Are You Manipulating Your Customers?

By Gerhard Gschwandtner

With the advent of such sales techniques as “nonmanipulative,” “synergistic” or “consultative,” manipulation in selling appears to be a thing of the past. But is it?

The word manipulation has many meanings. The dictionary definitions range from “artful skill” to “the act of changing accounts to suit one’s purpose.” Today we seem to give the word manipulation one meaning – “To make someone do what we want him to do against his will or better judgment.” Of course, this is counterproductive in any selling situation. But does this mean that manipulation should not have a place in selling at all? Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanging; it is the skin of a living thought that may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances in which it is used.”

Words are the tools of the selling trade and their meanings change according to the circumstances in which they are used. Tone of voice, facial expression, emphasis, emotional atmosphere are all in play when a salesperson uses any series of words. How we say something is often more important than what we say.

Take the simple sentence, “What is it that you would like to think about?” Read it aloud three times, each time emphasizing different words – “what,” “is it,” “you.” Can you hear and feel the different meanings when you change the emphasis from one word to another? What impact would those changes have on your customer? Superstars in selling can deliver the same sentence 20 different ways depending on the customer and the situation. They manipulate language in a way that harmonizes with the customer. But they never manipulate the customer!

Manipulating customers only antagonizes them. But manipulating yourself to suit the situation will bring you closer to your customer and to the sale. Salespeople who try to manipulate customers break the rules of ethical conduct and violate the rules of professional selling. Salespeople who skillfully manipulate themselves only break sales records.