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Selling Tips for People Who Aren’t Comfortable with Selling

selling tipsEveryone sells. You’re selling ideas, decisions, vision, and more every day even if sales is not your chosen career. Or maybe you are in a sales role but feeling a little uncomfortable with some of the “sales-y” things you think you’ll have to do. These selling tips – based on research with buyers and stories from sellers - will give you a different way of approaching sales.

In fact, our new book, Stop Selling & Start Leading, provides a behavioral blueprint that will make you more effective than old-school selling tips ever could!

Selling Tips From Stop Selling & Start Leading

(Note: This is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Stop Selling & Start Leading, the new book from Jim Kouzes, Barry Posner, and Deb Calvert.)

Behaviorally, how can sellers create powerfully differentiating, awesome connecting experiences for their B2B buyers who bring high expectations from their B2C experiences? CX researcher Esteban Kolsky concluded that 86 percent of buyers will pay more for an emotionally satisfying experience that is relevant and personalized than for something generic. The value of a meaningful and unique experience significantly exceeds the value of the goods and service accompanying it.

The value of a meaningful and unique experience significantly exceeds the value of the goods and service accompanying it.

The need for B2B sellers to catch up with consumer sales thinking is crystal clear. Less obvious is how B2B sellers can provide personalized experiences and get buyers participating in creating what they want. Currently, sellers are not trained, equipped, or expected to:

  • Cause an overwhelming feeling of admiration or respect
  • Provide the unexpected that triggers a euphoric response
  • Connect with buyers personally
  • Enable buyers to participate in creating what they want
  • Make buyers feel significant or important

These expectations seem less like a job description for sales and more like one for leadership. Buyers told us repeatedly that they want sellers to behave differently. Buyers resist “sales” behaviors and erect barriers to avoid sellers altogether. By contrast, they invite and welcome seller behaviors that produce awesome connecting experiences. Those behaviors are leadership behaviors.

Research Provides a Behavioral Blueprint

For over thirty years, Jim and Barry have continuously gathered and analyzed data about the behaviors of exemplary leaders. By analyzing thousands of case studies and millions of survey responses from leaders around the globe, and from all walks of life and backgrounds, they identified what leaders do when they are at their “personal-best” as leaders. Their framework -- The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® -- has been adopted by scores of organizations for their leadership development programs, and hundreds of researchers have used the model in studies about the effectiveness of leaders across a variety of settings and circumstances.

The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership framework is an evidence-based operating system for leadership that’s highly relevant for sellers. In our discussions and research with B2B buyers, we found that shifts in buyer demands directly corresponded to The Five Practices. Our research set out to determine just how buyers would respond to seller leadership, in the form of The Five Practices. Buyers in our studies spanned a variety of industries, company sizes, job functions, and ages. This cross-section of buyers represents different experience levels as B2B buyers, the number of sellers they engage with on a regular basis, the percent of time they spend working with sellers, and their actual role in the decision-making process, including whether purchasing decisions are made by the individual or by a group.

We surveyed 530 verified B2B buyers online over a four-month period. To measure The Five Practices, we used a slightly modified version of the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI), one of the most trusted and widely used leadership assessments available. It consists of thirty statements about leadership behaviors, each of which is assessed on a ten-point Likert frequency scale. For each of the leadership behaviors we asked buyers:

  • How frequently do sellers you choose to do business with exhibit this behavior?
  • What would be the ideal frequency of this behavior in sellers you do business with?
  • How likely would you be to meet with a seller who demonstrated this behavior?
  • How likely would you be to buy from a seller who demonstrated this behavior?
  • Which leadership behaviors are the most important?

In our research with sellers, we invited them to share stories about their personal-best sales experiences.

Findings and Implications

The results are eye-opening. Buyers definitely want sellers to stop selling and start leading:

  • The ideal frequency of each leadership behavior is statistically higher (beyond a chance level of probability) than what buyers currently experience with the sellers they do business with.
  • Buyers would be significantly more likely to meet with sellers who exhibited these leadership behaviors.
  • Buyers would be substantially more likely to purchase from sellers who exhibited these leadership behaviors.

We now have a clear behavioral blueprint of what buyers want sellers to do.


Cam Johnson sells library automation and school security software. His company, COMPanion Corporation, dominates the field, a direct result of their commitment to customers. COMPanion constantly pursues quality improvements to fulfill their mission of designing software with users in mind.

For Cam, opening the sale starts with researching the “mission, values, and beliefs” of the organization and learning all he can about the buyer. He looks for common ground and values, knowing this will give him a solid starting point.

Next, Cam asks open-ended discovery questions. When he does, he says, “I sit back and listen to every bit of information they give me.” He wants to understand buyers’ needs and long-term goals. When describing his personal best as a seller, Cam told us about a time when a buyer admitted he was seriously considering buyers from one of Cam’s competitors. Having established common ground and shared values, Cam knew what to do. He first thanked the buyer for sharing this information. Instead of bashing the competition, he then shared relevant data and industry insights. He continued to demonstrate his commitment to the buyer by asking how he could earn the opportunity to work together.

When the buyer eventually chose COMPanion, he told Cam it was because of that commitment to do whatever it would take to be a partner. Over time, Cam has continued to faithfully deliver on all the buyer’s needs and affirm the buyer’s decision.

For many sellers, this may sound like business as usual. On the surface, what Cam described is a classic consultative sale. Looking through the lens of leadership, though, something more is visible. Cam, like many successful salespeople who are preferred by buyers, actually demonstrated The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®:

  • Model the Way
  • Inspire a Shared Vision
  • Challenge the Process
  • Enable Others to Act
  • Encourage the Heart

The Five Practices are all about behaviors. That makes them accessible to anyone who accepts the leadership challenge––the challenge of taking themselves, their buyers, and their organizations to new heights, of moving beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary. The Five Practices create the awesome connecting experience buyers crave.

