Mirroring for Sales: The Expanded Definition

March 14, 2018

What does “mirroring” mean to you?

Back in the day – when pretty much every sales interaction was either in-person or over the phone – sales managers everywhere advocated for mirroring. To “mirror” someone meant to imitate their body language, mannerisms, or verbal characteristics such as speed, inflection, and tone.

Much of mirroring is instinct and doesn’t need to be taught. For example, if I overheard you speaking with your great grandmother, then overheard you speaking with your best friend 10 minutes later, there’s a decent chance I’d think you were two different people. In a sales setting, we’re simply more aware of what we’re doing, our mimicry is more purposeful.

Does mirroring work? Sometimes it does, and sometimes it backfires. It comes down to tact. If your attempts to emulate the other person feel disingenuous then that’s how they’re probably perceived, in which case you’re better off avoiding it.

And not everyone loves every aspect of themselves. Just because someone displays a mannerism, doesn’t mean they appreciate that same mannerism in others. In fact, they may find the mirrored mannerism to be downright annoying. In general, though, most salespeople can make slight adjustments to their speed or tone to match the person on the other end of the conversion, and the communication will be better for it – the two will be more in sync versus if the sales pro were to talk much louder or faster than the prospect, or vice versa.

For decades, this has been the general approach to mirroring for salespeople. Why the talk about redefining the term?

Well, mirroring is most effective when it helps you get in sync with a stranger. Today, our first interaction with a sales prospect is rarely a phone conversation or an in-person meeting but an online interaction where the mannerisms are muted. That’s not to say salespeople don’t mirror. They still do, it’s just been relegated to a smaller role in these digital times.

What Does “Mirroring” Mean in the Digital Era?

It’s not so much about redefining mirroring as it is expanding the definition. In his infographic, 5 Key Elements of an Effective Sales Process, Chad Collett of Ledgeview Partners pretty much sums up the expanded definition in the first element: “Sales process mirrors the buying process.”

Armed with information and options, today’s buyer calls the shots. To go against the grain of a buyer’s or company’s preferred process, to cater to your own preferences versus theirs, is the modern-day equivalent of the tone-deaf sales rep who flails excitedly at a subdued sales prospect.

How to Mirror the Buying Process

It starts with understanding. You can’t mirror something you don’t understand. Some buyers have a meticulously defined RFP process, some keep the process in their heads (or say they do), and most are somewhere in between. Either way, there’s almost always more for sales pros to learn than what’s stated in the official process. This is where your relationships come in handy, particularly those user-level relationships that some other sales pros neglect. While your questions may vary based on the contact, relationship level, or title, don’t be afraid to ask the following:

  • What’s your “unofficial” process for making decisions like this?
  • What or who is most likely to prevent this change from happening?
  • Who else has been advocating for this change?
  • Who comprises the buying committee?
  • Which considerations will be given the most weight? Least weight?
  • How do you prefer to communicate? How about your colleagues?
  • What is your preferred timeline? Which dates or milestones are most important to you?

As you learn more, you’ll have newer, more specific questions. If you’re fortunate enough to find someone who showers you with this type of info, ask until there’s no more to learn.

More Ways to Make B2B Buyers Comfortable

Pay attention to the channels, forums, publications, and people your prospect gravitates toward because that’s the “world” your prospect knows and trusts. This information can help you determine when and where to start a conversation, what or whom to reference in your messaging, etc. Think about it this way: If someone needed to engage you, would you be more receptive if they cited an insight from an industry thought leader whom you’ve trusted for years, or someone you don’t know?

Paying attention to your prospect’s online profiles and activity can also help you discover commonalities that you didn’t know existed, which you can then use to break the ice in a genuine way. And while you may not be able to mirror mannerisms online like you can in real life, you can absolutely mirror your prospect’s language and preferences. For example, have you ever read a sales prospect’s recommendations of others on LinkedIn? This can be an excellent way to better understand the traits and characteristics your prospect values most.

What is your prospect’s “personality” online? Are they formal, casual, optimistic, cynical, reserved, or highly opinionated? While still being yourself, you can alter your engagement strategy to match the personality of your prospect. For example, when sharing a dire finding with an optimist, focus more on the opportunity than the problem. When dealing with a cynic, tackle objections proactively.

Contextual clues that enhance your engagement strategy are everywhere, if you’re willing to look for them. For more ideas that can help you impress your top prospects, subscribe to the LinkedIn Sales Solutions blog.

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