In most sales situations, both reps and buyers tend to think they’re being rational and logical. Buyers want ROI figures, pricing details and delivery dates, and reps are more than happy to oblige with all these numbers and more.
But experienced sales leaders know that few deals are ever purely rational. As much as we all want to be well-oiled decision-making machines, every man or woman behind the suit is human; complete with fears, doubts, hopes and concerns.
Some emotions are good, but many will do little more than delay the buying decision—or even stall it completely.
Below are some real-world examples, hand-picked from the experience of David Maister, Charles Green and Robert Galford’s friends and colleagues. If you aren’t familiar with these names, they’re the minds behind The Trusted Advisor, a book for sales professionals who want to earn their customers’ trust and long-term loyalty. (We interviewed Charles about Mastering Trust in the Sales Relationship - well worth a read if you have a minute)
In a business context, many products and services are aimed at making things more efficient. But the often-unspoken flipside of efficiency is downsizing. Workforce reductions make perfect sense from a rational point of view, but can be extremely harrowing for a CEO who has to let employees go.
Joe, a management consultant, discovered this first hand when he lost an almost-closed deal to advise a CEO client on a business restructuring. The moment was lost because Joe failed to acknowledge and assuage the CEO’s personal feelings about the inevitable layoffs. The decision was delayed, and when the CEO went ahead with another restructuring program some time later (without Joe’s help), far more people were let go than if Joe’s solution had progressed as planned.
David had a better experience with confronting his customer’s emotions. He was pitching to help a client implement a new set of performance standards, but as discussions progressed, he picked up on some concerned glances being shot around the room.
Rather than ignore these red flags, David took a risk and asked what was going on. It turned out that the board members were concerned about a particular senior executive who would have to be strong-armed into altering his behaviour. No one wanted to be the one to have to tell this particularly difficult colleague to change his tune.
The collective apprehension at having to deal with this individual was almost enough to derail David’s hard-fought proposal. Thankfully, he stepped up to the plate, creating an environment in which the board could discuss their fears without embarrassment, and co-ordinating them to present a united front to persuade their colleague to adopt the new standards. The project went through successfully.
It’s not just the buyer’s emotions that can block deals. Sometimes the salesperson’s own emotions can derail progress, too.
This almost happened to Ellen. An accountant, Ellen had some bad news to deliver to a client. As she revealed the problem, the client became visibly angry: white knuckles, red face and all. Ellen had a choice: ignore the warning signs and get away as soon as possible, or take a risk and address the obvious emotional undercurrent.
Ellen bravely chose the latter, commenting: “You look a little angry.” Her client’s response: he was angry, but not at Ellen. He was mad at the situation and embarrassed that Ellen was the one forced to bring him the news, rather than one of his own people. By overcoming her own fears to acknowledge his emotional state, Ellen showed she cared deeply about her client: a risky-yet-powerful method of engendering trust and loyalty.
A common thread runs through these stories: the professionals who were successful in generating their clients’ trust were the ones that were willing to take a risk and call out the elephant in the room.
They show that emotions are a natural and inevitable part of doing business, and that by having the skill and confidence to address them, you put yourself in a powerful position to earn trust and loyalty.
Emotional framing is a highly under-used technique for building trust in the sales relationship. For more tips on emotional framing and building trust, take a look at our SlideShare where we reveal the winning sales apprach that hardly any reps use.