Like it or not, we are all in the business of sales and selling.
If you’re a leader, you’re selling your vision, your purpose and your ideas. If you’re a business person, you’re selling products or services. Parents are trying to sell things like bedtime and broccoli. And, if you’re in a relationship, or you’re trying to get into a relationship, you are very definitely in the business of selling.
Of course, sales is far from a logical process, when it is done well, it also engages us at an emotional and even psychological level.
Part of the reason so many people are uncomfortable with words like sales and selling is that many of us have had poor experiences with sales people who were either too pushy or else not really interested in meeting our needs or solving our problems. But the truth is, while few of us enjoy being sold to, almost all of us like buying things,
So why the disconnect?
Part of the problem is our definition of sales and selling. These words in isolation tend to conjure up images of sleazy sales people and manipulative pitching methodologies – and there’s more than a little evidence to support this.
Perhaps a better definition is, “to align your value with their values.” This shifts the focus of a sales conversation from the product to the customer. In fact, the sale is always in the prospect, not the product.
Another issue is that we tend not to think of things such as engagement, inspiration and buy in as a function of sales, but in truth, every great leader is in the business of selling their ideas and too many great ideas die on the vine, not for a lack of quality or efficacy, but due to a lack of influence.
If we want to be more influential, persuasive and engaging, it’s helpful to understand that there are 3 Levels of Selling.
- The Literal
- The Emotional
- The Psychological
The Literal Level of the sale is exactly what you would expect. It is the product or service you’re wanting to sell. This might be a physical product – in the case of the FMCG or manufacturing industries, a service – which includes such things as he trades, contractors and professional services, or it might be an idea, some intellectual property or Thought Leadership if you are a scientist, engineer, or leading a cause. This is what most people understand, but unfortunately, it is also where most people stop.
The Emotional Level of the sell is linked to how the sale makes people feel. This is often expressed as the shift from “features” to “benefits”. A faster computer processor (feature) might lead to less frustration in your work or greater productivity and confidence (benefits). This is where sales people tend to spend a lot of their time and it is the first shift from product or service centricity towards customer-centricity. But there is a further step that is critical to understand.
The Psychological Level of the sale may never be articulated out loud (as often it might be embarrassing or suggest a character failing) but it is incredibly important to understand as this is ultimately the real value your provide for your customers. In B2B markets it might be all about risk aversion, whilst in business to consumer sales, it could be all about selfish gain. In either case, it ultimately comes down to the identity of the purchaser and the identity they wish to present to the world. In other words, your sales pitch would start with WHO.
So what does this look like in practice?
A short time ago, my business partner Kieran Flanagan and I were running a program to help small businesses punch above their weight. One of the businesses in the room was an arborist or tree lopping business run by a young, optimistic 24 year old – Nick.
Whilst working with Nick’s Tree Lopping, we asked what he thought he was really in the business of. He replied, “I make people feel good about cutting down trees!” We looked at him for a moment before responding, “Yeah… let’s not put that on the website! What do you mean?”
He explained to us that he was in fact an environmentalist. Most arborists, when they cut down a tree, chip the wood to make mulch. Nick didn’t do that. If the tree’s diameter was any larger than 20cm (roughly 8 inches), he kept the timber and turned it into furniture. Amazing right? This was nowhere on his website but was clearly the greatest point of difference and story he could have used.
Immediately, we advised him to change the name of his business to “Treeincarnation”, which he did, and then we directed the three levels of his sell.
At the literal level, he was obviously selling tree removal. The emotional benefit was a feeling that despite having a tree cut down, you were doing it in the most sustainable way possible. But at the psychological level, we realised that Nick wasn’t actually in the tree removal business – he was in the guilt removal business. Now, Nick will never say that to a client, but it does inform how he sells, the new services he introduces to his business and the insights he brings to conversations with his customers.
So… what are you really selling?