Relationship Building

Goodbye Sales, Hello Relationships

By C.J. Hayden, Author, Get Clients NOW

How many times today has someone tried to sell you something? Sales messages arrive by e-mail, postal mail, fax, radio, magazines, newspapers, TV, and your web browser; salespeople write you, call you, and approach you in the store or showroom. Are you even listening any more? How often do you actually buy something because someone you didn’t know tried to sell it to you?

Your customers are just like you. They are not only tired of being sold to, most of the time they don’t even see or hear it. Overwhelmed with communications, they tune out the vast majority of the sales messages they are presented with just in order to get through their day. Recently, after attending a race plastered with Coca-Cola logos, a survey revealed that only a third of the attendees could remember who the sponsor was.

Sales and marketing experts are calling this the Spam effect. With so many communications arriving all the time, your customers are filtering out all but the most essential information they receive not just via the Internet, but by mail and phone as well. If they don’t know who you are, you don’t get through. More than ever before, customers want to do business only with people they already know, like, and trust.

Relationship Selling What’s a salesperson to do? The answer lies not in trying harder to sell the old way, but in changing the way you sell. Relationship selling, simply put, is translating all the effort you currently give to selling into building relationships with people instead. Once enough people in your marketplace know, like, and trust you, sales are the natural result.

Building relationships is something we humans do naturally. We talk on the phone, have coffee or lunch, and work or play together. When you need to make a purchase, you call someone you know. If you don’t know anyone who offers that product or service, you ask the people you do know. That’s how most business actually happens.

The goal of relationship selling is to know a large enough pool of people so that all the sales you need come to you, instead of you having to go out and find them.

Here are the five requirements to make relationship-selling work:

a) You have to like the people you want to sell to. You need to truly enjoy their company — this isn’t something you can fake.
b) You must care about their problems, so when you tell them how your product will solve those problems, you are helping them, not selling to them.
c) You have to believe in your product or service 100%. You want your customers to trust you, so that means you have to be honest with them.
d) You must be patient. Relationships take time to grow, and can’t be rushed. You will make sales by building relationships, but you won’t get it tomorrow.

You need to have a plan. Building the right relationships won’t happen by accident.

If the idea of relationship selling appeals to you, but you don’t meet the first three requirements, there’s only one way to solve the problem. You need to find a different target market, or a different product to sell. Relationship selling is based on authenticity, genuine concern, and honesty. It’s not a sales technique that can be simulated without possessing those basic qualities.

Who to Relate to The starting point for relationship selling is building a pool of contacts with which you can exchange referrals, introductions, connections, and information. Here are some categories of individuals who should be in your contact pool:

a) Customers – You already look to them for referrals, but if you get to know your existing customers better, you may also uncover additional needs they have that your company could fill.
b) People in your target market – They are not just potential sources of business, but also can be excellent referral sources once they learn to trust you.
c) Others who serve your market – People who provide any sort of product or service to your potential customers. They can uncover needs for you with their clients or send you referrals.
d) Colleagues and competitors – The more people in your own line of business you know, the more information you can lay your hands on, making you a more valuable resource to your prospects.
e) Other salespeople – No matter what they sell or who they sell to, other salespeople understand the value of referrals. They’re used to exchanging leads and information, and know the payoff of keeping in touch over time.
f) High-profile organizations – Building relationships here can send you highly-qualified referrals. When someone at a university or professional association recommends you, your credibility has already been established.
g) Champions – These are the people in your personal booster club, who tell everyone how great you are. They may never have been customers; they just recommend you whenever they can.
h) Centers of influence – They are the folks who seem to know everybody, and because they have that reputation, people call them when they need a recommendation. You want your name to be in their database.

Begin by organizing all of your existing contacts in any of the above categories in your contact management system. Don’t stop with your customer list — use your personal address book, holiday card list, alumni directory, membership rosters, and all the business cards you’ve thrown in a drawer. Your goal is to compile a list of people who already know your name. Be sure to include personal acquaintances and relatives as well as business contacts.

