My Holiday Selling Advice: Keep It Clean

As the holiday shopping season reaches its peak in the coming two weeks, retail professionals will be busier than ever. Whether you sell motorcycles, jewelry or consumer electronics, your job is to persuade holiday shoppers to buy what you’re selling.

My advice during this critically important but potentially lucrative and exciting time? Don’t be one of those brands, companies or individuals that skate the fine line between ethical and manipulative persuasion.

Whenever I talk about persuasion — on my website, at speaking engagements and even when out with friends (hey, it’s what I do!) — I define “persuasion” as “ethically winning the heart and mind of your customer.”

“Ethically” means simply doing something honestly and without trickery or deceit. “Winning” means making the sale. “Heart” refers to gaining emotional buy-in, “mind” refers to logical buy-in and “customer” is the specific person you are attempting to persuade.

Turning to manipulative methods is tempting — especially when there are sales quota to meet, and consumers have many other purchasing options.

To keep sales professionals from engaging in questionable tactics when they hear “no,” I suggest following my “ART of Persuasion” model. Even though you may be familiar with this, it’s worth a reminder during the holiday shopping season.

1. ACKNOWLEDGE the objection.

Doing so psychologically prepares the buyer to hear what you have to say: “I understand and can see what you’re saying, but may I share with you some information that might change your mind?”

2. RESPOND in a substantive and compelling manner.

Do so by using three key pieces of information: “If you’re looking for a lower price, you’ll find it somewhere else. But if you’re looking for great buying experience, you’re in the right place.” And then give three reasons why the customer should buy from you and your store — not from someone else and not online.

3. TRANSITION to the next step.

Remember to remain respectful of the buyer’s objections:

“What else would you like to know?”

“Another thing to consider is …”

“Do you have other questions I can answer?”

“What do you think?”

If the response is still negative, you have more work to do. Communication and objection handling are true art forms, and you’ll be like Picasso when you master the ART of this form of rebuttal.

Like any useful model, the ART of persuasive communication can be applied to just about any situation.

You won’t hear “yes” every time, but you’ll be shocked at how often you do.

When Persuasion Hits a Bump, Follow These Five Emergency Actions

In a previous post, I discussed “assent turbulence” — that feeling you get when your persuasion efforts encounter some bumps. I suggested five emergency procedures to follow when that happens.

Below are five more that continue with our airplane pilot analogy.

Here’s what to do when you hit a rough patch of persuasion-related turbulence:

1. Correct the pitch.

Allow yourself to understand your target’s hesitation and work to erase invalid preconceptions. Find areas of potential agreement and collaboration, while unearthing resistance that may be unrelated to what you’re actually suggesting: “Your concern is related to the project’s budget, and I understand that. How about we take a closer look at my proposal and find a middle ground by identifying expenses we could initially forego?”

2. Call a co-pilot for help.

You may need to ask others to have a conversation, offer an opinion or otherwise help you get the job done. An executive, an expert or a strategic ally can assist you in thinking through issues. Don’t feel you’re all alone.

3. Circle the airport.

I don’t like to call this tactic stalling; let’s think of it as “circling the airport.” Sometimes to be successful, you need to keep an idea alive long enough — like a batter fouling off pitches until the perfect one comes along.

4. Choose a different runway.

Provide other options to get your pitch back on track: “We can either choose three of these ideas and determine how best to move forward with them, focus on your favorite idea and make that happen, or come up with a new set of ideas.”

5. Abort the destination.

Land somewhere else. Nothing is ever worth “or else.” The Greeks preferred to die in battle when they couldn’t win, establishing the ultimate example of “or else.” The Romans, on the other hand, believed in retreating in the face of overwhelming strength to fight another day. Be a Roman and not a Greek by leaving doors open and bridges unburned.

