March 15, 2017

How You Can Challenge Negative Stereotypes about the Sales Profession

By Harry Mills

The best sellers build trust, engagement, and momentum by acting as helpers rather than sellers. Sales for them is not about selling at all – it’s about helping clients succeed.

If you help customers make smart, insightful decisions that are in their own best interest, sales soon follow.

Wharton Business School professor Adam Grant has done groundbreaking research that challenges the stereotype that successful salespeople are self-serving, pushy, and manipulative. His surprising findings are featured in his acclaimed book, Give and Take.

Grant has developed a survey that measures whether people are givers, matchers, or takers:

  • Givers instinctively prefer to give more than they get. Givers are other focused. They pay lots of attention to what other people need from them. They are helpers. They are “generous with their time, energy, knowledge, skills, and connections.”
  • Matchers are governed by the principle of fairness. When they help others, they protect themselves by looking for reciprocity. Matchers believe in tit for tat. Relationships are “governed by even exchanges of favors.”
  • Takers, on the other hand, help others strategically when the benefits clearly outweigh the costs. They “put their own interests ahead of others’ needs. Takers believe the world is a competitive, dog-eat-dog world.” To prove their competence, they self-promote and make sure they get plenty of credit for their efforts.

Grant discovered we adopt a primary reciprocity style that shapes how we approach people most of the time. Givers and takers live at opposite ends of a reciprocity spectrum. The differences between the two are stark.

A cautionary note: Not all givers are stars. Research shows a significant number of givers also sit at the bottom of the success ladder. This group of chumps – or doormats, as they are sometimes called – “make others better off but sacrifice their own success in the process.”

In contrast, successful givers make sure they create value for themselves while optimizing the flow of value for others.

Matthew Lieberman – director of the Social Cognition Neuroscience Research Laboratory at UCLA, and author of SOCIAL: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect – says, “Empathy is arguably the pinnacle of our social cognitive achievements – the peak of the social brain. It requires us to understand the inner emotional worlds of other people and then act in ways that benefit other people.”

When we display emotional empathy we share the feelings of the other person. “Empathy comforts us; it makes us feel we are not alone.”

In what has been called the most famous neuroscience study of empathy, Tania Singer examined the brains of women under a scanner while they watched their boyfriends outside of the scanner receive an electric shock. The women activated their pain distress network. These women could say to their boyfriends with a straight face, “I feel your pain.” Singer showed it may “literally be painful to watch a loved one feel pain.”

Cognitive empathy – demonstrating we understand what someone is saying – allows us to understand our customers’ goals, desires, and motives. We demonstrate we have understood someone’s concerns by listening deeply to others and “paraphrasing what they have said, reflecting their message back to them in the form of questions that use neutral (non-evaluative) language.”

Customers distrust sellers who believe “putting oneself in another’s shoes is a technique for selling another pair.” By contrast, customers trust sellers when they believe the seller genuinely cares for them and is acting with their best interests in mind.

When Patricia Moore was designing kitchen utensils and strapped her hands with splints to simulate what it was like for someone with arthritis to use a potato peeler, her prime aim was not to make money for her design consultancy. Rather, she was motivated by empathic concern – an intrinsic desire to make a product older people would find valuable in daily life.

While customers value high cognitive and emotional empathy, what they value above all is empathic concern. When customers believe you really care about their future and well-being and you’re there to help them succeed, you are no longer a seller – you have become a helper.

This is an adapted excerpt from Zero Resistance: The Science and Secrets of Supercharging your Sales by Eliminating Buyer Skepticism and Mistrust, by Harry Mills, founder and CEO of The Aha! Advantage, an international consulting and training firm that helps blue-chip clients cultivate sales and capture big deals.