Then choose from your pool of contacts a group of people to start building stronger relationships with. The number can be as few as 30 or as many as 300 depending on your personal bandwidth. Don’t worry if you can’t yet see how your contacts will turn into sales. People who fit into any of the categories described above are excellent candidates to either become customers or refer them.

Start to Relate Make a phone call or drop a note to each person on your list. Your aim is not to sell them anything or even to ask for referrals, but for the two of you to get to know each other better. Your relationship should be based on reciprocity. An excellent approach is to tell your contacts you want to expand your business network and you would like for them to be in it. Ask them what they need right now in their business or career, and listen carefully for how you can help them find it. A basic principle of relationship selling is giving before you get.

When a contact needs referrals, look elsewhere in your contact pool for people who might become a customer or be able to refer one. If a contact is looking for a new job, give him or her three names of people you know who might have job leads. Help your contacts solve problems in their businesses, by providing information, suggesting resources, or making connections between them and others who might have ideas.

Make it a habit to keep track of industry leaders, trade events, and new developments in your field, and routinely share that information with others. If you can become a trusted resource for leads and information in your industry or geographic area, doors you used to have trouble getting your foot in will start opening for you.

That’s the giving part. The getting part works best when you ask your contacts not, “Who do you know that would like to do business with me?” but instead, “Who else do you think would be a good person for me to get to know?” Keep the focus on building your network instead of your business. Of course, in the context of getting to know each other better, you will be telling your contacts more about the products and services you sell. But now that conversation will be happening naturally instead of being a sales pitch.

How it Works This process of building relationships may sound a bit imprecise. But in fact, it can be done quite systematically. Kelly, sales representative for an accounting system, was given a Northern California territory. First, she started identifying which companies in her territory could potentially become customers, based on the number of employees they had. Her intent was to eventually have a complete list of every prospective customer in her territory.

As Kelly added each company to her list, she found out the name of their CFO. Then she looked for ways to eventually meet that CFO through her contact pool. Could someone she knew introduce her? Did the CFO belong to an association where they might meet? Who in her network could give her more information about that CFO to help make a connection? Kelly sought out how to make personal contact with each CFO, not to sell to them but to get to know them.

After Kelly had managed to connect with a CFO through her relationship network, she kept in touch at least once per quarter through a wide variety of means. She invited CFO’s to coffee and lunch, chatted with them on the phone, sent them articles and white papers through the mail, invited them to attend industry events, mailed congratulations when the CFO was in the news, and more.

Kelly always had a new tidbit of industry news to share when she got in touch. In every approach, she tried to let the CFO’s know that she was available to serve as a resource for them in any way possible. Not every CFO was responsive to Kelly’s relationship-building efforts, but enough of them were that she got to know some of them quite well. Over time, they all got to know her name.

As a result of Kelly’s relationship building, her customer base increased exponentially. She was in contact with so many people in her target market who considered her a trusted resource that it would have been almost impossible for a company to consider an accounting system implementation without her name coming up first. And the best thing about her method of selling was that people welcomed her phone calls instead of avoiding them.

Keep it Going How you decide to build stronger relationships will depend on the type of person you are and who you are making contact with. Some people you might call for lunch twice a year, others you could chat with on the phone occasionally, and still others you may send an article or announcement to every month or two. However you approach it, any salesperson can reap the rewards of relationship selling by remembering to serve as a resource, strive for reciprocity, and give people reasons to get to know you better.

David Versus Goliath: How Start-ups Can Defeat The Gorillas In Their Marketspace

By Steve Martin, Author, “Heavy Hitter Selling – How Successful Salespeople Use Language and Intuition to Persuade Customers to Buy”

Cisco is one of the most recognized high technology companies around the world. With annual sales just under $20 billion, Cisco is the gorilla of the networking communications marketspace. Beating the gorilla is a formidable challenge for any start-up. However, privately funded Veraz Networks did just that at Transcom, one of the world’s largest wholesales voice over IP carriers. In a deal valued at $10 million, it was recently announced that Transcom would be using Veraz Network’s gear to replace all of their installed Cisco gateways.

