The fundamental problem with selling—and the behavior of salespeople—is that when you are selling the usual way, someone has to win.

Salespeople are rewarded when they win by:

  • “Overcoming objections,” which is really another way of saying “winning the argument.”
  • Changing the customer’s way of thinking to their way of thinking.
  • Beating out the competitors—who are telling the customer terrible things about their solution—and they need to convince the customer of the opposite.

All this is about winning. And the problem with that mindset is that in order for one person to win, the other person has to lose. The core of these interactions are adversarial.

That’s the seller’s perspective, and it’s objectionable. As a general rule, human beings do what they can to avoid conflict. That’s why buyers never tell sellers what they’re really thinking; they don’t want the seller to get an advantage by picking up on some minor detail and setting upon it like a pitbull.

A new way of selling: Anti-selling

There is another way, and that is to approach each interaction with a prospective customer on their wavelength, and to use that perspective to help the customer make the absolute best decision.

I see anti-selling as a five-step process:

  1. Change your state of mind. Stop trying to win; it only gets in the way. It makes you seem hungry and determined to get the better of the customer, which is not going to endear you to them. If you can’t stand the idea of “not” winning, this will be very difficult for you, and you are not going to be able to do the other steps. You can stop reading now.
  2. Take the time to understand your customer. Yes, you should have visited their site and their LinkedIn page before you get on the phone with them. But it goes beyond that. It means you need to listen. Carefully. Not listening in preparation to speak, but simply listening and thinking. This ensures that you will end up having a real conversation with the person. The person will sense that you are truly listening, and will calm down. They will see that you do not have your fists up, ready to fight, but that you are figuratively lighting your pipe and sitting back, ready to listen.  
  3. Answer all of their questions, without pitching. For anyone who has sold for a while, this is going to be very difficult. Salespeople are trained to pitch; expected to pitch; and love to pitch. They love being the one who knows it all, and can recite it by heart, chapter and verse. But on the buyer side of the equation, no one wants to be sold to. They want help. They want to understand, and they want to learn. And they will only learn if the source of the information is a trusted source.
  4. Listen for the subtleties. In the thousands of customer interviews I have done, someone would answer “Yes,” but it wasn’t a confident “yes.” It was a doubtful “yes,” as if they had said, “Well, I guess so, but maybe not.” The doubt was an invitation. What they were really saying was, “Don’t assume, just because I said yes, that I really meant yes.” They were inviting me to hear that doubt and pursue it. I would follow up with something like, “That doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement. Was there an issue?” Relieved, knowing they had been heard, they would then open up and tell me the whole story.
  5. Forget winning. Strive to understand how you can best help. The most ironic thing about walking away from the need to win is that you “win” more. Think about heroes in movies. They are always the calmest guy in the room; the “losers” are the ones who are anxious, whiny, pushy, and needy. Actors don’t even need to say anything; as the camera pans the room, we know immediately and intuitively who the hero is. We recognize that leader and are drawn to him or her.

You will still need to make all your calls, and do all that is expected of you. We are only rewarded for our efforts if we make an effort.

But success in business, and in selling, is driven by the quest to understand how we can help that person best.

Every person you encounter will sense that is your agenda and will be glad for it, and will strive to give you their business because you are striving to help them, rather than trying to “win” at their expense.

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