In 1937 Dale Carnegie published his celebrated How to Win Friends and Influence People – the first book suggesting sellers build relationships as a route to closing sales. 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, and it was difficult to sell to prospects outside of local markets.
Selling focused on natural customers – face-to-face relationships with neighbors and friends, without whom sales would suffer. And buyers, needing sellers for information and relevance, automatically trusted them. Relationships were vital.
It’s now 2018. 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.
Connections with strangers proliferate online; we have a far broader reach than ever. But because we don’t know these strangers intimately, we don’t consider them real relationships and don’t automatically trust them – especially when they abuse the connection by attempting to push product. Indeed, the ‘relationship’ angle is now specious, and the Carnegie missive is defunct. Buyers don’t need the relationship to find what they need online. But as you’ll see below, they sure could use a hand becoming buyers.
THE PLOY OF BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS
When sellers now attempt to use ‘relationship’ as a ploy to sell, they encourage distrust; the Carnegie dictum is invalid. Here’s the reality:
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. In other words, until or unless change is planned for in a systemic way that touches all the right people and policies and garners buy-in and assures non-disruptive change, buyers cannot buy or they risk disrupting whatever IS working regardless of the problem they should resolve, or the efficacy of the solution. Buying doesn’t cause selling.
Change is based on systemic success factors; they cannot buy until they understand the full complement of risk factors involved, regardless of their problem or the efficacy of the solution. [Sometimes, fixing an existent problem is more costly than bringing in a new solution. In all cases, the status quo has been normalized and resistant to change, even though it has caused, and maintains, the problem needing fixing. Buying is a change management problem.] It is possible, however, to develop a real relationship quickly by facilitating a buying decision down the steps of change.
Buyers aren’t swayed by niceness. Buyers aren’t swayed by niceness. It will, however, make you a preferred vendor WHEN ALL ELSE IS EQUAL and WHEN THEY HAVE REACHED THE POINT OF CHOICE when they’re ready, willing, and able to consider buying something (i.e. Step 10 of the 13 step buying decision journey).
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] My name’s not Sharon! And I’m rotten. I just put my dog down!
SELLER: Hangs up the phone.
I offered an ‘authentic’ relationship 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. Again, I’m so sorry about your dog.’
Whether for a large, complex sale, or a small personal item, buyers cannot buy until they have their internal ducks in a row, and know their route and risks through the change they’ll face when altering their status quo with a new solution, regardless of its efficacy. (Step 10 of a 13 Step process). Because the sales model focuses on placing solutions – possible only after buyers have completed their systemic, and very idiosyncratic, Pre-Sales change management issues – we don’t have the focus to discern where buyers are along their Buying Decision Path and end up waiting for 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. We enter each discussion asking and listening for only what we want to hear, causing distrust.
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 or not the responses from your (biased) questions makes it sound like they have a need. They merely want solve a problem in the most effective way possible, with an assurance that they won’t face internal disruption if a change is needed. It’s only once they’ve determined their systemic change management requirements (that an Outsider can never know or understand) that they’ll buy – but by then they’ll have chosen their list of vendors and solutions from online data or referrals.
By focusing on attempting to influence people to buy because you’re nice, you’re left out of their behind-the-scenes decision process where you CAN enter and make a difference that creates a real relationship, reduced to running around trying to ‘be there’ when/if they finally show up as buyers (the low hanging fruit, or 5%). Not to mention chasing bad leads with folks who you think should be buyers (Prospects are those who WILL buy, not those who SHOULD buy.) vs offering true leadership to help them through their change management journey.
You can mitigate this and REALLY be nice by entering enter early (and before trying to sell) and facilitating buyers through the confustion route of their systemic change. 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.
CASE STUDY: HELP BUYERS BUY AND DEVELOP TRUST
Here’s an example. Years ago, working with KPMG, I spoke with my regular client (Dave, a Senior Partner/Consultant) who said he designing a large presentation with this team of Senior Partners for a first call with Boing for a $50,000,000 global tax solution they thought Boing needed. They were merely working off of what they assumed the prospect ‘need’ was and carefully presenting what KPMG could offer, assuming their facts and professionalism would build a relationship. They had a history of a 3 year sales cycle with their solution, and the first presentation to the Tax Director was crucial for any forward movement of their relationship (usually the second conversation with the CFO occurred 6 months after the first).
I suggested to Dave that before meeting, they should call the Tax Director with one of my Facilitative Questions to help Boing begin the Pre Sales process of discovering where their systemic issues lie, and if they could resolve them internally— the understanding being that when/if they couldn’t, they’d need to buy KPMG’s solution. Here’s the conversation they had.
KPMG, using a Facilitative Question to help Boing begin understanding of where the ‘holes’ were in their system: How are you currently ensuring that your full global management team are communicating in a timely fashion so they all have the same data at the same time to facilitate quick decisions and team buy-in across countries and time zones?
Boing Tax Director: What? I have no idea how to answer that, but I suspect we’re not managing this very well. Hang on a minute. [He left the call for several minutes and returned with the CFO on the other end of the phone thus eliminating the first 6 months of the sales cycle.] Jim, this is Dave from KPMG. He’s asked a very important question that I don’t think we have an answer to but we should have. Dave, can you say that again?
Dave repeated the question, to which Jim replied: Wow. Yes. We need the answer to that. Do you have any more questions we need answers to?
Dave then went through the list of Facilitative Questions I had developed for him that began the process of leading Boing through the internal issues they’d need to determine to figure out if they could resolve their global tax situation themselves (in which case they didn’t need KPMG, but they’d consider this before considering spending $50,000,000 with an outside group). By the time KPMG got to the presentation a month later, it wasn’t needed: the entire Buying Decision Team was present (cutting off another 6 months of the sales cycle) and ready with questions for them. The sale was closed in 4 months rather than 3 years.
The time it takes buyers to discover their own best answers is the length of the sales cycle, regardless of your relationship. In this case, my Facilitative Questions ultimately led them to global buy-in and change management in a fraction of the time – questions used to facilitate their understanding and ability of the effects of the change a new solution would involve, and assemble the right people and considerations, not gather information from a biased mind-set, or be ‘nice’ to build a relationship. The very focus on helping prospects enable their own change develops trust and relationship.
As sellers we forget that buyers have to go through this anyway, with us or without us. We sit and wait for long periods of time while they go through this process, and then compete for the 5% who finally show up. Why not add a skill set and help them make this process efficient AND build relationships!
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.
Sharon Drew Morgen is a thought leader and visionary in Change Facilitation, change management, sales, decision facilitation, and win/win collaboration. She is the developer of Buying Facilitation® and the author of 9 books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, Dirty Little Secrets, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? She teaches, consults, speaks, and coaches sellers in getting on to the Buying Decision Team and helping buyers buy. Sharon Drew has worked globally with many of the Fortune 500 sales departments. She has also developed online learning for sellers and those seeking to communicate without bias. She can be reached at: sharondrew@