Maybe you’ve felt this way as a sales professional. Stereotypical selling skills take away from the joy of selling in a way that helps other people. Or maybe you’ve mastered traditional selling skills, but something is still missing. Our research with buyers and stories from sellers will show you how to use leadership behaviors to enhance your selling skills.
When Your Selling Skills Aren't Enough For You to Feel Good about Selling
This is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Stop Selling & Start Leading, the new book from Jim Kouzes, Barry Posner, and Deb Calvert.
Amy Spellman made a mid-life career change. She became an insurance agent because she wanted to help people. Amy was excited about the fresh start, income potential, and opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives.
Six months later, Amy left sales. For her, the role was unfulfilling despite the higher income. Following up company-generated leads and making cold calls felt like dialing-for-dollars, and calling people multiple times felt like an imposition. Selling in a high-pressure environment meant spending less time helping people in the way she’d envisioned. Instead of feeling supportive, she felt pushy. Instead of enjoying connections with clients, she felt inauthentic, rushed, and slightly manipulative when using sales tactics she had observed and learned from others.
Maybe you’ve felt the same way at some time in your sales role. Maybe you’ve sensed that buyers seem suspicious and guarded when you contact them. Or maybe your friends and family are cynical and question your character and integrity because you are in sales.
Redefining the B2B Buyer Experience
The pervasive, negative stereotypes about sellers affect how people initially react to you, even on occasion family and friends who know you well. The Glengarry Glen Ross and Wolf of Wall Street movie personas of sellers are reinforced in real life often enough to put buyers on the defensive. As Amy said, “It didn’t feel like I could win. The people I called assumed I was going to take advantage of them. They didn’t even give me a chance to show how I would be different.” What’s a seller to do?
More of the Same Behaviors Results in More of the Same Reactions
Too many sellers simply shrug their shoulders and adopt these stereotypical behaviors. Others defuse buyers’ negative perceptions by operating with integrity, the more challenging path to be sure.
For buyers, the challenge is to separate the wheat from the chaff, determining which sellers are trustworthy. An overwhelming refrain from buyers in our study was, as one person said, “all sellers seem to be saying and doing the same things.” Sellers, despite their intentions, are failing to behaviorally differentiate themselves.
As buyers become increasingly self-sufficient and more resistant to advances, sellers scramble to get more leads, make more calls, and get in front of more buyers. Engaging in more of the same old sales behaviors exacerbates the problem. All sellers seem the same because they’re all behaving the same way.
Something Different. But What?
There must be another option. Retail researchers Robin Lewis and Michael Dart concluded that winning people’s wallets requires delivering “such an awesome connecting experience that they will go out of their way to come to you.” “An awesome connecting experience”? Now that’s something different in selling! It’s a phrase that’s more likely to be associated with leadership. Let’s break it down.
Awesome. If we’re using the slang definition of awesome, this sales call is going to be “very impressive.” Jaded buyers won’t rate even the best-selling behaviors as “very impressive.” Quality is a weak differentiator that may go completely unnoticed. The
dictionary meaning of awesome is more applicable: “causing an overwhelming feeling of admiration or respect.” Now that’s something that would certainly get a buyer’s attention and clearly be differentiating.
Anthony Iannarino, the founder of The Sales Blog, says such a response only comes with genuine caring for your buyer. He believes the power of caring is unmatched and that those who care deeply about their buyers “will stand out from the crowd and be welcomed as trusted, valued partners.” Empathy, intimacy, and presence, he asserts, create the caring experience that keep buyers coming back for more.
Connecting. Connecting, too, aims for differentiation. Connecting means joining or linking. To be clear, connecting means much more than a social media link. It involves more than the initial rapport-building you do with prospects. A connection isn’t just a
name in your CRM. Connections aren’t sufficiently made by automation and artificial intelligence (AI). In human interactions, there’s a need for emotional connection.
Jeb Blount, CEO of Sales Gravy, says the point of connecting in sales is to “win other people over by making them feel that they are the center of your attention, to make them feel significant or important,” and then to “nurture a deep emotional connection [because] people buy from people they like, trust and believe will solve their problems.” Buyers want authentic connections, not superficial ones that evaporate when the sale is closed.
Experience. In ancient times, people traded commodities to survive. As manufacturing expanded, sellers offered variety and quality to distinguish their goods. In time, service became the differentiation between one manufacturer’s goods and another’s. Today, service is no longer enough. Buyers demand more.
Linda Richardson, who teaches sales and management courses at the Wharton School, asserts that “a huge part of buying for almost all buyers is the experience.” She says “when clients feel you are there for them, they will go out of their way to be there
for you.” Linda concludes that it’s important to be human-focused in creating an experience that creates intimacy with your buyer.
Creating an “awesome connecting experience” is also essential in leadership. After all, where would leaders be without followers; and where would sellers be without buyers? Leadership research and theories have shifted over the years, from a transactional to a transformational perspective, from simply seeing leadership as an exchange between leaders and constituents to thinking about it as a way to foster positive changes for those who follow. Nearly two decades ago sales and marketing scholars followed suit and began articulating that experience is the missing link between sellers and buyers. Sellers must reach buyers by creating
genuine and authentic experiences. Experiences aren’t manufactured or engineered by sellers or their companies. Rather, a buyer derives personal meaning because of his or her imprint on the interactive experience. The seller’s role is to facilitate a highly personalized interaction.
Sellers must reach buyers by creating genuine and authentic experiences.
An “awesome connecting experience” is an incredibly high standard. Most B2B sellers focus on goods and services. Buyers react by commoditizing these offerings and focusing on price alone. Striving toward the high standard of an awesome connecting experience is no longer merely optional. It’s absolutely essential because buyers are accustomed to it in the B2C shopping experiences.
Lessons from the B2C Customer Experience
Businesses that sell directly to consumers have steadily increased efforts to enhance the customer experience (CX). Consumers have been conditioned to expect an experience that is personal and relevant. This experience, to be entirely satisfying, will involve consumers directly and engage them emotionally. Because buyers are getting conditioned to expect this, what’s lacking for them in their B2B experiences includes:
Direct Involvement. In The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value with Customers, the authors predicted that “consumers will migrate to businesses that allow them to be participants in creating what they want.” Consumers flock to businesses like Starbucks and Build-A-Bear Workshop for hands-on experiences to create precisely what they want.
Emotional Engagement. Personal involvement requires more than sharing opinions and directing product development. An emotional response, something happening within buyers, characterizes the awesome connecting experience. David Lewis-Hodgson,
Director of Mindlab International, where they study the science of decisions, describes it this way: “Shopping experiences trigger brain activity that creates euphoric moments. These euphoric moments can be triggered by experiencing something unexpected.”
Experiences resonate and motivate when they touch people’s hearts, not just their minds.
Connections are made emotionally, not logically. Experiences resonate and motivate when they touch people’s hearts, not just their minds. The word awesome connotes an overwhelming feeling. B2B sellers need to engage at an emotional level with their buyers.
Stop Selling & Start Leading Today
Want to learn more about how leadership behaviors will do more for you than old-school selling skills? Order your copy of Stop Selling & Start Leading today! Available at all major book retailers!
Excerpted with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Stop Selling & Start Leading: How to Make Extraordinary Sales Happen by James Kouzes, Barry Posner, and Deb Calvert. Copyright(c) 2018 by John Wiley & Sons., Inc. All rights reserved. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.