How did they beat the Cisco– the gorilla?

The answer may actually surprise you.

Most people assume that business is based solely on logic. After all, the high-tech industry is comprised of learned people with advanced degrees in the sciences of computers, math, engineering, and business. Therefore, we logically assume we are dealing with rational decision-makers. As a result, we focus on the logical and procedural aspects of the sales cycle. We prospect for customers, qualify the opportunity, explain the merits of our solution, and hopefully, negotiate a purchase.

The majority of the discussions we have with potential customers are based on the rationale behind the selection of our products. We offer facts, features, specifications, performance metrics, ROI’s, and business benefits. And, our sales process is oriented around the communication of this information. Unfortunately, our competition offers equally compelling reasons and statistics. In fact, the confusion this creates many times leads to customer paralysis and decision postponement (another feared competitor).

Undoubtedly, Veraz Networks does have a great product, but so does Cisco. And as you already know, offering a better mousetrap doesn’t automatically generate sales anyway. The key reason why Veraz Networks won, was because Cisco lost. Cisco lost the relationship with their customer, while Veraz Networks successfully built theirs. As Chad Frazier, President of Transcom, said, “Cisco promised us this and that, but I couldn’t in good conscience go down that road.”

The “real” sales process is the process of building a relationship with the customer. However, the entire high-tech industry is predominantly focused on technical arguments when there is very little product differentiation in the customer’s eyes. As an industry, we have become enamored with the technical mantras provided by our marketing departments. While they are important, there is an entirely intangible human side to the sales process that is actually responsible for the decision made. It is the art of mastering the human nature of high-tech selling that is the real difference between the winner and losers. In essence, it is the sales team that builds the greatest customer rapport and the strongest personal relationships that will command the day.

Three attributes are at the foundation of building the winning customer relationships. First, you need to speak each customer’s unique language. Successful communication is the key to all relationships. Second, you must create an unbreakable bond between individuals. You accomplish this by understanding their personal needs, wants, and motivations. Finally, you must convince the “entire” person to buy. You need to persuade both the logical conscious mind and emotional subconscious mind. Let’s review each of these attributes further.

Speak Each Customer’s Unique Language
Salespeople create a relationship between companies based upon the process of communication between people. This process is very complex. However, since we naturally communicate all the time, we underestimate the complexity of communication and take the process for granted. We tend to ignore the subtleties and for the most part become preoccupied with our side of the conversation.

Most people recognize someone’s spoken words as the most significant element of communication. However, this represents only a fraction of the communication process. The language a person uses is composed of both verbal and nonverbal communication and occurs in layers. It is through the use of this “whole” language that we express our needs, wants, and desires to the outside world. By comparing how computers speak to one another with how people communicate with each other, we can begin to understand the multiple dimensions of information that are constantly being transmitted.

Computers connect to one another via established standards. Standards are required because the wide range of computer manufacturers use a diverse set of operating systems (Unix, NT, Linux and so on). Within the computer communication model, layers of functionality are needed to have one computer “talk” with another. Once these layers are in place, information can be sent from one machine and the exact information will be received and deciphered by another machine.

Meanwhile, the human communication process is much more sophisticated and much more efficient. Unlike computers, we are able to bypass layers of communication. We can abbreviate thoughts while still preserving the original message. Humans also have the flexibility to send the same message structure with distinctly different meanings. Take the following example:

  • Mary, could you please send the report.
  • Mary, could you PLEASE send the report.
  • MARY, COULD YOU PLEASE SEND THE REPORT!

All these sentences use the same words but result in very different interpretations. When Mary reads the first sentence, she will feel a low sense of urgency and receive no indication of any unhappiness that the report has not been sent. The other sentences imply a different sense of urgency, and even discontent, that the report hasn’t been sent.

