Kent asked me a rather surprising question when he called the other day. “Ari,” he said, “what exactly do you mean when you talk about being ‘humble’ when selling? I mean, I feel I’m usually pretty down to earth when I talk with prospects, and I really don’t think I come across as overly aggressive. So I’m a little confused about this.”
Well, I wasn’t surprised by Kent’s dilemma. Most people who sell -- and most people in general -- probably don’t consider themselves overbearing or aggressive. The problem is, traditional sales approaches train people to create a “me-first” impression that actually shuts down communication with prospects.
Let’s look at the typical sales introduction, which usually goes something like this (delivered in an upbeat, enthusiastic manner): “Hello, my name is Kent, and I’m from XYZ Company, and we provide invoice management solutions.” Then you go on to say more about yourself, your product, and how it would benefit the other person.
Even if your prospect doesn’t cut you off immediately, they may listen until you stop for breath, and then they’ll say something like, “Sounds interesting, send me a brochure,” or “Sorry, we’re not interested,” or “I’ll think about it and get back to you.”
You know you’ve gotten the brush-off, but you aren’t sure why. After all, you believe in your product or service, and you know it would provide real value for your prospect. Why aren’t they willing to hear you out?
Well, here’s why: Without even being aware of it, you’ve come across as only wanting to talk about yourself. After all, when you make a new acquaintance in your everyday life, do you introduce yourself and then immediately launch into a monologue about yourself and your interests?
But that’s how you’ll come across if you operate out of a traditional “me-first” sales approach.
These approaches actually train people out of the customary, polite behaviors we’ve been taught in everyday life. Instead, there’s a hidden agenda behind every “Hello” or “How are you today?” because our goal is to get the other person to do something.
You may feel uncomfortable about acting that way, but it’s what you’ve been trained to do, so you do it. No wonder you get knots in your stomach when you think about making calls. What’s worse, your prospects will be able to tell that you have an agenda.
When we meet new people in our day-to-day lives, we listen to them with genuine interest and curiosity about them and their lives. Why not do the same thing when we connect with prospects over the phone or in person?
“In other words,” I told Kent, “being humble opens up a space where we can listen closely and carefully to the other person without making any assumptions, or trying to force any outcome. When we don’t assume that our product or service is a fit for them, we can explore with the other person whether or not we can help them solve a problem.”
Kent was still hesitant. “I don’t know. I feel as if you’re telling me I should be passive, maybe even ‘wimpy.’ It’s a big difference from the take-charge approaches we’ve all learned.”
“It is different,” I told him, “but isn’t it true that whenever people start talking about the negative ‘salesperson’ stereotype, ‘aggressiveness’ is the first thing they mention? But being humble just means thinking about what’s right for them, and not assuming anything. It lets you talk with them, not at them.”
“That makes a lot more sense,” Kent replied. “You’re definitely right about how traditional techniques can backfire. I know from my own experience that I really warm up when someone shows me they’re really interested in me and my world, but that if I’m talking with someone and I start feeling they want something from me, I can feel myself back away.”
When Kent asked for some specifics about how he could apply the idea of being humble, I offered these suggestions that you might also find useful.
1. Listen rather than talking
When you listen instead of talking, you’ll learn what matters to your prospect and whether there’s a match between the problems they want to solve and the solutions you can offer.
Practice being humble by letting go of the feeling that you have to rush in with a sales pitch every time there’s silence in your conversation. Let the other person talk, and when you do respond, be sure your comments or questions show you’ve really been listening. You may also want to make a note or two as the other person is talking so you can talk about those points.
This is the opposite of the usual approach of trying to force the other person to hear you out. Listening is a good way to stay focused on the other person instead of yourself.
2. Listen and speak as you would with someone you already know
When you speak in a warm, natural, low-key voice, it’s the opposite of the excited, enthusiastic tone that immediately communicates “salesperson” to prospects. Think about how you talk with people in your personal life. That’s how we want to talk with prospects.
You can begin the conversation with something as simple as, “I wonder if you could help me out for a moment?…I’m just calling to see if you’d be open to a different perspective related to issues caused by your unpaid invoices?” This puts the focus on the other person rather than on yourself. It opens the door for interaction and dialogue in which prospects will be more likely to speak candidly about the problems that you may be able to help them solve.
3. Let the other person know that you’re okay with whatever the outcome is
When you let go of your agenda, you create a safe space that allows your prospect’s trust and truth to emerge. When you’re humble and don’t assume that you have all the answers, you eliminate the artificial push-pull of seller and buyer and connect at the level of human beings. Being humble here means that you’re okay with their decision, whatever it is, and you’re not going to try to force an outcome that fits with your personal agenda.
4. Let the other person take the lead
At the end of the conversation, when you feel it’s appropriate, you can say, “Where would you like to go from here?” When you do this, you’re telling the other person that you’re not going to pressure them for the sale, which means they may feel more comfortable exploring things further with you. You may even find that they will often take the initiative in suggesting that the two of you schedule an appointment.
5. Learn how being humble can eliminate rejection
Traditional sales approaches—insisting that you always have to be enthusiastic, in control, and focused on making the sale—often cause the rejection that too many people who sell experience day after day.
When you’re humble and don’t assume anything, on the other hand, you’re much more likely to have calls that let you feel you’ve connected rather than collided.
To your success,