The Five Practices create the awesome connecting experience buyers crave.

In the remainder of this chapter, we introduce the five leadership practices and show how each is linked to buyer preferences. In Chapters Three through Twelve, you’ll find stories from sellers who exemplify each leadership practice. Also provided are direct comments from buyers which further define and highlight the leadership behaviors they want sellers to exhibit more often.

Model the Way

Model the Way is the leadership practice that addresses buyers’ preferences for sellers who are consistent in displaying trustworthy behaviors.

To effectively Model the Way, you must first be clear about your own guiding principles. You must clarify values by finding your voice. When you understand who you are and what your values are, you can give voice to those values in all you say and do.

As a seller/leader, your values aren’t the only ones that matter. Everyone on the team––including your buyer––has principles that guide their actions. Therefore, you must affirm the shared values of the group. This requires getting everyone involved in establishing common values and holding everyone accountable for adhering to them. In this way, you will set the example. You will work to consistently align words and actions.

Model the Way matters because without trust, there will be no sale. Buyers determine the trustworthiness of sellers by observing how they behave. Buyers are on the lookout for seller behaviors that demonstrate credibility, reliability, relate-ability, and other-not-self orientation.

Inspire a Shared Vision

Inspire a Shared Vision is the leadership practice that will help you become more effective in designing and presenting the customized solutions that buyers prefer.

As a leader, you’ll envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities. To do so, you need a clear picture of the buyer’s current circumstances and desired outcomes. A one-size-fits-all solution with generic features won’t be exciting or ennobling. Translating those features into relevant benefits and a picture of each buyer’s unique future will be.

Even so, you can’t command the buyer’s commitment; you have to inspire it. You must enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations. Your vision will be exciting and ennobling when buyers can clearly see themselves as part of it.

It makes a difference when you Inspire a Shared Vision. This is how you get buy-in before asking for the buy. It’s how you deliver on buyer preference for customization, and it’s how you ignite buyers’ passion for your solutions. Your buyers become in essence your internal sellers and leaders.

Challenge the Process

Challenge the Process is the leadership practice for creating unique and relevant value for your buyers, a daunting buyer preference and expectation.

Buyers are looking for sellers who can innovate and recognize opportunities by looking outside themselves and their usual resources for new and inventive solutions. You need to search for opportunities by seizing the initiative and by looking outward for innovative ways to improve.

Because innovation and change involve experimenting and taking risks, you can help buyers by creating a climate for experimentation, recognizing and supporting good ideas, and challenging business-as- usual thinking and systems. One way of dealing with the potential risks and failures of experimentation is by constantly generating small wins and learning from

When you Challenge the Process, you create value. This makes a difference because buyers are disappointed when the experience isn’t relevant, personal and meaningful.

Enable Others to Act

Enable Others to Act is the leadership practice that positions your buyers to participate in creating precisely what they want.

Achieving success in sales, as in leadership, takes a collaborative team effort, one that springs from solid trust and enduring relationships. Leaders foster collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships. At a time when there are increasing numbers of decision makers involved in purchasing decisions, you must find ways to engage every individual who will influence the decision and everyone who will be impacted by it, too.

To create true collaboration, you must strengthen others by increasing self-determination and developing competence. Your buyers and internal partners are more likely to give it their all when they feel trusted, informed, and empowered.

Of all the Practices, Enable Others to Act matters most to buyers. That’s because buyers strongly prefer two-way dialogue and being directly involved in generating insights and making decisions.

Encourage the Heart

Encourage the Heart is the leadership practice that cements meaningful connections between you and your buyers.

Consider what you’re asking buyers to do when they partner with you. Ushering in change is arduous for buyers as they must convince others, take a risk with you, dedicate budget and other resources, and invest time in making all this happen. That’s why it’s important to recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence. Formally or informally, one on one or in group settings, in simple or grand gestures, you can keep your buyers feeling good about the work you’re doing together so they’ll continue to move it forward.

Being a leader requires showing appreciation for people’s contributions and celebrating the values and victories by creating a spirit of community. This applies to your buyers and their extended teams, and to your internal team as well.

When you Encourage the Heart, you deliver on the buyer preference for meaningful connections with sellers. This makes a tremendous difference as you work to build buyer loyalty and meet your sales objectives.

These five leadership practices -- Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart -- are what people are doing when they are at their best as leaders, and there’s abundant empirical evidence that these leadership practices matter. The more you use The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership, the more you’ll succeed with buyers by meeting their preferences.


The case for change in seller behaviors is undeniable, not only from our research and experience, but in the work of many other academics and practitioners in the field. Despite all that’s been researched and written, few sellers have significantly changed their behavior. While agreeing, in theory, that buyers want a connecting experience and value creation, sellers haven’t sufficiently
developed new skills to adapt to this new reality.

Perhaps there are misunderstandings about what gets results. Our seller-side research revealed an interesting disconnect. Seller stories about their personal bests include the leadership behaviors buyers desire, but sellers did not attribute their success to these behaviors. Instead, more than 75 percent of sellers’ stories linked their success to persistence. But the word persistence isn’t one buyers use in describing their preferences.

For sellers to make a change, they first need to understand what buyers want them to do. It’s time to define behavioral changes in ways any seller can understand, observe, and adopt. Behaviorally, it’s time for sellers to stop selling and start leading. The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership is a behavioral blueprint for doing precisely that. It offers sellers a new paradigm, taking them in a fresh direction, while conforming to effective selling approaches described by practitioners and researchers.

If you’d like to learn more about leadership behaviors and selling tips that will truly make a difference with your buyers, order your copy of Stop Selling & Start Leading today! Available at all major book retailers!

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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.

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