People, like computers, also have layers of communication called the Human Communication Model. However, these layers are much more flexible and can be combined in many different ways. Layers can be entirely eliminated or they can be fused together to form entirely new meanings. The layers of the human communication model are defined below.

Phonetics- The phonetic layer is the enunciation of the actual words we have strung together in the form of a sentence. This layer can alter the meaning of the sentence to convey a completely new and/or sometimes opposite meaning. For example, let’s say I tell my wife, “Your hair looks great,” but my voice trails off at the end of the sentence. She would immediately be concerned that her hair does not look good. Phonetics are both consciously and subconsciously applied. They are typically not recognized as part of the communication event except when it becomes so obvious that it changes or contradicts the meaning of the words spoken.

Content- The content layer is what most salespeople think of and listen to when they are having a customer discussion. However, people usually assume the content words they are using have the same meaning to everyone. People have their own personal dictionary or lexicon of words. In fact, the average person’s vocabulary is about fifty thousand words. However, the definitions or semantics of the words vary between people. Ascertaining the correct meaning people are actually trying to communicate by the words they select, the order of the words, and the way they are said is necessary for proper decoding of the customer’s message. Does the customer’s dictionary definition of a particular word match mine?

Purpose-The third layer is the “purpose” of communication. Words are assembled together to communicate an ideal or experience. Every sentence of every conversation between customers and salespeople are purpose driven. One way to think of this is that they both have an ulterior motive for everything they say. Of course, you and I have been communicating with selfish interests all of our lives.

Neroulinguistics- Although it weighs only three pounds, our brain is infinitely more complex than any computer. The brain has an incredible capacity to sort, prioritize, and process information. We organize our world according to the information received by our senses (sight, sound, and touch), and we use language as the method to describe what we have experienced. The language we use is dependent upon an individual’s unique wiring of the brain. Neurolinguistics is the study of how brain interprets and uses language. Great benefits in communication are gained if you understand your customer’s neurolinguistic wiring and adjust “your” communication style to fit “their” world.

Internal Dialogue- Every waking hour, a stream of communication is going on inside your mind. You are always talking to yourself. This conversation is an unedited, honest discussion that represents your deepest feelings. This is the fifth layer of the human communication model – the “internal dialogue layer” or the “internal dialogue.” Usually, the customer’s external words being spoken are a subset of the internal dialogue. In between, is an editing process to filter the precise answer. Salespeople want to hear the truth from the Internal Dialogue.

 

“Understanding why and how something is said is usually more important and revealing than what is actually said.”
Physical- Everyone is well aware of the final layer of human communication model, the “physical layer,” also known as body language. Body language is unique in that it is a three-dimensional language. Body language can be very subtle or more powerful than the actual words being spoken. When taken in conjunction with the other layers of the human communication model, body language plays an important role.

Unlike the layers in the computer communication model which are structured like a building with floors on top of another, the Human Communication Model layers are more like piano keys. All the keys may be pressed at one time or only certain keys may be pressed. Different sounds, or meanings, are created by pressing particular keys together in patterns or repetition. Piano keys may be depressed harshly or softly, just as communication may be explicit or subtle. The combination of keys may result in a soothing melody that the customer wants to hear over and over or just noise.

Bond with Customers by Understanding their Thought Process, motivations, and Personality
During the early `90s, the term “win-win relationship” was being used everywhere to explain how to successfully negotiate your position while still enabling the other party to achieve its goal. However, the concept of win-win relationships does not go far enough in understanding human relationships. Relationships are created when people share the same activities or when they are motivated to achieve the same goals. Goals can be defined into very personal prioritized desires, called “benefactions,” where there is a personal benefit from taking an action. The salesperson’s goal is to understand the benefactions of each member of the selection team.

The dictionary definition of Benefaction is, “The act of doing good or helping others, especially by giving money.” Clearly, all salespeople want the customer to feel good about giving them money when they buy their product. Nonetheless, the true definition is more intricate: “To derive an advantage that contributes to one’s well-being, such as happiness, esteem, power, or wealth, that results in influencing the way the person behaves during the sales cycle.”