Five Emergency Actions to Take When Persuasion Goes Sideways

Fasten your seatbelt: Regardless of your attempts to reduce assent turbulence, sometimes you’ll get the feeling that your persuasion situation is inexorably heading the wrong way. Pilots rate flight turbulence from Level 1 (light, slight erratic changes that keep you from enjoying your glass of wine) to Level 4 (extreme, violent motions that’ll convince you to never fly again).

Your own turbulence on the way toward persuasion success will have degrees of intensity, as well.

Does someone simply not understand a facet of your request? That’s a Level 1 turbulence situation than can easily be overcome. Or has the CEO received misinformation and, in mafia-speak, put a contract out on your idea — which is definitely Level 4 turbulence?

Here’s what to do when you hit a rough patch of persuasion-related turbulence:

1. Be calm.

It doesn’t help if you, the pilot, are freaked out. Remind yourself that — because this is your priority — you may be amplifying facets of the situation in your mind. Take a deep breath. More than likely, your physical safety isn’t in jeopardy, and the fate of the world doesn’t hang in the balance.

2. Switch on the seatbelt sign.

Let other passengers know there could be a few bumps. If you’re working on a new product training initiative, you might have any number of people aware of your effort and invested in its success. Let them know there figuratively could be some shifting of items in the overhead compartments. Help keep your team calm, too.

3. Use your radar.

You need to locate and understand turbulence. Is it thermal, mechanical, shear or aerodynamic? This is where your networks come into play. You need to have contacts in Sales, Finance, Legal and other departments — trusted colleagues who understand the importance of sharing information.

4. Subtly test your controls.

Ask for opinions, not comments, and certainly not commitments: “Given what you currently know, what are you thinking right now?” Ask about potential storms, and keep an eye out for someone who can help play the role of problem solver, intermediary or facilitator.

5. Level the aircraft.

Always be able to, at any time during the persuasion process, clearly explain what you are trying to initiate, how much it will realistically cost, and what the return will be and how you will quantify it: “We’ve covered a lot of territory here. Just so we’re clear: Today, we’re talking about a purchase order for $225,000 to help our call center talent increase customer satisfaction by a full point in next quarter’s satisfaction index report.”

Next time: Five more persuasion actions you might need to take to overcome turbulence.

aircraft taking off or landing

What Happens When Your Persuasion Efforts Encounter Turbulence?

I’ve flown well over a million airline miles, and I’ve never taken one flight on which there wasn’t at least some turbulence during the ascent. Likewise, rarely do persuasion attempts succeed without at least a few bumps. I call this “assent turbulence.”

This kind of persuasion turbulence occurs when new information appears, people are influenced by other opinions or X factors are in play. Be it a promotion, a firing or a merger, things happen that change a person’s perspective on your request. And the larger, more complex your request, the more important it is for you to buckle your seatbelt.

Just because things get a bit bumpy doesn’t mean your flight won’t end up at your intended destination, though. Here are seven factors that contribute to the inevitable bumps you persuasion efforts will take on your ascent to assent:

1. Lack of trust

You’ll know when trust is missing when your target fails to be forthcoming with information, asks for delays, acts guarded, or is curt and abrupt in responses — or worse, doesn’t ask any follow-up questions at all. The remedy is to be 100 percent candid with your target and address the elephant in the room: “Mike, I know we don’t seem to be on the same page with this issue, but it is important to both of us. So let’s be honest, see if we can forge a compromise and be allies rather than adversaries.” Or this: “Monica, you seem hesitant. Why don’t we talk frankly about your concerns so we can both be more comfortable?” Ask people for the “favor” of honesty, trust and patience, and they’ll return the favor and trust you more in the process.

2. Lack of compelling value in the request

This is indicated by no clear economic return on investment, no personal benefit for the target or no attempt to link qualitative returns to actual evidence. Value, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. And the other person’s eye is the one that needs to behold the benefits of your pitch. In this instance, have your target stipulate what an effective return would be, at least theoretically. What would he like to see happen? Start with ROI, and work backwards, being sure to turn qualitative benefits into quantitative metrics whenever possible.

