Most of us spend most of our lives asking for things.
A job (a promotion).
A date (a marriage).
The list of things we ask for is almost endless when you think about it, isn’t it? And yet, after many thousands of years of evolution, our brains still cannot shake our instinct to unsubtly take what we want, even if it requires force. Our ability to exchange things peacefully and create lasting mutual wealth is a relatively new phenomenon. Our ability to persuade others to give us things we want is not innate.
We are born kicking, screaming and demanding. And while that is an effective survival trait for a newborn, that act gets pretty old, pretty quickly. Our ability to persuade or sell others is a learned skill; we are not born with it. This article will not teach you how to sell (I have listed several resources below that can help you with that). The goal of this article, I hope, is to persuade you to take your selling skills more seriously by convincing you that: 1. You are a salesperson, 2. That the success of your life and career ultimately depends on your ability to persuade others and 3. Give you some personal rules of thumb to help you become a better persuader.
The persuader’s toolkit
If you have read this far, you likely acknowledge that being a good persuader is valuable. I consider the ability to persuade or sell to be one of the two most valuable skills you can have in business. Let’s face it, few people can continuously move big things, whether it’s selling a lot of product or being able to align the politics of an organization to get new initiatives through. Here is a list of skills you will need to develop to become one of those people:
1. Listening skills:
Zig Ziglar’s quote at the beginning of this article is gospel as far as I am concerned. In over 20 years of business experience, I know it to be fact. And if you are going to help others get what they want, you have to know what they want. Which means you have to listen closely for their explicit and implicit signals.
Listening, by far, this is the one skill I have tried to master and failed time and again. I know what I am supposed to do, I know how and why I am supposed to do it, but I have not trained myself to become the type of listener I wish I could become, both professionally and personally.
In those moments, where I finally become an effective listener, I have noticed that my effectiveness boils down to one thing: being less selfish. When it’s not about me but all about them, I learn a lot more about them, my trust factor goes up, and I become better at anticipating what I can do to help them.
2. Questioning skills:
To be a better listener and persuader requires you to become a better questioner. Like a good lawyer or a good doctor, strong questions can uncover hidden issues. Strong questions can make you consider other options or see things in a way that may removes your confirmation bias.
Like listening, I am willing to wager that most people think they are competent at questioning. How hard can it be to ask questions, right? But therein lies the rub. If you are trying to persuade, you must walk a fine line between asking questions to learn and discover and just being annoying.
I recently went in for a doctor’s visit. Even though I have been there before and even though my medical history can be found on both paper and digital files, I feel like each visit is the first one for me. They ask me a bunch of questions that I have to re-answer each and every time I go . If you aren’t structured in your questioning, you come across as amateurish.
Recently, a company came to my office to deliver a pitch of their product. Within 5 minutes I am being bombarded with basic questions such as the size of the company, what we do and how we do it. BORRRRING!
Those questions should have already been researched in advance. And even when we get past those questions, this pitch is doomed, because I, the buyer, would need to rescue them by connecting their product with a potential solution I need. As these boys pitched me, the only thing I kept thinking was, “these guys need a professional salesperson to handle this part.” I see this more often than not. If you’ve built a great product, don’t ruin it with a crappy presentation. Learn how to position your product or yourself with thoughtful and strategic questioning. I still use the Spin Selling Fieldbook (see additional resources below)today to help me step through the process of developing a gameplan when it comes to questioning.
3. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket:
Always have a plan B (C,D,E…). Always have multiple prospects lined up. The most infamous sales scene ever is the “Always Be Closing” (ABC) scene from Glengarry Glen Ross (language warning). I personally think “ABC” should be changed to ABP; Always Be Prospecting. If you are in direct sales, you should be filling your funnel with new, potential prospects every chance you can. But even if you aren’t in direct sales, you should also be filling your funnel with opportunities. You should be planting the seeds for your next job now. You should be working on next year’s bonus today. You should be establishing the network that you will need in the future, yesterday.
This takes a lot of work. But those seeds will pay off down the road. And this is why salespeople generally make the most money. It is because they are willing to do and develop skill sets to execute on things that other just will not do.
4. Give yourself plenty of lead time:
Is there anything worse than when someone connects with you on LinkedIn and immediately start messaging you about some opportunity they want to share? It is such a turn-off. If you are waiting until your annual review to ask for a promotion or a raise, then you are doing it all wrong.
In my opinion, from years of experience of trying to be successful and seeing how others have done it, when you know you will be asking for something big, the biggest risk by far is time. You need as much time as necessary to set your pins up correctly. Getting to “yes” is a natural process where you must plant your seeds and give them enough time and nourishment to sprout before you harvest them. If you are planting your seeds in late summer, then don’t expect much to harvest. Desperation reeks. If the person on the other side of you senses desperation, it will turn them off and lower your trustworthiness. Give yourself plenty of time to build your case.
5. Develop a thick skin:
Be persistent. The best hitters in baseball fail more than 60% of the time. More often than not, you will NOT get the promotion, bonus, date, funding, or sale. What do you do then? Do you quit or do you dust yourself off and get back into the action?
Rejection sucks. It sucks for everyone. Some of the best salespeople I know brush it off and use mental memes to distract them from this rejection.
My opinion is: use whatever works. Accept rejections and learn to overcome them. Learn to anticipate rejection and develop a strategy to minimize it from happening.
Ultimately, to be a good at selling anything including yourself, you must be trustworthy. Think of it this way, can you expect anyone to give you anything such as money, a job or a promotion if you are untrustworthy? Of course not. In summary, if you want to be good at selling things, you should focus on trust. Everything you do, everything about you must exude trust. I discussed trust here in this article, and I think it is worthwhile for anyone reading this, to go back and study what it means to be trustworthy!
SPIN Selling Fieldbook – A workbook to help you plan your questioning. I prefer this to the real book because the planning is the hardest and most valuable part.
Sell With A Story – Valuable advice for building persuasive stories
Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion – A classic