Modern buyers are blessed with unprecedented levels of information and choice. That means when it comes to poor experiences with sub-par salespeople, complacency has given way to natural selection. Refusing to answer their phones, respond to emails, or subject themselves to slick, self-serving pitches, moderns buyers have become more empowered, skeptical, and peer-driven than ever before. With a low tolerance for traditional sales tactics, they have also become more difficult than ever to connect with.
The good news is, this shift in buying behavior has forced sellers to redouble their efforts to learn. To seek out new tactics. To embrace the science and art of this great profession and adopt the progressive approach needed to connect with modern buyers. But studying the art and science of sales simply isn’t enough.
In many ways, the pervasive sharing of sales tactics in books, blogs, and podcasts has given rise to a concept I call the “unconscious seller”. That is a seller who uses all manner of sales tactics but doesn’t fundamentally understand the reason why they work or don’t.
That’s because most sellers don’t stop to consider the delicate balance of science and art that gives rise to the outcome they experience in their customer interactions. And what’s worse, most don’t even realize they should. That’s a problem because mastering the art or the science isn’t the biggest opportunity for growth of both the seller and the sales profession. It’s the why.
For example, did the tactic work because of what they said to the buyer? The tone and body language with which they said it? Because they delivered it in person versus over the phone? Because of their company’s position on a key social issue? Because of a negative experience, the buyer had with their main competitor the day before? Was the buyer desperate to buy the first solution they came across? Or was their customer simply in a happy and accommodating mood because it was her birthday? The more we inspect our sales outcomes by asking why the better we’ll understand the balance of science and art needed to connect our buyers in a variety of situations.
Here are three big reasons why, as a salesperson, you need to focus on the why more than the science and art:
1. You won’t know which tactics to stop, start, or continue doing
One of the problems with unconscious sellers is that they rarely link their outcome to the fundamental behaviors that drove it. Even when those behaviors are good and produce a positive outcome. I’m sure you know many wonderful people who are exceptionally skilled at selling.
My sister, for example, is a personal trainer and has a side business selling cosmetics. She’s knowledgeable, cares about her clients, and consistently demonstrates high conviction in the products, services, and advice she delivers. Despite making no investment in sales training her approach works and her clients love her. She is a blissfully good, unconscious seller. But there’s a problem. Because she doesn’t know why her approach works so well, she’s missing out on a huge opportunity to double-down on the specific winning tactics that will make her even more successful!
On the flip-side, we’ve all had the experience interacting with unconsciously bad sellers. Most bad sellers aren’t bad people. They simply sell using poor, generic, outdated, and self-serving tactics that turn buyers off. Their tactics don’t work and yet, they rarely stop to ask why. That’s an even bigger problem because not only are these salespeople bad at their job and aren’t sure which tactics to stop using, but the distrust and frustration they leave in their wake propagates a historically negative stereotype of salespeople. In short, the bad sellers ruin it for the everyone else.
2. You’ll over-bias to one or the other
Research into the scientific underpinnings of buyer and sales psychology has flourished in the last 30 years. Today, key behavioral and emotional buying drivers such as status quo bias, abstraction, persuasion theory, reactance, reciprocity, and loss aversion, have been thoroughly vetted, although rarely taught in mainstream sales training programs. While it is directionally encouraging to see more and more sales professionals embracing their craft as a pure science, over-biasing to one extreme or another is dangerous because each alone doesn’t provide enough tools to succeed in all selling situations.
For example, suppose we devoutly believed that sales was pure science. That would mean a seller who describes her solution using a scientifically proven persuasive messaging technique would be sure to convince her customer of its value. However, that technique likely would not have the desired impact if she used it in a way that came off as inauthentic or condescending. Conversely, a seller with high integrity and charisma, who is sincere in their desire to help her customer may win favor with buyers in spite of not having perfect selling mechanics.
Without asking why that tactic worked, you run the risk of gravitating too far to art or science. Or worse, falling in love with the tactic and spamming the crap out of it until it stops working without knowing why.
3. You’ll teach others bad habits
I have a funny habit. Like many of you, I’m often on the receiving end of horribly generic sales outreach tactics. Tactics that showcase no level of customization or even the slightest shred of research into my business. Anger-inducing tactics that most people would ignore. However, from time to time rather than ignoring them I respond by providing some coaching or guidance to help the rep to improve. Believe me, I don’t do that because I have copious amount of discretionary time on my hands. I do it because if I don’t they’ll continue to use the tactic and even worse, pass it along to others!
Unfortunately, this is how much of the sales profession is taught and learned. Again, sellers who use these tactics aren’t bad people. They simply never asked why. Amazingly, in most instances the rep responds and acknowledges the poor behavior, citing a manager or process that compelled them to act that way. Just following orders. But these incidents are not isolated.
Having worked in and with many sales teams, I have found salespeople are often conflicted about the tactics they’re asked to carry out. Young sellers in particular. Students of sales, eager to learn and reap all the amazing rewards of this great profession. They see the tide changing but feel it may not be their place to ask why and question their tactics. But they must! If they don’t they are doomed to teach others the same and propagate negative behaviors that make it harder for all future sellers to succeed.
Sales is an incredible profession filled with endless rewards and gratification for those who do it successfully. While that success is no doubt due to those who are able to strike the right balance of science and art, those who will not only rise to the top of our profession but elevate it, will transcend both art and science and instead focus on the why.
BONUS VIDEO ILLUSTRATING THE CONCEPTS IN THIS POST