3. The request is unclear

You’ll know your pitch isn’t working when you’re hit with a slew of questions, insistence on qualifiers, digressions or a lack of focus on what you believe to be the issue. One way to decrease the potential of making an unclear request is to practice your pitch on others first, including family members and friends. Ask for their help in terms of making you present your case with clarity and focus. Eschew jargon and focus on specifics.

4. An ill-timed request.

Sometimes, it’s not you; it’s the timing. Priorities may be elsewhere. Perhaps it’s your firm’s busy season. Or IT problems in the office are leaving employees distracted and ornery. Or your specific target might just be having a bad day and dealing with issues of which you’re completely unaware. You can do you best to anticipate the timing of your request by not asking for something that directly conflicts with ongoing demands. Don’t try to swim against the tide, especially a rip tide.

Practice reversal, too. As a high school wrestler, this was one of my specialties moves. Wresting control from my opponents earned me two points each time. In persuasion, it can get you much, much more. Try something like this: “You’ve got a ton on your plate, I know. That’s exactly why we should green-light this project. I can make sure it gets done right and involve you as much or as little as you want.”

5. Overwhelming opposing self-interest

This happens when the company, the department or the individual has a huge economic advantage to do exactly the opposite of what you are pursuing (or to do nothing at all). This is a tough one, but there are ways to combat it, by appealing to corporate values or long-term benefits. Suggest that your idea will not create a reversal of goals, and attempt to show your targets how a “yes” would support them in the longer term. You can provide them with a quid pro quo they’re not expecting.

6. X factors

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Suddenly, an unexpected “expert,” such as an outside consultant, weighs in on your pitch. Or an unanticipated development, such as an acquisition or company reorganization occurs. Or you learn of a personal relationship that could jeopardize your persuasion efficacy, such as the person you thought was in favor of an organizational shift is married to the cousin of the company’s general manager.

What should you do? Damn the torpedoes and keep your persuasion priority moving forward, irrespective of the new information. If that’s too bold of a move for you, make sure you have a Plan B. Adjust your “ask” in light of the new conditions, and try to co-opt new sources of expertise. If you can, change your timing to take advantage of the situation.

7. Machiavellian types

I’m referring to the people who tell you one thing (to keep you happy) and then do another (to make them happy) Then they explain their behavior as a misunderstanding (to try to make you happy again). They will take credit for others’ work, disassociate themselves from errors of their own and work behind the scenes to reach their goals — often entering and exiting alliances and friendships in revolving-door fashion.

Machiavellian types also hate the bright light that exposes their dark corners, so keep issues in the light. Contain them, because it’s pointless to fight them, and don’t attempt head-on (or head-first) assaults. Rather, give them the opportunity to eventually reveal that the only side they’re ever on is their own.

Next time: Five emergency persuasion actions you might need to take.

You Have More In Common With KISS Than You Think

How do you define success? And what will you do — within reason, of course — to achieve it?

In the Aug. 31, 1972, East Coast edition of Rolling Stone magazine, an unknown musician named Peter Crisscoula ran an ad that read: “Drummer: Willing to do anything to make it.” Two guys looking to create a band, Stanley Eisen and Gene Klein, called Peter to explore his seriousness. “Would you wear a dress on stage?” they asked. “Would you wear high heels on stage?” “Would you wear … makeup?”

And the rest, as they say, is KISS-story.

Peter Crisscoula became Peter Criss, Stanley Eisen became Paul Stanley, and Gene KIein became Gene Simmons. The trio quickly added guitarist Ace Frehley, and the rock band KISS eventually wound up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Perhaps that story of the band’s origins is apocryphal — but if it didn’t happen, it should have.

I’m not suggesting you dress like your favorite member of KISS on Casual Fridays, but those guys were willing to go beyond the norm and define new parameters for rock music and performance in the face of early ridicule.

But this week, ask yourself a critical question: What am I willing to do to make it?

