Sales competencies, outlined in job descriptions, usually include traits like outgoing, self-motivated, organized, persistent, and resilient. The list of traits desired in a seller should include “strong critical thinking abilities” because critical thinking is absolutely essential in:
- Making smart choices about how to prioritize sales activities and how to manage your time.
- Responding effectively to buyer objections, including the early ones that keep you from getting an appointment.
- Assessing what’s of value to a buyer and why it’s important.
- Crafting solutions that meet the unique needs of each buyer and address their expressed needs.
- Collaborating with buyers and inside your own organization to maximize sales opportunities.
- Solving problems and proactively anticipating them to avoid problems altogether.
- Negotiating terms to protect company interests and simultaneously satisfy buyer needs.
- Overcoming negative stereotypes and perceptions about sellers to differentiate yourself.
- Creating contingency plans for to achieve quota when things don’t work out as forecasted.
- Inspiring buyers and co-workers to try new things and embrace innovation.
Buyers respond to sellers who think critically. This is affirmed by the profile of “The Challenger” in The Challenger Sale. More recent research also reveals that buyers respond positively to sellers who exhibit critical thinking skills.
How Buyers Respond to Sellers with Superior Critical Thinking Skills
What do buyers really want from the sellers they do business with? A panel study with 530 B2B buyers, reported in the bestseller Stop Selling & Start Leading, answered this question.
The study revealed that buyers respond favorably to 30 specific behaviors. These behaviors aren’t the stereotypical ones most often associated with selling. What buyers want from sellers are more frequent demonstration of leadership behaviors.
When sellers exhibit these leadership behaviors more frequently, buyers are more likely to meet with that seller AND more likely to buy from that seller. For each of the 30 behaviors, buyers said the ideal frequency is significantly higher than the frequency they see from the sellers they currently do business with.
Several of these buyer-favored behaviors require critical thinking. A seller who works to develop strong critical thinking would find it easier, for example, to demonstrate these behaviors:
- The seller builds consensus around a common set of values and standards
- The seller shows me (the buyer) how my long-term interests can be realized by enlisting in a common vision with him/her
- The seller searches for innovative ways to improve what we do
- The seller fully answers my questions with information that is relevant, timely and useful
- The seller tells stories of encouragement about the good work we are doing
These behaviors don’t require an advanced education, big budget, huge time commitment, or innate personality characteristics. However, each one does require an ability to find common ground, to analyze the situation as it is, to anticipate and portray how it could be, and then to find ways to communicate effectively about this with each unique buyer. These are critical thinking skills.
Here’s a classic example. A busy seller conducts a standard discovery/qualifying call with a buyer. The buyer acknowledges a need that the seller’s product meets. The seller pitches the product and even offers a discounted price. The buyer says “no” and offers some objection that just doesn’t make sense to the seller.
In this example, what’s missing is critical thinking. The seller sees the situation superficially and responds as if there are no other inputs, variables, considerations, information, or influences in play. The seller is playing checkers, and the game is really 3-D chess. Critical thinking is what enables the seller to see the whole game board with all the pieces and to predict the buyer’s moves.
Sellers with superior thinking skills conduct discovery calls differently. They offer solutions in ways that involve the buyer more. They make stronger, more meaningful connections between buyer needs and seller solutions. They differentiate themselves from competitors by personalizing the buyer experience.
Avoiding Intellectual Dishonesty and Bias in Selling
Sadly, the sales profession is plagued by unfair stereotypes. What’s more, these stereotypes are perpetuated by sellers who aren’t honest and forthright with buyers.
That’s why buyers are guarded. It’s why they don’t immediately and completely trust even the sellers with the highest levels of integrity. They’ve been burned before, and they proceed with caution when sellers make promises about product features, pricing, delivery, etc.
Buyers hold sellers to a very high standard. The only way to earn a buyer’s trust is by disabusing them of the notion that you can’t be trusted. There’s little room for slip ups. In the study with 530 B2B buyers, open-response comments revealed that buyers reject sellers who don’t follow through on their commitments. Even the little ones like “I’ll call you at 8:30” become big ones for buyers. Early in the relationship, buyers have no other barometer to gauge your trustworthiness, so these promises become their “test” of whether or not you can be trusted.
Being honest with buyers extends beyond telling the truth and following through. Buyers are looking for intellectual honesty, too.
Intellectual honesty is the ability to move past your unconscious biases and look objectively at information. That means you:
- Don’t allow emotions, commissions/incentives, or personal beliefs cloud your judgment.
- Don’t conceal relevant information about what your products can and cannot do.
- Present facts in an unbiased way and do not attempt to mislead your buyer.
- Answer questions and objections fully without sugarcoating or over-promising.
- Set reasonable expectations regarding delivery, performance, and results.
Intellectual honesty starts with being honest with yourself. To do that, you have to admit that you have an unconscious bias toward the product(s) you sell. It means knowing that you are more inclined to champion your products without being fully objective about them vs. your competitors’ products. It’s okay to favor what you sell, but it’s not okay to misrepresent what you sell. Awareness is the key here.
One of the 12 Dimensions of Trust is accurate self-assessment. Buyers notice when sellers lack self-awareness, overstate their capabilities, or miss cues about the impact they’re having. Being intellectual honest, even with yourself, helps build trust and positively differentiate you from other sellers.
Critical thinking equips your for sound decision-making and problem-solving because it includes awareness of lazy thinking traps like intellectual dishonesty and unconscious bias.
Next Steps for Honing Your Critical Thinking Skills in Selling
This is part two in a series of posts about why and how to build critical thinking skills you can use to excel in selling. Be sure to bookmark the CONNECT2Sell Blog or subscribe to our weekly newsletter so you won’t miss these posts. Each one offers additional ways to build your mental might.
Most importantly, though, to build your critical thinking skills you’ll want to focus first on what prevents you from being intellectually honest. Look for ways to recognize when you aren’t being objective, open-minded, curious, and evaluative. Assess your responses in all parts of your life. Work to more frequently challenge your own unconscious biases. Question information that isn’t fully explained and doesn’t make sense rather than accepting it at face value because it’s comfortable.
Become the seller your buyers want you to be. Critical thinking will make that easy!