unbiased and neutral when gathering information from customers, and to not have an egotistical approach of, "I certainly wouldn't do that," "That certainly doesn't make sense to me", "Here's what you should do." As long as you are self-referential you will color the input of your customer, and you will diminish your ability to be an effective advisor.
I see selling akin to good parenting. Instead of thinking of children as someone to mold to our self-interest and beliefs, we should think of influencing them as to where they currently are, and not what we want them to be. You demonstrate this tenet by learning about your customer, instead of getting them to learn about you. "What you have most to offer others, you have to offer least of all through what you have, and greater part for what you do, but in greatest part to who you are," says Bob Burg author of Egonomics.
Sales people initially suffer a true identity crisis when they start implementing the non-selling posture because it puts themselves and their offering on the sidelines. Without the emphasis on their company they believe it will sap them of their positive energy and enthusiasm. For most mainline sales people the key in cultivating the non-selling posture is to not let it break their spirit. When it is not about you, your ego often will greatly resist.
Customers are spinmeisters. Like sales people they are generally optimistic, positive and future oriented. Many customers are loathe to give out bad news and dampen sales people's enthusiasm because it goes against their positive belief system. They more or less live in a Hallmark moment where everything is rosy and glossy. However, this is not reality. At best sales people are winning only 30 to 40% of the time. So you have to be very good to cut through the chafe of all the garbage deals out there.
I was recently in India on business where this concept really came to mind. It is almost a personal affront to admit bad news or negative outcomes for Indians. It was like pulling teeth to get anyone to fess up to reality. "So it will be four hours, but no more than six. But, if we factor in workflow it is more like eight. And, if we want to be safe we should factor in 10 hours. We will let you know," which they did not.
Instead of getting to the truth and reality, orthodox sales people try too hard to manufacture agreement and easy consent, instead of letting the customer firmly state their intentions and convictions. When positive good news can be negative news, is when it was elicited with no discipline or effort. This is when one should be on high alert because so often it is too good to be true. Many traditional sales people sell as if they have been granted special immunity to bad news.
The non-selling posture is all about expecting the unexpected. Too many sales people are so focused on getting the order that they actually lose track of reality. They equate anything other than good news as failure. Probably the most debilitating myth in sales is that a talented sales person can sell ice to Eskimos. This myth perpetuates mass rejection and frustration because if the customer did not buy then the sales person failed.