A benefaction is something strongly desired, defined in a personal expression that is important to you. Each decision-maker has a very private and personal benefaction. For instance, the manager of the department may view the cost savings of implementing the product as the main goal. His benefaction may be being rewarded with a bonus for reducing the department’s expense structure (which he will use to buy the new car he or she wants). The person in charge of implementing the solution may view manageability as the goal. Since he will have to devote less time to managing the new product than the current one, his benefaction may be to have more time to spend on the projects he enjoys (or less time at work and more time at home with his or her family).

Your conscious mind is obsessed with benefactions. The most vital benefactions are driven by your physical well-being. If you are hungry at the moment, you may have difficulty concentrating on reading these words. If you haven’t eaten for the past twenty-four hours, you would definitely be more interested in food than any concepts on these pages. The conscious mind is fixated with the avoidance of pain, the preservation of self, and self-gratification.

“A unique and unbreakable relationship is created when the salesperson helps the customer achieve personal benefactions.”
The conscious mind is on a mission to satisfy the most urgent benefactions first. As a result, it will instruct the senses to collect the relevant data needed to accomplish this urgent sortie. However, one of the primary differences between most salespeople and Heavy Hitters (extremely successful salespeople) are the amount and range of data that is collected by the senses. Heavy Hitters gather data from all levels of the human communication model. Armed with this information, they are better able to determine their course of action based upon the data they have collected and past comparable experiences. By doing this, they can determine the sales strategy that offers the highest probability of winning. This process is most commonly referred to as “sales intuition.”

Most likely, the Heavy Hitter’s process of assimilating all these data points is not formalized. Rather, it is both a conscious and subconscious process. Although the subconscious mind is not actively assertive, it is always vigilant and capable of influencing actions. The ability to effectively send and receive information from each layer of the human communication model is a critical component for developing sales intuition. While it is easy to recognize the communication being sent consciously, the subconscious information being sent is just as expressive, but much harder to recognize and interpret. It is important to realize that the subconscious and conscious are communicating at all times, internally within the self and externally to others.

Persuade Both the Rational Intellect and Emotional Subconscious to Buy
Whatever your age and experience in life, you have already mastered how to use language. As a child, you learned the complex process of conveying your thoughts, how to tell the truth, and how to lie. You have become an expert on the nuances of how to say something with maximum impact, and understand, that sometimes what’s important isn’t necessarily what you say as much as how it is said. You already know how to create a message with a clear and a compelling sense of urgency.

However, truly great salespeople amplify their use of language by adding an additional dimension of meaning and structure within their usual conversations with the customers. By doing so, they instill their suggestions into the customer’s thought process with what seems like telepathy. The common term for this is “persuasion.” Persuasion is not solely a recital of logical arguments or factual information to a customer. Instead, it is process of projecting your entire “beliefs and convictions” on another human being. That’s why the founder of the start-up is usually the most important salesperson in the company– because he or she truly believes!

Benefactions affect your conscious activities as well as your subconscious mind. The conscious mind is obsessed with action and tactics to achieve benefactions. Meanwhile, the subconscious mind is constantly sensing and filtering additional data that may be necessary in the future.

In computer terms, the conscious mind is like a point-to-point model. For example, a salesperson wants to check e-mail while traveling on the road. Using his laptop, he makes a dial-up connection to the host computer. His only concern is to get his e-mail, and once he checks it, he drops the phone line. This point-to-point connection is similar to the conscious mind focused on a specific benefaction.

The subconscious mind is more like a broadband connection that is always on, such as a cable modem. The modem has a wider “band” of data and processes at a higher speed than a dial-up connection. The modem is always on, always receiving information. In the e-mail example, the salesperson is always receiving e-mail in real time. He or she doesn’t have to dial-up a connection.

