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Taking a Fresh Look at Selling

By: Robert Middleton

Robert Middleton, of Action Plan Marketing in Palo Alto, Calif., has helped hundreds of professional service businesses attract new clients and get paid what they're worth.

His website is a resource for marketing professional services. Visit it at Action Plan Marketing.


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In his book, "Selling Your Services" (by the way one of the very best books on this topic), fellow marketing consultant Anthony Putman makes a rather radical statement about selling. He says to avoid "using persuasion" He doesn't say to avoid "being persuasive." What's he talking about?

Have I told you that when asked what the stereotypical salesperson sells, the most common answer is "used cars." We look at selling as the same thing as selling used cars! A wonderful image don't you think when we're out there trying to get new clients? That's what Tony is talking abut. We click into this inauthentic salesperson persona and try to start persuading people. Needless to say, it's a big turnoff. We come off as manipulative and sleazy.

Using persuasion in this context means using techniques before focusing on relationship. It means having your whole attention on getting the sale, not on how you can serve. It means listening only so you can get your prepared pitch in, not really hearing concerns.

Good, professional salespeople are very persuasive but they don't use these outmoded persuasion techniques. So how does one succeed in "being persuasive" instead of "using persuasion?" Good question. Here's a few ideas.
  1. Set the stage for any sales meeting,whether on the phone or in-person with a statement of purpose: "What I wanted to talk with you about today was how we can reduce your attrition rate." With this statement of purpose the conversation becomes focused. There is no hidden agenda and you learn quickly whether or not you are on the same page.

  2. Make sure the majority of the time is spent in asking questions and really listening. The more you know about your prospective client's situation, the better you know if you can help them or not. Don't just accept answers at face value. "Question into" the answers you get to learn more. "You think you're losing people because there is poor communication in your company - tell me why you think that makes people want to leave." Too many people just jump from question to question, never really getting to the heart of the problem.

  3. Ask questions not just about problems and the current situation, but questions about the future and about aspirations. "Well it makes sense that you want to keep your people and you want to save money in hiring costs, can you tell me what you might be able to accomplish if you had a more stable workforce?" A question like this might uncover the hidden motivator that will move a prospective client to action. When they tell you their dreams you start to realize that your service can truly help them achieve those dreams. When you start to get excited about their goals, your excitement is contagious. It makes them want to work with you.

  4. Asking for the business can actually be the easiest part of the selling process if you've really connected with the problems and the desires of your prospective client. At some point in the sales conversation it's your turn to "invite" them to take the next step. "As I explained, our program is guaranteed to reduce attrition by a minimum of 50%. (assurance) When that happens I think you'll really get the opportunity to become the leader in your industry. (acknowledge stated goals) The way we start is with a complete review of your hiring process and interviews of managers in all departments. (matter-of-fact process) I could start as early as next week. (availability) Does that work with your schedule?" (confirmation of their availability)
The only reason we need to "use persuasion" is when the value of what we have to offer doesn't really address the needs of the prospective client. Fancy and manipulative closes, leading questions, and other less-than-savory selling techniques have no place in your repertoire. If you truly believe in what you have to offer and do your best to find out what's needed you'll "be persuasive" without a lot of "persuasion" or effort.

© Copyright 2000, Robert Middleton

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