(Flickr photo by Village9991)

Next Time You Hear ‘No,’ Ask Different Questions

The next time a target says “no,” try asking different questions.

Now, these can be rhetorical or actual questions. Either way, they soften your response, give you time to think and usually are greeted in the affirmative. For example: “May I ask you a question … ?” “May I speak candidly … ?” “May I make a recommendation … ?” “May I offer another perspective … ?” “May I recommend another option … ?”

Compare “That’s exactly why you should do business with us!” with “If I may, that’s exactly why you should do business with us!”

Or “I’ll call you on the 12th …” with “Is it OK to call you on the 12th?”

The ‘Echoing’ Effect

One of my favorite techniques is called “echoing.” This is when you take the final words your target says and repeat them with an upward inflection to form a question. Then, the power of a pregnant pause elicits more information from the buyer. If your target says something like, “I want to make sure we’re making the right decision,” you respond with, “Right decision?”

Pause.

“Well, yeah, this is a big initiative for us, so we need to be smart.”

“Be smart?”

Pause.

“Sure. I know cheapest isn’t always the best; I just want to make sure we’re going with the right consulting firm. You’re a great company, and I trust you guys. But we need to succeed with this project; that’s what’s most important.”

See? You said four words, and this guy is talking himself into signing on the dotted line!

Ask the right questions at the right time, and hear yes more often.

Defuse Deceit With These Three Easy Strategies

Give others the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise: That’s the business world’s version of “innocent until proven guilty.”

And that’s why you should make sure your suspicions about others are not just the result of you being envious. Don’t be paranoid, either. People who don’t always agree with your pitch early on aren’t necessarily opposed to it; they just may not yet appreciate what you’re bringing to the table.

Occasionally, some people do only think of themselves and may attempt to thwart your persuasion efforts for self-aggrandizing reasons. They take credit for what’s not theirs, manipulate others and seem concerned only with personal advancement. They might act passive-aggressively by seemingly taking your side but then constantly undermine you through faint praise and nuanced critiques.

When that type of deceit happens, control your emotions. Deceitful people can offend your sense of judgment to such a degree that you’re motivated to go head-to-head with them on an issue in a public setting. Don’t. That’s what they want you to do. A public — or at least an office — feud, whether you win or lose, will delay and often derail your persuasion plans. Most of them meander on interminably, with no resolution and with others rapidly losing interest or at least feeling uncomfortable in group settings.

Additionally, your opponent is likely skilled in the art of deception and will turn public conversations around as if to question your intentions.

Here are three strategies to counteract a deceitful target:

1. Contain the deceit.

Keep other options in your pocket to accomplish tasks without your opponent’s input. Isolating opposition or foot-dragging to minor issues, while gaining momentum on the major elements of your persuasion effort, will allow you to make necessary headway — much like the army that maneuvers around a single island of resistance on the way toward its ultimate goal.

2. Shine a spotlight.

In meetings with others, ask your opponent to discuss his or her concerns. While it’s easy to be deceitful, presenting the facts and figures to defend the deception is much more difficult. This is why group meetings play an important role in honest persuasion exploration.

3. Pay attention to meeting agendas.

The deceitful will place their agenda items at the end of meetings, because they know that’s when the rubber stamp comes out and people are eager to move on. So make sure that those items are higher on the agenda; you will then control the conversation.

 

Why Test Drives Matter — Regardless of Your Industry

Regardless of whether your offering is a product or a service — and whether you sell B2C or B2B — you should encourage your prospective buyer to take your solution for a test drive.

Now, if you’re selling a tangible item like a motorcycle, a car, a computer or a guitar, that’s a pretty basic proposition: Let your prospect give the product a try, and then answer any questions or amplify any interests.

This gets a little trickier with an intangible, but it can still be done using language to achieve a similar “experience.” For example, describe to your prospect using vivid language how his or her situation will improve with your product or service.

