The Promoter’s Paradox: Selling Without Being Salesy

Learn how salespeople can genuinely convey the strengths of their offerings without coming off overly salesy and promotional

August 7, 2017

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If you’re in B2B sales or marketing, you have surely heard this statistic, or some variation of it: 68% of today’s buyers prefer to complete their own research online. That’s up from 53% in 2015.

The trend is clear. More and more, customers are taking matters into their own hands. In part, this owes to the increasing ease and convenience of autonomous shopping on the internet. But it also speaks to an inherent level of distrust toward sellers and brands promoting themselves.

There are psychological elements behind this. We are wired to trust third party recommendations, such as referrals and positive customer reviews, over a potentially slanted pitch from a salesperson or company rep with their own motivations.

Our goal is to be viewed as an advocate and trusted advisor for the inquisitive buyer. Unfortunately, we often begin this process at an inherent disadvantage.

The Used Car Salesman Stereotype

When everyday folks think of salespeople, an image like this might come to mind, along with some rather unsavory traits.

While there’s nothing wrong with the actual profession, the term “used car salesman” has essentially become a euphemism for everything that gives selling a bad rap. It’s a dynamic that, in some way, we all need to contend with.

In introducing his book To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink summarizes one prevalent stereotypical view when it comes to sales, noting that some perceive it as “the province of dodgy characters doing slippery things—a realm where trickery and deceit get the speaking parts while honesty and fairness watch mutely from the rafters.”

So, how can we lift those latter attributes to the forefront? How can we quickly and effectively signal to buyers that we are the real deal, deserving of their trust and looking out for their interests rather than our own? How can we sell without being salesy, and push products or services without being pushy?

These sales strategies will help you do just that:

1) Be Humble

A little humility goes a long way. This doesn’t mean you should not convey confidence -- you should, of course -- but don’t presume to know the answer to everything and certainly don’t presume to have a complete grasp of the prospect’s situation. The best salespeople enter calls and meetings with a hungry curiosity, eager to listen and learn.

2) Let Others Help Make Your Case

No matter what, your pitch is going to come off as biased, because it is. So don’t rely on it as your sole selling point. Leverage social proof by pointing the prospect to customer testimonials, online reviews, and positive social media posts about your offering. If you share a mutual connection on LinkedIn who has experience with your product or service, that could be a great opportunity.

If you tell someone, “Don’t take my word for it,” and they seek out another opinion and hear the same, then they’ll be more likely to take your word for it next time.

3) Don’t Be Afraid to Acknowledge the Weaknesses of What You’re Selling

This is a delicate line to walk. Obviously you do not want to call out severe downsides, but if you can frontally acknowledge minor weaknesses -- especially those that don’t present a competitive disadvantage -- you’ll earn big trust points. Ideally, you can frame them in a positive way by explaining that your company is in the process of improving this deficiency, or by outlining simple workarounds.

4) Don’t Press

There is an innate tendency to create urgency in a sale. In certain scenarios, this can incite action and win you a deal. But by and large, people do not want extra stress in their lives. If you start pressuring or setting deadlines, that can make a buyer uncomfortable and cause a budding relationship to fizzle.

5) Be Fully Transparent

In the 1990s, Progressive launched a strategy that was unheard of in the historically risk-averse insurance industry: they set up a toll-free 24-hour phone line that people could call for quotes -- not only theirs, but also their top competitors. Oftentimes, Progressive had the best price. Sometimes, they did not.

It was a bold move, but worked well, as the company has since risen in the ranks among national auto insurers. There is a lesson to be learned from the successful experiment: if you convince customers you are truly trying to help them find the best solution, even if it isn’t yours, you’ll score big points.

Maybe it will be enough to sway them to your side against a cheaper option. Or maybe you will lose the deal but win an important relationship that pays dividends down the line.

Remember: trust isn’t given, it is earned, through empathy and genuine service. Embrace these practices to crush clichés and earn more business.

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