Selling is Changing
It’s a tough job being a buyer today. The vast availability of research on the options available in the market has mushroomed over the last decade. Buyers could be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed with the richness of information an internet connected world provides for them to make their decisions.
At the same time, social media platforms and big data also make it much easier for sellers to identify and target the buyers they wish to present their wares to. More than ever before buyers are now inundated with multiple electronic requests for their time from a very digitally savvy new breed of sales consultants.
What is still in short supply however, is sellers with an ability to deeply connect at a human level with the buyer, only advocating a solution once they have fully understood and empathised with the buyer. In even shorter supply are sellers that can combine this with a passion to co-create and add value alongside the buyer. This method of selling is fundamentally relational and places the focus clearly on serving the buyer, and is the methodology embraced by Lumina Sales.
All good salespeople know that at their core they are master influencers. Interestingly, it turns out that to influence others, we actually have to start by turning our attention inward in order to claim our sense of purpose and choose our attitude.
Indeed, this is what Viktor Frankl was trying to tell us in his seminal text “Man’s Search for Meaning”, written in just eight days following his escape from the Nazi Auschwitz concentration camp. Frankl asserted that it is the basic human condition that means we all yearn for an experience of meaning and connection. He suggests we are all responsible for choosing our own way of being and claiming our own purposes, and stated “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
At the base of the Lumina influence pyramid is the practice of choosing your attitude. The pyramid forms an “up hierarchy”, in that the practices in the upper levels of the pyramid can only effectively be implemented if the lower levels have been worked on first. Fundamental to the lowest level of the pyramid, that of choosing your attitude, is the need for a high level of self-awareness. It is self-awareness that allows us to understand which of our instinctive underlying qualities are fundamental to our being. Our self-awareness can also help us see which qualities are most appropriate for us to express based on who we are with and the given context. Really great salespeople, before they meet a buyer, are able to mindfully and consciously choose their attitude. Ultimately this choice will help the buyer feel a sense of connectedness with the seller and open up the possibility of a much deeper and authentic relationship.
The second tier of the Lumina influence pyramid is the practice of displaying empathy. Really great salespeople connect well through deeply listening and demonstrating empathy. Attempting to move forward and advocating a particular solution or approach, before the buyer feels the seller truly understands their world, rarely works. Of course, demonstrating empathy is necessary but by no means sufficient to have influence.
More dated models of influence suggest the sales person should identify and empathise with the pain of the buyer. Once the pain has been identified, like a doctor, the salesperson can diagnose the problem and recommend a solution.
The risk of porting this medical model into the modern day sales context, is that the pain focused empathy can be seen as manipulative or inauthentic. Instead, the empathy a good salesperson demonstrates is simply focused on showing that the perspective of the buyer has been understood. We all have a deep need to be listened to and understood, rather than feel somebody is telling us what’s wrong with our situation.
This also opens up the possibility of acknowledging the positive in a situation and helping the buyer see the opportunities available.
Many salespeople have an instinctive aversion to being seen to strongly advocate a position for fear of becoming a ‘pushy salesperson’. However, holding back on passionately advocating is a key mistake, that often stems from not having fully empathised with the buyer in the previous step of the pyramid. Indeed, if empathy has not been demonstrated and a buyer does not feel they are understood, advocating any solution may be seen as unwelcome undue influence.
However, if the salesperson has consciously chosen their attitude, and is clear on their purpose, and has demonstrated a good understanding of the buyer’s world, then the ground has been laid for highly effective advocacy. In fact, many buyers want to be persuaded as to the potency of a solution a salesperson provides. But, trying to persuade somebody of anything before you’ve deeply connected with them and shown you understand their world is doomed to failure. Conversely, sharing ideas when you are in a state of rapport and have shown an understanding of the buyer’s world is an entirely different matter.
