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Speaking to Sell

#68 - 01/01/2005

"The mark of a good salesperson is that his customer doesn't regard him as a salesperson at all, but a trusted and indispensable adviser, an auxiliary employee who, fortunately, is on someone else's payroll." - Harvey Mackay, Swim with the Sharks

My dad became a salesman at the age of 43. He left a job he hated in management with a mining company and bought a small State Farm Insurance agency in Farmington, Missouri. For him it was a liberating experience. "Selling is the greatest occupation in the world," he told me. "Learn to sell and there's no limit to how far you can go."

When I told him at the age of 20 that I wanted to become an actor, he was heartbroken. I struggled for a few years as an actor until I found the "business" side of show business, TV commercials. It seems I had a knack for persuading people to accept me as some sort of authority. I became a successful spokesperson for products and companies. When I began to show up on his TV screen, Dad called me up and said "So, I see you've become a salesman after all."

Selling is an art. To persuade is one of the four major categories or objectives of public speaking - the other three being to entertain, to inform and to inspire. Of course all four are often combined in any presentation. Indeed, a speech dedicated to only one of the four would be like a Thanksgiving dinner with nothing but sliced turkey on your plate.

Successful selling, persuasion, depends on a number of factors beginning with the relationship of the buyer to the seller and to the service, article or idea being sold. Sometimes the simple understanding that one is being sold something is enough to render a person impervious to persuasion. As consumers, we like to buy, have and own, but we don't like to be sold. So be careful in choosing your words and defining your relationship.

Here are six ideas that can help you sell persuasively when you speak:

1. Tell the truth. This is probably the most important element in gaining someone's trust, and the rarest among the selling classes. If you can bring yourself to always tell the truth your trustworthiness and therefore your success is assured. Many get elected to office or make the sale without it, however.

2. Listen to them. Find out as much as you can about their point of view. Then get on their side and let them know you are their ally in solving their problem. "Ride the horse in the direction he's going" is a useful bit of advice from improvisational theatre. Selling often requires a strong ability to improvise. Say "Yes, and. . ." rather than "Yes, but. . ." Make a positive contribution, not a negative argument.

3. Be willing to fail. At the sale, that is. But don't fail at building a trusting relationship. That way, even if they decide not to buy, you still have an opportunity in the future to come back and try again. Tell them you are willing to accept any decision they make provided they've given you a chance to lay out all the facts before them. If they say no, well, circumstances change, needs change, minds change - and if you have built a trusting relationship, they'll be back.

4. Make it look easy. People who are comfortable on the platform exude confidence. That's very attractive to audiences and very persuasive. Of course, you don't want to be slick or glib, either.

5. Speak for them. A sales person in a conventional selling situation will ask questions and listen carefully to the answers from the prospects. With a large audience, this essential exchange of information is not available to you. So you must carry on the dialog using hypothetical questions and answers, thus: "If your problem is. . . then it makes sense to. . . Isn't that so?" "Do you ever wonder . . .? Well, here's what I found out. . ." Or ask direct questions: "How many of you by a show of hands. . ."

6. Solve their problem. This is the thing every prospective customer hopes a salesperson can do. If what you offer your prospects doesn't solve their problem, they are not going to buy, no matter how skillful you are. That's why selling always comes back to a game of listen and respond. Of course, saying it and doing it are two distinct things - which brings us back to point number one.

The best direction to take as a persuader or sales person, is to build a trusting and mutually respectful relationship. Persuasion is an intricate mixture of the rational and the emotional. Often the deciding vote is cast by the heart. We vote for the person we like the most, and find reasons afterwards. So to persuade an audience, we must get in touch with their feelings, and reveal that our own feelings are in harmony with theirs. When we can do that emotionally, and truthfully, we will have won their trust. . . and made the sale.

Early in my acting career a casting director gave me a bit of direction that stood me in good stead as an actor and a salesman. She quoted Jimmy Cagney, the great Hollywood star who was once asked for the secret to his unforgettable characterizations of tough guys. Cagney said "Plant your feet, look 'em in the eye, and tell the truth."


A Thought to Ponder

Word of mouth is far and away the dominant force in the marketplace. Yet it is also the most neglected. Companies have vice president of sales, advertising, and marketing. Yet, there isn't a single vice president of word of mouth in any corporation in the country. Why?"

- George Silverman, author