Influence Versus Persuasion in Sales

Influence Versus Persuasion in Sales

People will dig in prior to giving in. Parents will probably agree with me — if you have ever tried to persuade a tired two-year-old that it was time for their nap, only to watch them resist, you’ve experienced the dig in effect. The best way to handle a prospect who digs in as a sales professional is to prevent a prospect from doing so in the first place. Once a prospect’s defense mechanisms are activated, selling feels like managing a fussy two-year-old. In this article, we will explore why prospects dig in, how to effectively prevent it from happening, and strategies to turn resistant prospects into happy clients.

Sneaky Suspicion Sales

Think about the last time someone tried to persuade you. It could have been the cashier trying to upsell you at the mall, the car dealer trying to persuade you to purchase paint protection, or your dentist tempting you with the new laser tooth whitener. Seconds prior to the pitch, you likely thought, “Here it comes…” and held your breath in anticipation. That’s because, as consumers, we’ve been conditioned to resist the pitch. 

There’s an old saying, “People do not like being sold, but they love to buy.” That’s because, as buyers, we don’t like the feeling of being coerced, coaxed, or cajoled into making a purchase decision. It is almost like a law of physics. If we are not already heading in that direction, we will want to remain at rest, or at least follow the path of least resistance. 

As sales professionals, what is our primary responsibility? Convince the buyer to purchase what we offer or figure out what is most important to the buyer and then help them achieve it? At Janek, that is what we believe the difference is between a traditional sales rep and a trusted advisor. Modern buyers have little desire to be pitched products and services. However, they do want help making complicated decisions. 

Ditch the Pitch

I’ve often wondered what would happen if a company created a “Product Department.” For example, you call the company, and the receptionist says,

“Thank you for calling ABC Company; how may I direct your call?”

Caller: “I’m looking for info on XYZ.”

Receptionist: “Would you like to talk to the sales department or the product department?”

Caller: “What’s the difference?”

Receptionist: “The sales department will sell you XYZ, and the product department will explain it.”

Caller: “I’d like to talk to the product department, please.”

Put yourself in the caller’s shoes. No matter how smooth or polished the salesperson is, we naturally have no desire to be pitched. Chances are you are not even ready to be pitched and still need more info on XYZ. But what often happens is that companies don’t have a “product department,” and the receptionist transfers the caller to a sales rep. If the salesperson is a traditional sales rep, they get excited, believing they have a “hot prospect,” and jump right into their sales pitch. The first thing this sales rep does is tell the caller about the latest and greatest upgrades to XYZ. Then the sales rep wonders why they never heard back from this prospect. 

The disconnect happens because the sales rep misunderstood their job description. They thought it was their responsibility to convince the buyer to purchase the product. That’s old-school sales, and it is becoming less and less effective. Even if you role-played for hours, had a flashy PowerPoint, and memorized every objection — rebuttal, old-school selling is going extinct. Modern selling is about understanding the buyers first, developing trust, and guiding the buyer to their best decision. 

Tutor Before You Teach

I like to compare modern selling to education. In kindergarten and grade school, we had one teacher for every grade. In middle school and high school, we had one teacher for each subject, a math teacher, a history teacher, and a science teacher. In college, there is one teacher for every branch because the subjects are more complicated and nuanced — applied statistics, economics, and quantum physics. A student could be studying to be a rocket scientist. They don’t need a teacher to teach them to be a rocket scientist, but they still might need a tutor to help them write an English literature paper. 

As the subjects become more complex, no one can be the know-it-all for everything. That is like the sales rep who makes wild promises and tries to convince the prospect to buy the product without understanding what the buyer’s biggest motivator is. By building trust, making an effort to understand their clients viewpoint, and providing guidance, the modern seller can bring value to even the most sophisticated prospects.  

For example, imagine you are an English tutor trying to sell your service to a student rocket scientist. The rocket scientist is not sure he needs help in English for the following reasons:

  1. English is not his major.
  2. He’s confident he will pass the class with a C. 
  3. He can live with a C in English.

However, the tutor points out that with just a few hours of tutoring, the student will learn proper writing structure. This new skill can be applied to all future classes. It will earn the student an A in the English class and protect the overall GPA. It will help them get into the top graduate school, which could lead to landing a job with SpaceX.

In general, this is the difference between the typical sales rep and the trusted advisor. The typical sales rep would jump immediately into the conversation, trying to persuade the student rocket scientist on his tutoring services. “I’ve been tutoring for 10 years. I’ve worked with 100s of students. I’ve got As in all my English classes.” The trusted advisor, on the other hand, will figure out the student’s long-term goal and position. They will try to understand how their services will help the student excel. If you had to pick, which one would you choose? Also, when you compare the two tutors, which tutor do you think will be reduced to selling on price and which one on value?

Convincing is Not a Sales Skill

Think about the definition of persuade:

To move by argument, entreaty, or expostulation to a belief, to convince, to plead with, coax, urge, tempt, twist their arm, wear down. 

Compare that to the definition of influence:

The power or capacity to cause an effect in indirect or intangible ways, authority, credibility, and inspiration.

Old-school sales reps adopt a ‘buy or die’ philosophy. They will continue to follow up, push, and plead until the prospect wears down. “Eventually, they all buy or die” is the mindset. It’s exhausting to both the seller and the buyer. And it does not have to be that way.

The modern seller understands that time is the most limited resource and chooses to invest time with prospects whose needs are in alignment with the value they are offering. So instead of getting better at convincing, modern sellers improve understanding. Understanding before selling is what separates these two sales philosophies. 

As modern sellers, we face a variety of challenges every day. In the past, the best way for a seller to achieve their numbers might have been to make 100 cold calls, practice opening and closing techniques, and treat sales as a numbers game. But that math no longer works. Modern sellers have learned that if they ditch the pitch, understand the buyer first, and build trust along the way, they can achieve their goals without being the pesky sales stereotype most buyers prefer to avoid.

To stand out in the crowded sales environment and noisy sales world, we need to be different. Being different is not about learning how to persuade or convince a buyer to do anything. This is what leads to buyer’s remorse. Modern sellers focus on delivering real, tangible value right from the initial conversation. This way, they can confirm their position as a trusted advisor to buyers.