I have always been fascinated by the science and art of selling. In my early years I was so keen to grasp the new techniques I picked up through multiple training courses, seeing my senior colleagues and peers in action and reading books about sales and selling I would put them into practice without much thought as to whether I was doing so authentically.
With the benefit of hindsight I feel a little uncomfortable when I picture the ambitious, aggressive and up and coming young me confidently playing out my favourite new technique. “I understand how you feel. Many of my clients have felt the same way, but here’s what they found when…”
You probably recognise the formula embedded in that last paragraph, it’s the famous feel-felt-found, one of the most common techniques in the sales person’s bag of tricks. There are literally thousands of these tips, tricks and techniques we are taught throughout our careers and they can all be useful at the right time and place. Sometimes though they just get in the way.
I’m certainly not saying that sales skills are not valuable, they are. However, they become a problem when they distract your attention from where it needs to be, on your customer. They are also counterproductive when they become formulaic or a rote technique you trot out without having any connection with or belief in what you’re saying.
The idea behind the feel-felt-found formula is a noble one. It’s a great way of acknowledging your customers experience or feelings. That is if you really do know how they feel. And you have genuinely felt the same way. Too often though the feel and felt parts of the equation are just a preamble to the “here’s what they found…” part where we get to launch into our pitch.
When you use sales techniques that way your customer will quite rightly feel techniqued and whatever rapport or credibility you have built will evaporate. They will sense it consciously or unconsciously and they will be less likely to do business with you.
So how do you learn to sell with authenticity as your guide?
The good news is, authenticity isn't something you need to learn; it's only something you need to embrace because at your core you already are your true authentic self.
In business parable The Go-Giver written by our founder Bob Burg and his co-author John David Mann we introduce a system of five interlocking principles, what we termed ‘The Five Laws of Stratospheric Success’ that at first sound counterintuitive, naive, even silly, but in the end, prove to be more fulfilling, satisfying and ultimately more successful.
The Fourth Law - The Law of Authenticity says
'The most valuable gift you have to offer is yourself'
In The Go-Giver story there is a character named Debra Davenport who discovers that all the sales skills, technical skills and even people skills she has laboured to learn are for nothing unless she is genuinely herself with her clients. When she gives up on all the techniques and lets herself simply be herself, the sales process miraculously works. This is not to say that knowledge and the development of solid skill sets are not important, indeed they are. They are very important. But they are worthless in the absence of authenticity, while the presence of authenticity multiplies their effectiveness geometrically.
When you show up as yourself everyday people sense that. People feel good about you. That sense of trust is there because people love consistency because it's so rare in today's ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ world.
Of course embracing your true authentic self doesn't mean we ever stop learning. It doesn't mean we stop growing. We continue to read books, attend seminars, get coaching, and get mentors. That is fine because we want to continue to grow and become an even higher authentic self. The challenge is that while we can learn and choose the people we learn from, what we want to do is to learn from them but we don't become them. We adapt their wisdom but we do not adopt their personalities. We learn their wisdom, but we stay true to our own authentic selves.
Our customers are more sophisticated today than ever and are far more likely to sense when a technique is being used on them. Do not fall victim to the cringe factor by slavishly following techniques embedded in your meticulously planned sales strategy. Sales skills can be a valuable part of your life as a sales professional, but they need to be kept in perspective. When in doubt ask yourself “What is the truth, right here and now?” and be yourself. Not some artificial, metaphorical mask wearing version of yourself. Your true authentic self.
After years of being taught to play the 'role' of a sales person it can take some thought to find yourself. But no one is more you than you and everyone has their own unique value they can add to the workplace, the marketplace, the world so it’s well worth the effort. As Debra Davenport says “As long as you’re trying to be someone else, or putting on some act or behavior someone else taught you, you have no possibility of truly reaching people.”
If you would like to know more about The Go-Giver story you can download the first chapter of the book here.
Ian J Lowe is the CEO of Go-Givers Australia a sales transformation, coaching and consulting organisation offering a unique culture-defining philosophy and framework that makes giving value the cornerstone of a refreshingly open and authentic approach to selling.
Content Credit: The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann
Image Credit: The Mask Movie, New Line Cinema 1994