Every so often, someone asks me, “Ari, how did you ever come up with the Unlock The Game approach -- the mindset, the gracious, low-key language that builds trust and lets us connect with prospects at the human level?
It happened again this past week. I was on the phone with Kiernan, and he commented, “I can't believe you ever went through what I went through before I started working with Unlock The Game. You know, the phony-sounding scripts, the frustration, the endless chasing of prospects.”
I couldn’t help smiling to myself when he said that, because it took me a long time to learn what he’s now implementing from the Unlock The Game. And I’ll never forget the day my whole selling mindset changed.
It happened about 10 years ago when I was doing direct selling (after having spent several years studying all the great sales gurus, designing sales training for UPS, Qualcomm, and other major companies, and finishing my masters degree in instructional design, which focuses on studying how people learn.
On that fateful afternoon, I was on the phone doing an online demonstration with the top executives of a software company. Have you ever had a sales call that felt like a “love fest”?
This one was like that. Everything was going by the book. They were interested, they were asking me tons of questions, I had all the answers at my fingertips...At the end of the call, they thanked me profusely for my time. And the vice president's final words were, “We'll definitely be getting back to you.”
I was so proud of how well things had gone that I could almost feel my head swell as I started to hang up the phone.
But then...instead of pushing the “off” button on the phone, I accidentally hit the “mute” button. I didn't realize it until I heard them continuing to talk. They hadn't hung up, but they thought I had.
And what do you think they were saying about our oh-so-promising phone conversation?
“Okay.” It was the vice-president's voice. “So we're definitely not going to go with him. But keep stringing him along. Get more information so we can get a better deal with another company.”
Ouch. I was devastated...
My first feeling was outrage that they had lied to me. I felt hurt and used, but the feelings of rejection that swept over me were even worse. “I'm a good guy,” I told myself. “I did everything right. I've studied all the best sales programs in the world. I didn't cut any corners. Why are they treating me this way?”
Then I remembered a lot of other times when I had gotten a gut feeling that something was “off” about how a prospect was reacting to me. I could never put my finger on it, but at some level I knew that everything I had learned was incomplete. But I ignored that nagging discomfort and kept on doing what I had been doing, until that “wake-up call.”
You know, a lot of sales programs today would look at that call and say: “If a prospect lies to you, it’s okay to lie back. If they’re aggressive to you, it’s okay to be aggressive back, because that’s how you can control the situation. If they try to box you in, it’s okay to force them into a commitment.”
But this buyer and seller conflict, battle, whatever you want to call it, just felt so wrong.
It took me a long time to figure out one basic truth that none of those “fight-back” sales programs ever talked about:
The problem wasn’t with the prospect. It was with me. There was something fundamentally wrong with how I was approaching selling. And I needed to change.
It was at this point that I was finally able to let go of the outrage and rejection and take responsibility for having tried to sell the “wrong” way.
Once I shifted my thinking from focusing on them to focusing on what I was doing, the answers started to come. I realized that the old ways of selling had everything backward. And that freed me to begin thinking about what ultimately became Unlock The Game.
They knew I had an agenda for that call, which was to make them buy what I had to sell. I tried to do it by going with my script, developing it, dealing with their “objections,” pushing subtly to move things forward...you know the drill.
And they seemed to be playing along, and I wouldn’t have known any differently if I hadn’t accidentally hit the “mute” button. that fateful day.
The problem was the whole dynamic of trying to make the sale.
* Did it ever occur to me to think about ways I could develop a relationship of trust in which we could explore what issues and problems they were trying to solve? No.
* Did I ever suggest that, without knowing more about their issues and problems, I couldn’t know whether what I had to offer could help them? No.
* Did it ever occur to me to ask them, “Where do you think you might want to go from here?” No.
I was on that call to make a sale, and the implicit sales pressure I was exerting with every word I spoke made them feel it was okay to lead me on and even lie to me.
Think about it -- would they have lied to me if they trusted that I wouldn’t exert sales pressure on them regardless of their decision? Probably not.
So that's really the day that Unlock The Game started to come into existence, although it took me several years to develop all the principles and ideas that are now in Unlock The Game - the Mindset and what it means, and how to express Mindset principles in language and behavior that is gracious, low-key, respectful, and above all focused on the prospect rather than the person selling.
Although that conference call was very painful, I have to say that I’m grateful that it happened. Otherwise, I would probably still be selling the old way instead of working with so many of you to release the pain of selling and move into a place of trust and open communication with your prospects.
(Actually, I sometimes wish I could go back in time, knowing what I know now, and do that conference call all over again. I wonder what I would hear after pushing the mute button this time ;)
I could hear Kiernan breathe a sigh of relief on the other end of the phone when I finished telling him my story. “That's so reassuring,” he said.
“I’m glad,” I told him. “And there are some other lessons to be learned from it, too.” Here are some ideas I suggested to him. Maybe you'll find them helpful as well.
* Rejection can only happen if you're focused on your own agenda. Rejection happens when you go for the “yes” instead of the truth. If you focus on your prospect’s issues and problems and whether your solution might be a fit for them, rejection is no longer a possibility. After all, how can rejection result from a conversation void of any hidden agendas?
* Take a few minutes to “debrief” yourself after each call or selling encounter. Don't just make your calls and forget about them, because every call can be an important learning experience. As soon as you can, reflect on what went on in the call. Do you think it went “well” or “badly”? What do “well” and “badly” mean to you? Do you remember feeling a moment of awkwardness after saying something? That may be because you slipped back into some subtle form of pushing or exerting pressure. Did you sense any withdrawal or pulling back? Debriefing is a useful way to keep track of how your new Unlock The Game habits are developing.
* Stop thinking “sales script” and retrain yourself to think “conversation” and “dialogue.” I talk every day with people who say that their scripts make them feel uncomfortable, even robotic. Scripts may give you a feeling that you’re in control, but that’s an illusion. I know that thinking about “conversation” and “dialogue” can be scary -- it means you’re admitting giving up some illusion of control. But you're dealing with another human being -- how does trying to control them build trust?
Remember, when you change the language you use in your own mind to think about what you’re doing, you ultimately reinforce the Mindset so that Unlock The Game becomes second nature for you.
I hope you decide to try out some of these suggestions.
As always, I'd love to hear your feedback. Feel free to send me a note.
To Your Success.