Over the past 20 years I’ve spent thousands of hours with business owners, salespeople and professionals who seem to change their persona when it’s time to win business – when it’s time to ‘sell’. It’s as though they go from being the normal person they usually are (the one their mother, partners and kids would recognise) and transform into some sort of selling machine. They take a deep breath, as if steeling themselves for battle, put on their jacket and say things like “Right, let’s do it”!
They then hit the phone or go to selling meetings behaving like they think salespeople should behave, they put on an act and in the worst cases use manipulation and pressure to get their way.
Selling isn’t about warfare or some hugely dangerous expedition where massive reserves of physical and mental energy are needed. Usually the most energetic thing that needs to be done is to press the call button for the lift and then sit on a comfortable chair in an air-conditioned meeting room with nice people, having a chat about business over a coffee! If you have the product or solution that genuinely addresses a customer’s needs and then behave as a normal human being, selling is a totally natural and comfortable experience for both buyer and seller. It doesn’t require us to put on an act.
“We are actors – we’re the opposite of people” – Tom Stoppard, Playwright
The very best actors are those you believe in; you trust that they are perfectly in character (think Daniel Day Lewis in the film Lincoln). It takes years of training and total absorption to achieve that level of perfection. We certainly recognize when another person is ‘putting on an act’ and a character is not believable. When that happens in business it changes the dynamics of a conversation and results in reduced belief and lack of trust.
Robin Kermode, the ex Royal Shakespeare actor and communications guru, says in my book “It’s about having equal status and showing your humanity, never talking down to other people but also never putting other people on a pedestal because it changes the dynamics of a conversation and the way you are perceived. I speak with senior politicians just as I would speak with five-year-old children.
He doesn’t mean that politicians need to be spoken down to like some adults might speak to five-years-olds; he means that he speaks with everyone as Robin the human being who happens to be an expert in communication. That is, by not talking down to children and not talking up to senior politicians.
The best salespeople do not try to force their will on customers.
“It’s important to accept the fact that other people are as much individuals as you yourself are. They perversely insist on behaving like human beings. This means that they too have their strengths; they too have their ways of getting things done; they too have their values… Each works his or her way, not your way. And each is entitled to work his or her way”. Peter F Drucker
The best salespeople do not try to force their will on prospects or customers. They respect that people are individuals who like to have the freedom to choose and that customers want to be helped, not patronized. If you are with a person who is overfriendly too early in a relationship, it is likely to raise concerns about their motives, you wonder about their real agenda. If you are with someone who goes into pitch mode too soon, you are likely to feel that you are being pushed to do something the other person wants rather than being allowed your own freedom to choose. Decision makers rarely say anything if they feel patronized or pressurized, they tend to think Who is this person to speak to me like this? and then they vote with their money.
If you make the mistake of putting on your ‘selling hat’ and attempt to change from your normal personality into a different person, your discomfort when in that false character will show. You don’t need to conform to a stereotype of how a good salesperson behaves and act out of character. You just have to learn the professional skills and behaviours involved in selling – and behave like a human being.