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I sell for a living. A better way to describe that is to say: I get people to trust me for a living.
Regardless of industry, sales is about approaching complete strangers and, shortly after meeting them, asking them for money. There may be not better test of whether people trust you. Sales skills are people skills. After more than 10 years of sales, I had an experience that I never dreamed of could happen when I started working in sales.
I started a routine sales call with a potential client (whom I reached out to with a cold email just the week before). He was head of marketing at a hot consumer startup. After the routine pleasantries, he announced that he talked to dozens of marketing companies, and they had passed on them since the internal marketing team were doing a great job growing the brand. He said he didn't really think that we had much unique to offer and that it was pretty unlikely they would try us out, but he'd give us a few minutes of time. It's not uncommon for sales calls to start out with a healthy degree of skepticism, but what happened next is uncommon.
I agreed with him. I told him that I read about his brand in the press and that whatever they were doing was working very well because they'd just been covered by a major news outlet. Then I asked him how in a crowded and competitive space and against huge established competitors, they were able to so well distinguish themselves. He talked for the next 40 minutes. I asked him a couple questions here and there, but he did 99 percent of the talking. He said he didn't need to see a proposal and asked for us to send over the contract. Authorizing a contract without even seeing a proposal has never happened before. I had spoken for in total less than two minutes. How did this happen?
Sales is often misunderstood. It often doesn't have a great reputation and is rarely a sought-after career. People often believe sales people are fast talkers, that they talk people into deals and that they are untrustworthy. In fact, it's just the opposite. Any entrepreneur knows that selling is one the most critical skills to success, and many of the best entrepreneurs are exceptional salespeople. Great salespeople are exceptional listeners and have a high degree of integrity and trustworthiness. Sales is predicated on getting people to trust you, quickly. How else would they give you their money? What works in sales translates to life as well.
It starts with great questions. In a 30-minute call, the client does almost all of the talking. That's the best type of sales call. I just guide them by asking insightful questions, and listening intently. By asking insightful questions, you can steer the conversation, identifying the clients needs and then eventually showing them how what you offer is a fit for their needs.
More importantly, though, when people feel listened to, they feel understood and validated. When they feel understood and validated, they like you. When they like you, they trust you. And when they trust you, they're willing to do a deal.
When you meet anyone they are subconsciously evaluating you for your trustworthiness. I don't know the exact psychology of it, but I would suggest that it's the primary criteria people are assessing (mostly subconsciously). When they walk away after meeting someone new and say, “I liked him,” they're really saying, “That person seemed trustworthy.”
With lessons from sales, here's how to get people to trust you quickly:
First, greet them warmly. Greet people as if you were greeting an old friend you hadn't seen in a while. Smile deeply. A great smile is remembered. When you smile deeply, you positively affect your mood and physiology, and you exude warmth. A colleague told me at his first job doing sales for a brokerage, he'd have to do a minimum of 200 cold calls a day. His boss put mirrors on their desks. They were supposed to look in the mirror before the call and smile. Before every sales call, I take a quick break, breath deeply, and then smile.
Second, talk slowly. Being a fast talker has negative connotations. In fact, you don't have to communicate much at all, so say it slowly. People respond better to someone who talks slowly and deliberately. Be conscious of this because many people who are nervous and in new situations tend to talk faster and people subconsciously react to this. Exude calmness and be measure in your speech. Don't talk or feel rushed.
Third, validate yourself. People are looking for external validation. Mentally, they're looking to check a box that they can make some sort of affiliation with you, however distant. It's why people play the name game. (I believe this has evolutionary roots going back to when humanity was a series of disparate tribes and when encountering someone new or strange, people needed to validate who the stranger was and whether he was trustworthy.) Before sales calls, I research on LinkedIn and social networks to find any sort of commonality, shared interests and common connection. I bring this up early in the conversation. For example, “I see you went to school in ... ,” “You also know ... ,” etc. It's usually a quick confirmation. “Yes, Tom's a great guy. I went to school with him. How do you know him?” But it goes a long ways in terms of building trust.
Fourth, listen intently. Listen as if he was the only person in the room and make him feel that way. Look him in the eyes. Show him that you're listening by focusing on what he's saying. Sounds intuitive, but you'd be shocked how many people drift off, check their phones, let their eyes wander, etc. There's no quicker way to show disinterest in someone. Don't interrupt her or finish her sentences. When she finishs saying something, wait a second before responding. This indicates you've really listened and you're taking it in.
Fifth, ask great questions. Most greetings start out with typical small talk. There's nothing wrong with these, but take them a step further and ask questions like, “What was it like growing up there?” or “Tell me about what you do,” instead of, “What do you do?” When you ask a question, act as if he's about to tell you an incredible story. You'll probably need to fake this at first, but as you do it more and ask better questions, you'll start finding more interesting aspects of people and it will start becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Great questions lead to great answers. My old boss used to tell me how he would meet the most interesting people on airplanes, which was the complete opposite of my experience of flying. I eventually realized that this happened because he'd talk to them and get them to share the most interesting parts of their lives, not because he happened to always sit next to interesting people. Everyone has an amazing story to share. Find that story.
Finally, validate them. This most often comes in the form of agreeing with them. With the example sales call, the potential client started out declaring that it wasn't likely he was going to need our services because they were doing such a great job on their own. The first thing I did was to say that I'd heard about them through an article in a top publication, so they must be doing a great job. I could have instead launched into my sales pitch and tried to argue for why they needed us. That's what everyone else typically does. However, he was geared to tell us why he didn't need us, and instead I agree with him. If I'd tried to pitch ourselves, I would have been disagreeing with him, and when people sense disagreement they put up barriers, reinforce their reasoning, and create distance—all really bad things to happen in sales calls. In improv, this principal is called “Yes, and ... ” It's how you build on a story and create spontaneity and consensus. In a conversation, similar phrases are: “That's incredible. I love that. Tell me more.” In sales, this is part of the process, but really one of the most important aspects. You can't just skip all this and ask people for their money. The worst sales calls come from sales people just jumping into their pitch, telling you why you should buy their product and then trying to “close” you on a deal. Trust is never established or built.
Think of the times you've met someone new and walked away with a good impression. Look back on the encounter and think of what made you feel that way. Chances are what you really felt was validated and listened to.
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