Test drives should be an integral piece of your sales process. A test drive accomplishes three things:

1. It helps your buyer begin to “see” himself owning your offering.

2. It maximizes and amplifies such emotional states as surprise, happiness, excitement and pride.

3. It conveys the perceived value of your solution.

No matter your industry, start thinking in terms of test drives, the impact they can have and the outcome they can achieve.

How to Filter Feedback

Most people simply don’t receive feedback well, especially if it’s negative. We get defensive or don’t take any action at all. The key to receiving feedback is to filter feedback by determining and understanding what is meaningful and what isn’t. I make no claims at being an expert on this, but I can confidently state that I’ve gotten better at it over the years.

Consider creating the following feedback filters; the lower the number, the less credence you should give that feedback.

Feedback Filter 1: People you don’t know

I give feedback from this group little credence; many psychologists say the feedback people in this group provide really is meant for their benefit, not yours.

Feedback Filter 2: Coworkers

You work with them, and they may seem like friends. But, again, I rarely give much weight to feedback from co-workers. There are too many competitive pressures and workplace dynamics to create much value.

Feedback Filter 3: Family and friends

This is an important group. Although they don’t always see things through the same lens as you do, these people presumably (barring dysfunction) are the most important people in the world to you and have your best interests at heart.

Feedback Filter 4: Trusted advisors

Individuals you respect for their accomplishments, and who you truly believe have no agenda, are the ones who have your best interests at heart. This will be your most valuable group to cultivate and from which to seek feedback.

Regard feedback according to this scale, and you’ll have a better of idea what matters and what doesn’t.

How to Respond When You Hear ‘Yes’

Just as there are clearly missteps you can make when you hear “yes,” there also are actions you can take that will help remove any trace of doubt that may linger with your target.

Five Moment-of-Yes Do’s

1. Immediately shake hands.

I know, it seems obvious. But you’d be shocked by how many people miss this important moment. For many cultures, dating back to ancient Greece, shaking hands has remained customary for everything from meeting and greeting to saying thank-you and offering congratulations. A handshake also signals the completion of an agreement. Even if I’ve worked with a person for years on a big agreement, I always shake hands to affirm the commitment. Although it may be executed differently in different countries, shaking hands is almost always the socially acceptable thing to do (though, in certain cultures, it’s a good idea to check ­— especially in male-to-female agreements).

2. Offer a reinforcing comment.

While shaking hands, it’s critical to also offer some sort of agreement-reinforcing comment: “This is going to be an exciting project.” “We will do great work together.” “Here’s to accomplishing important work.” Avoid statements such as “Well, here’s hoping it works!” or “Thank you for the opportunity; I hope I make you proud.” The objective here is to fill your target with confidence, not initiate buyer’s remorse or demonstrate that your pitching skills are stronger than your confidence.

3. Give a “next steps” overview.

Be absolutely clear on what will happen next: “Okay, so I’ll work with the legal department this afternoon to put the final details into an agreement. You’ll be deciding which budgets to use. And we’ll collaborate on the project’s announcement this afternoon. By this time tomorrow, we’ll be up and running.” In other words, determine who will handle the purchase order, who will draft the agreement and who is communicating what to others.

4. Make sure your target takes action.

In the example above, the target is given next-step responsibilities. That is intentional. Sometimes in the moment of “yes,” persuaders are so relieved to receive agreement that they take the focus on accountability off the target. Don’t create a “sit back and relax” experience for the target. You want him or her to take action: Make a phone call, provide a signature, send an email, review a document. Set something you and your target can agree on immediately, then schedule a follow-up session.

5. Go public.

Nobody wants to be considered a hypocrite. The majority of people want to perform consistently with their publicly stated ideas and positions. This can take many forms: letting just a few people around the lunch table know about the new agreement, a massive companywide memo or alerting the local and national media. Going public makes that “yes” official by naming those accountable and broadcasting the commitment.

Next time, we’ll cover how to create what I call “perpetual yes.”