If the quest to peddle a product feels like a face-off—salesman versus customer, your best technique versus their worst objections—chances are you’re far from alone. Yet Dave Blanchard, the author of Today I Begin a New Life, has a message for salespeople who join the battle along such lines: It’s time to fight on the same side as your supposed adversary.
“Everyone has a wall of resistance,” Blanchard says. “But behind that wall there is an endless reserve of cooperation and productivity. So do you want to throw up all over that wall? Or do you want to tap into that reserve?”
If you want to tap the reserve, Blanchard says the way lies through Intrinsic Validation, which Blanchard describes it as a way of looking at the world—and the other person—with a keen eye and heart towards finding out what’s behind the wall.
Say a longtime client calls up sounding furious, ready to cancel an account. He claims a competitor is offering the same service for 30 percent less, and wants to know why you’ve been ripping him off for so long. You’ll want to react. You’ll want to defend yourself. Don’t, Blanchard says. Bite your tongue. Take a deep breath. Now, go deeper into that client’s world.
“You have to shift from self focus to outward focus,” Blanchard says. “And the outward focus is letting go of your own victimhood. That’s one of the hardest things to do. But when we begin to listen, we become a safe place. We don’t listen to respond, but to understand. And when we make that decision, we become extremely rare.”
Back to the angry client: You’ll want to hear him out and ask questions, or make statements, that get you over the wall: “You sound really upset. What’s going on? Tell me more. I’m listening.” The more you make it clear that you’re there to listen, and not react, the much higher your chances to find to the root of the anger and diffuse it.
What you might discover, Blanchard says, is that a hotheaded boss just yelled at your client for going over budget three consecutive quarters. And that competitor, a buddy of the boss, is offering an inferior product … but it’s looking mighty attractive after all that yelling. With that vital information and the listening ear you just extended, you’re in a position to reach over the wall and lend a hand.
Blanchard stresses that none of this can happen if you retreat too soon into your own world, your own concerns, or talk of rescuing the sale. You have to be patient; you’ll know Intrinsic Validation is working when you hear the person’s tone de-escalate, their breathing slow down, the pauses getting poignant. Then you remember what you’ve known all along: All of us have great pressures working in our lives. You can add to that pressure or offer a safety valve by asking empathetic questions.
“Dr. Robert S. Hartman discovered that 40 percent of cooperation in non-adversarial relationships is held back until people feel valued and understood,” Blanchard says. “That’s an alarming number; imagine what it is in a fear-based relationship. When a person feels understood, a trust level is unleashed.”
Intrinsic Validation isn’t foolproof. Some people may not let you in; others may share intimate details to an alarming or confusing point. It takes repeated attempts to gain some level of mastery. “When we get good at violin, we play more and more and more. The more you practice Intrinsic Validation, the more we release our fear, our doubt, our need to pretend. It’s a subtle shift from ‘It’s about my needs and getting my needs met’ to ‘It’s about the needs of another person.’”
Blanchard, who’s CEO of the Og Mandino Group, said that Mandino and other master salesmen understood this secret. When you practice Intrinsic Validation with those you serve, then you approach the art of sales as one of meeting a person’s needs, as opposed to hawking goods and services for gain. The nuance may sound subtle, but it’s crucial in making the leap from salesperson by trade to sales professional.