Advocacy can of course also take the form of educating the buyer. Sometimes salespeople assume the buyers are already educated in all aspects of the market, but this needs to be validated. If a salesperson is seen to help educate a buyer, either without displaying bias (or at least “owning their bias”), this will be thoroughly appreciated by the buyer. Even better, if the salesperson can be perceived as educating from the position of being an industry thought leader, then their ideas will have maximum influence.
Clearly articulate the benefits
One unfortunate mistake is to go to all the trouble to demonstrate understanding and then to clearly advocate for a certain solution but omit to clearly articulate the benefits of the solution. All solutions advocated must be supported with a clearly stated case for the return on investment.
It is very important the seller does not assume that the benefits are so obvious that they do not need articulating. It is also critical that the seller checks the buyer’s understanding of the return on investment. It is not uncommon for salespeople to assert a return on investment, but forget to check if the buyer is in any way convinced by their argument. When advocating for a solution, the buyer must facilitate out of the seller any potential resistance or disbelief.
Clearly mitigate the risks
Even if the benefits are clearly articulated, no buyer will be convinced of a solution unless they consider the risks to have been mitigated to an at least acceptable level. An important aspect of the perceived reduction of risk, is that the buyer is “safe in the seller’s hands”. Everything the seller communicates verbally and non verbally needs to concretely indicate that they are highly professional and trustworthy. The salesperson must inspire confidence and be brave enough and willing to explore the potential downsides of the solution they are advocating. Ideally, they can demonstrate that these downsides have been mitigated many times before with other clients. To state the obvious, minimising the perception of the risk is as important as minimising the risk itself. Even if the risk is very small in reality, unless the buyer can be persuaded that the risk is very small, this can also scupper the sale.
There are occasions when the salesperson represents a monopoly position. However, more often than not there are direct competitors vying for the buyer’s attention. Sometimes the biggest competition is from within the buyer’s organisation (the internal solution). Really effective salespeople are able to advocate in such a way that the buyer perceives the solution is differentiated from the competition. The key here is to understand the criteria that are most important to the buyer, and to emphasise that it is on the important criteria where your solution is differentiated and adds more value.
One of the biggest risks with the traditional sales model, is that the seller identifies the pain points, diagnosis to create a solution and sets out to persuade the buyer of the merits of their solution. This approach can completely miss the benefits of co-creating between the buyer and seller. It mistakenly positions the salesperson as the “expert” or “doctor” identifying the patient’s “ills”. It risks the buyer feeling they are being “told” what the solution is and in the process, this may disenfranchise the buyer.
Buyers are much more influenced if they perceive the salesperson as an integral part of their team, on the same side as them, who is co-creating the desired results with them. Referring back to “adding more value than the competition”, being seen as co-creating with the buyer is a significant barrier to entry for any salesperson from another organisation.
Engaging in co-creation can also produce unexpected innovations. Gathering key stakeholders to engage in ideation workshops can add huge amounts of value. It can be very helpful for salespeople to build such facilitation skills, or at least know when to bring a facilitation expert in.
The biggest blocker to co-creating can often be the mindset of the salesperson. If secretly the intention of the salesperson is to get in, make the sale, and get out again, this leaves little space for co-creation. Sometimes the most outwardly confident salespeople are secretly much less confident underneath, when it comes to engaging in joint brainstorming sessions. If this is the case, it’s highly desirable the sales people work on their underlying confidence, as most buyers can tell the difference between outer confidence and true inner confidence. The latter is much more enrolling for buyers.
The goal of co-creation is for the buyer to perceive the seller as a thought leader providing new ideas and acting as a catalyst with the buyer and their stakeholders to create new innovative solutions.
Interested in using Lumina Sales?
To find full Lumina Sales product information, download a sample portrait or get in touch please visit our Lumina Sales product page.
Alternatively, if you wish to understand more about how Lumina Sales has been been applied then take a look at our case study where Lumina Sales was utilised alongside Lumina Spark for a major German non-profit organisation with 20,000 staff nationwide.