In 1937 Dale Carnegie published his celebrated How to Win Friends and Influence People – the first book suggesting sellers build relationships. 1937: with primitive transportation, sellers found clients closer to home; telephones were emerging (FYI – Morse Code was preferred for 40 years after the telephone was invented!); marketing avenues were limited, as was advertising (Sears Catalogue, Life Magazine, The Farmer’s Almanac, the local paper or general store). Obviously there was no technology, or global competition.
Selling focused on natural customers – face-to-face relationships with neighbors and friends. And buyers needed sellers for information and relevance. Relationships were vital.
It’s now 2016. We have a plethora of options to present our solutions. Our communications capability is global, cheap, and ubiquitous. With safe payment and delivery options, global competitors are pervasive. And – here’s the big one – our prospects have the ability to receive the information they need to easily choose a solution without us. Buyers contact us only when they’ve done their Pre-Sales change work and are ready. They don’t need a relationship with us.
The Ploy of Building Relationships
So why do we continue to think we must ‘build relationships’?? As a carryover from Carnegie, relationship building has been used as a ploy to manipulate a sale. If buyers like us, the thinking goes, they’ll buy. Here’s the reality:
Everyone knows you’re pretending. Until you’ve known people over time, through the good times and bad, you’re not in a relationship with anyone, especially when you’re trying to be nice so you can meet your own agenda.
Your ‘relationship’ will not facilitate a sale. Buyers cannot buy unless they have managed their internal change management journey that
- assembles all the people needed to be involved and hears their voices/concerns/criteria;
- gets buy-in from the Buying Decision Team that something must change;
- figures out how to meet everyone’s needs and make adjustments that fit without internal disruption.
Buyers can’t buy until they’re ready, willing, and able to bring something new into their status quo regardless of how ‘nice’ you are.
Buyers aren’t swayed by your niceness. It will, however, make you a preferred vendor WHEN ALL ELSE IS EQUAL and WHEN THEY HAVE REACHED THE POINT OF CHOICE.
It doesn’t work when your focus is a sale. Here is a real dialogue:
SELLER: HI SHARON! AND how are YOU today?? ?
SDM:[picking up the phone in tears, thinking it was my friend] My name’s not Sharon! And I’m rotten. I just put my dog down!
I offered an ‘authentic’ moment, useful as an opportunity to connect: he should have said ‘I’m sorry that happened. Obviously you can’t speak now. Is there a better time? This is a sales call and I’d like to discuss X when you’re feeling better.’
Whether for a large, complex sale, or a small personal item, buyers cannot buy until they have their internal ducks in a row, and then agree to seek an external solution (Step 10 of a 13 Step process). Because the sales model focuses on placing solutions – possible only after buyers have completed their Pre-Sales change management issues – we can’t discern where buyers are along their Buying Decision Path and buyers show up seeking a transactional connection. Our ‘niceness’ (which I’m differentiating from real customer service) is irrelevant; we just sound like everyone else trying to sell them something.
I’m told sellers use the ‘make nice’ ploy to differentiate – difficult using the conventional sales route. Following acceptable marketing criteria of the era – words and phrases that are in vogue, graphics and colors that are deemed ‘what everyone is doing’ – it’s hard to be unique. And the myth of being a ‘Relationship Manager’ or ‘creating a relationship’ is supposed to show buyers why they should choose us over the competition. See?? I’m NICE!
Here’s the truth: buyers don’t start off wanting to buy anything whether it sounds like they have a need or not. They merely want solve a problem. But they have work to do before they’re ready. It’s only once they’ve determined their systemic change management requirements that they’ll buy – but by then they’ll haven chosen their list of vendors and solutions from online data or referrals.
By focusing on attempting to influence people to buy because we’re nice, we’re left out of their behind-the-scenes decision process and reduced to ‘being there’ when/if they show up (the low hanging fruit, or 5%). Not to mention chasing bad leads with folks who we think should be buyers (Prospects are those who WILL buy, not those who SHOULD buy.).
We can mitigate this and REALLY be nice by entering enter early and facilitating buyers along the route of their systemic change/Pre Sales path. I’ve coded the steps in their decision sequence and developed a model that facilitates Pre-Sales Buyer Readiness (Buying Facilitation®). You don’t have to use my model – create your own! But entering the buyer/seller interaction as a change facilitator will differentiate you and enable a true relationship.
Buyers would never buy from anyone else when a seller has taught the prospect how to assemble ALL of the folks necessary to be part of the Decision Team, or HOW to get everyone on board for change. Remember: they will do this anyway before they buy – they might as well do this with you.
There’s a way to make money AND make nice. It’s by being a true Servant Leader and change facilitator; by entering into a WE Space in which there is a tracit agreement that everyone will be served. Stop using ‘nice’ as a sales ploy. Stop focusing on the low hanging fruit. Add a change management focus and find real buyers who’ve already recognized a problem, and first facilitate them through their route to inclusive, congruent, systemic change. Then you can become part of the Buying Decision Team, make a difference, close more, waste less time, and act with integrity.
About the Author
Sharon Drew Morgen is a visionary, original thinker, and thought leader in change management and decision facilitation. She works as a coach, trainer, speaker, and consultant, and has authored 9 books including the New York Times Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity. Morgen developed the Buying Facilitation® method (www.sharondrewmorgen.com) in 1985 to facilitate change decisions, notably to help buyers buy and help leaders and coaches affect permanent change. Her newest book What? www.didihearyou.com explains how to close the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. She can be reached at [email protected]
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