THE PHILOSOPHER Aristotle in the Art of Rhetoric captured the essence of what makes people great at selling when he highlighted the Greek concepts of logos, pathos and ethos. With logos, we produce rational and logical arguments. Pathos is used to address emotions. But for success, we have to be believable and trustworthy - and that is where ethos comes in.
The point was first made more than 2,000 years ago and has been repeated time and again - we buy things from people we trust. Does this apply to every purchasing decision? Not necessarily. For transactional purchases, we may put more emphasis on convenience or price.
However, in most situations, clients are not looking for a transaction. They want a solution and a relationship built on trust.
Selling professional services is a process that takes time, and deals cannot be closed in one or two meetings. Use this time to your advantage and build a perception of credibility, competence and compatibility – the foundations of trust.
For some people this comes naturally, but for the others here are a few tips that should help.
Show confidence. If you appear in control, you will be more believable. Developing self-confidence is not easy. It is built on past success and a strong belief in who you are and what you're doing.
Create a strong initial impact. We've all heard it said that first impressions are lasting. On a subconscious level, all of us are very sensitive during the first 15 seconds of a meeting. We judge others based on their dress, voice, gestures, body movements and choice of words. Control your own behaviour during these critical seconds and create the perception you want to project.
Demonstrate honesty. Tell the truth. Nothing destroys trust more quickly than dishonest behaviour.
Deliver as promised. This may be hard to demonstrate in the first meeting, but as your relationship with the client grows, there will be many opportunities to deliver. For example, if you say you're going to call on Tuesday, do it.
To show competence:
Demonstrate your knowledge. Make it clear you know your product and industry as well as the client's business and requirements. You may have picked up detailed knowledge from academic courses or work experience, but do extra research.
Highlight your track record. Most clients don't want to be an experiment, particularly if they are paying for the privilege. You must demonstrate your organisation's success in handling their type of business. Promoting your track record is fine, but bragging about your accomplishments may not be. Remember that the client is more concerned about what you can do for them than what you have previously done for others.
Demonstrate your expertise. People want to hear from experts. Clients want to be sure you have the knowledge, experience and ability to work with them. Expertise means applying all of this to create value.
Ask questions. It's not the quantity but the quality of questions, and they should demonstrate you know your stuff. A well thought out question can often make a stronger impression than a statement. Ask searching questions that make the client consider things from a new angle.
To establish compatibility:
Take an interest. Spend time getting to know key players in the client's organisation. There is no real substitute for this kind of quality time.
Listen actively. It is not easy, but a great salesperson should talk less and listen more. A rule of thumb says that selling should be 70 per cent listening and asking questions. Show you have heard and understood the client by using positive body language. Don't interrupt, and find ways to share similar experiences and summarise key messages.
Adapt your behaviour. Advising someone to "be yourself" does not always help if he or she sells to a wide range of individuals.
Every client is different, so the key is to adapt your behaviour - particularly the choice of words and level of energy - to that of the client. This doesn't mean changing who you are. Don't put on an act or come across as fake. Recognise, though, that your interaction with the marketing director of a start-up will differ from your approach with the CEO of a multinational. The former may want to hear ideas, the latter may only be thinking of the bottom line. They will have different styles, so adapt.
Show you care. Go the extra mile. Introduce your client to a potential new customer. Send a copy of an interesting article or do something they don't expect. Show that you think about their business even when you're not working together.
Show vulnerability. No one wants to work with a know-it-all who cannot admit a mistake. As a professional, you're paid to be right, but sometimes it's okay to apologise, confess to ignorance, or ask for time to get back with an answer. It is possible for anyone to learn the techniques of selling. But knowing and applying even the best of them is not enough.
You must distance yourself from the competition and stand out in the mind of the client. You need the character, core values and beliefs that create the perception of ethos.
TIPS TO WIN
Perception vs Reality When meeting a potential client, differentiate between their perceived and real needs. There may be some solutions or services the client thinks are needed. However, their logic may be flawed or based on incorrect information. It is your responsibility to help them uncover and accept their real needs.
Preparing the Ground Don't cold call. A potential client should not receive an unexpected phone call. Send a letter or email, or get someone to arrange an introduction - anything that prepares the ground. If the potential client replies that he is not interested, that's OK. At least they have considered your approach and its timing. Write back and continue the exchange. It may not be what you wanted, but at least you're communicating.
Two Types There are two types of client: those you work with today and those you will work with in future. Regardless of which category the client falls into, treat them the same way. Those you are going to work with in future are already judging your technical expertise, sector knowledge, skills and genuine interest. Treat them as if they are a client.
Build In-House Trust Your colleagues won't recommend you to a client if they don't trust your ability to deliver. They may even be reluctant to introduce you if they think it will backfire some day. Such a lack of trust could be based on something you or your department did (or didn't do) in the past. It may be completely exaggerated or unfounded. Nevertheless, their perception is every bit as important as the facts of the case. Therefore, work as hard to build a level of trust with your colleagues as with your clients.
Know When to Sell Business and social networking events can be great places to identify potential clients. Be careful, though, because you don't want the prospective client to feel any "sales pressure" - this is no way to build rapport. Instead, confirm their level of interest, get contact details and offer to follow up with more information.