Like most of you, Lou and I go to great lengths to help our team understand the customers we serve. We identify 10 unique customer-types, from electricians to buyers, estimators to owners, and then describe the key attributes each looks for in a supplier and how we address each one. We even use Myers Briggs and other psychometrics to help our team be more effective with a variety of decision styles and personality types.
The basic selling skill we are after here goes by many names — persuasion, negotiation, “getting to yes,” and dozens of others. For us, it’s basically the skill of speaking and acting in ways that engender loyalty in our key customers. We call it “Influencing Others.”
For this month’s article on our Sales Flow training program, we rely heavily on the timeless One Sentence Persuasion Course, by Blair Warren. This common-sense approach is proven and concentrating the teaching into one sentence is a great way to help the team learn the lesson and recall it at the right times. Here’s how it goes.
You are in the business of influencing people. Make friends with that fact. Some call it persuasion while others call it negotiation. Whatever it’s called, distributors pay their salespeople to influence customers to buy from their companies instead of from other sources. Our company’s service offering is somewhat unique and we try hard to keep refining it to please the customers. And we try hard to have the lowest costs available so our customers can be price-competitive on bids. But, ultimately we need our salespeople to develop and maintain trusting and open relationships with key customers so they can influence them to buy from us rather than from the competition.
Distributors have many different customers, each with a unique set of personal and business needs. Whether the person you must influence is the director of procurement at a local school district, the owner of a big contracting company, an electrician in the field, a buyer at headquarters, a specifying engineer or a storekeeper in a warehouse, they all have pretty similar human needs. In fact, all of your customers have five very similar human needs, and if you meet one or more of these needs you will bond with them and be able to influence them.
Some of the human needs we are talking about are personal and others are psychological, organizational or social. These five are not nearly an exhaustive list, but, they are so predictable and so common that they are gems you can consciously use to bond with others.
Actually, you already do. As you think about these five needs, think about the relationships that influence you — your boss, co-workers, friends, spouses, kids, or trusted suppliers to your life needs, like your insurance agent, your lawyer, your barber, your auto mechanic, your gardener, etc. You will see how these relationships are formed around the five basic human needs that we are about to reveal to you.
To make it easy to remember, we’ve consolidated the five critical needs from Blair Warren’s book into this sentence:
“Customers will be influenced by you if you encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions, and side with them against their enemies.”
This one sentence can change the way you influence others. Let’s look at each of them.
1. Encourage their dreams. Everyone needs someone rooting for them and your customers are no different. Whether the dream is to earn a promotion, retire in style, achieve peer recognition or merit a big pay increase, remember to be encouraging.
This is not to say that you must agree with the dream. That is not the point. The point is that to ignore this basic human need can have negative results. For example, parents of teenagers sometimes discourage their children’s dreams because they are somewhat “misguided,” shall we say? They do this “for the kid’s own good,” so they think. But when someone else comes along and encourages the dream, that person gets greater power and influence than even the parents.
2. Justify their failures. We all make mistakes and have failures that sometimes are very obvious. The last thing you want to do is to be corrective, judgmental or in any way condescending. Rather, you want to minimize the issue and help customers justify it if need be. Then you will be seen as a positive force in a sometimes negative world.
For instance, offer up and accept the rationalization that customers offer for their failures. What you might call excuses, like, “The buyer should have caught that,” “The specs must have been in error,” or, “A/P must have goofed-up,” are ways the customer justifies their failures. Make it easy for them to do this.
3. Allay their fears. Customers have fears. We all do. Theirs may be a fear of embarrassment, a fear of failure, or a fear of loss of credibility. For a new customer, they may be afraid that giving you the order will reflect badly on them if your company doesn’t perform well.
You allay their fears by taking action. No amount of talking will help. Don’t even think of telling them not to worry, rather, take some action like frequent status updates to demonstrate real reasons for them not to fear. To allay fears you must act. Provide real evidence that there is no need to fear.
4. Confirm their suspicions. Don’t we all love to say, “I knew it”? There is nothing quite like having our suspicions confirmed. When another person confirms something we suspected, we not only feel a surge of superiority, we feel attracted to the one who helped us make that surge come about. Be aware of a customer’s “suspicions” and take opportunities to confirm them when you can.
Does your customer think that LED lighting is “over-sold” or that Title 24 is more harmful than helpful, that ESCOs are difficult, or that sometimes the old way is the best way? Be sure to let them know when you find evidence supporting their suspicions.
5. Side with them against their enemies. We all have enemies in some sense. The things we struggle with are our enemies. Whether that is one’s health, a personal setback, a rival philosophy, a work policy, a computer program, a rule or even a co-worker or boss. When another person sides with us against our enemies it creates a strong bond. If you do so, you will become more than a good supplier; you will become a trusted partner.
Becoming friends with your customers is not what we are talking about. That actually can become counter-productive to your selling efforts. We hope you will take the one-sentence summary of this lesson and use it to identify opportunities, deepen business relationships and to engender customer loyalty. It will help you gain an “unfair advantage” that very few competitors can match.
Mike Rockwood, executive V.P. and general manager, Associated of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, and Lou Pontarelli, the company’s sales and marketing manager, are sales veterans with years of experience in the electrical market. You can email Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org and Lou at email@example.com.