The subconscious mind retains information that the conscious mind doesn’t. It simply isn’t efficient to store everything in your conscious mind. Remember the last time you misplaced an important item (your keys, wallet, glasses)? At first, you employed a conscious strategy to find it. You may have thought about where you had recently been and gone back to those locations. If you didn’t find the item, hours, days, or weeks may have gone by. Then suddenly, without specifically thinking about it, suddenly you knew exactly where it was. Your subconscious mind found it. In the same way, when your prospective customers say, “Let me sleep on it,” they are actually saying, “Let me see if my subconscious mind has any objections, since it has some additional information that I don’t have right now.”

“Since most salespeople find the human element of selling to be more complex, unpredictable, and difficult to manage, they don’t fully take advantage of customer behavior or they misinterpret and ignore it.”
The customer’s conscious mind acts like an emotion suppressing system. It is full of doubt, cynicism, and distrust. It is the cautious skeptic that is continually protecting the buyer from making bad choices or forming ill-advised relationships. Therefore, even truthful, helpful information that is presented in the customer’s best interest tends to be discounted or ignored.

In every conversation, both conscious and subconscious communication is being transmitted, assessed, and cataloged by each participant. And, each layer of the human communication model is capable of sending observable (conscious) and unobservable (subconscious) messages simultaneously. Although each listener can only receive a finite amount of information at any one time, very little of the information that is transmitted across all layers is lost. What isn’t consciously received is processed subconsciously.

CONCLUSION
Relationships are expensive and they involve investments of valuable time. Customers have to spend time to determine whether a product’s characteristics are as they have been represented. They have to spend time evaluating other suitors to determine whether they are picking the best possible partner to solve their company’s business problem. They will have to spend time learning to use the new products they select, implementing them, and most likely, debugging or fixing product problems.

These relationships also cost money. The customers will have to acquire the technology and pay ongoing maintenance fees to keep the technology current. They may have to pay for professional services or hire additional staff to help implement the solution. And they may need to buy additional technology in order to make the solution work.

Building relationships requires rapport. Building rapport requires the complex process of human communication. Unfortunately, many high technology companies today are making two common mistakes. First, the majority of sales training time is spent only on memorizing logical facts about their company, product, and competitors. Little or no training is given on communication skills.

The second mistake is made during the hiring process. Most companies make previous experience in the same industry their main criterion for hiring. Since experienced people command the logical facts, they are assumed to be qualified candidates. A more important hiring criterion is a person’s communication skills, mental agility, and the ability to build relationships. In other words, how quick-witted or fast on their feet are they, are they able to solve complex problems real-time, and whether or not you enjoy their company.

If you are in sales, you make your living by talking. If you were a pilot, you would attend years of flight training school and many hours of simulator training before you were allowed in the cockpit of a jumbo jet. If you were a lawyer, you would intensely study the law for several years and have to pass your state’s bar exam to ensure your proficiency. If you are in sales, you need to understand the use and interpretation of language. You need to understand the process of communication and how it determines the level of rapport that is established between people. You must be able to adapt your use of language to a customer’s thought process and personality. Language can be directly linked to a person’s behavior. It can be deciphered to predict future behavior, and truthfulness or used proactively to influence a person’s thinking or opinions.

Truth, Trust, and the Masks We Wear

By Paul McCord, President, McCord Training

“No, Paul, I didn’t spend any time prospecting yesterday. I woke up and just didn’t feel enthused; didn’t want to be here. Whenever I force myself to prospect when I feel that way, I always feel like I’m wearing a mask trying to be someone I’m not. If I can’t be true to who I am, I’m not serving my clients, my company, or myself well.”

Dana (not her real name) is one of my newest coaching clients. She is a strong producer selling relationship management software to small to mid-size companies in the northeast part of the country. She finished the year well ahead of quota. She isn’t the only salesperson I’ve spoken to who has an ethical issue with “being someone I’m not.” In fact, she’s not the first seller who has referred to feeling like they’re being insincere, false, or lying when acting one way while thinking or feeling another way.

We may as well get the truth laid out on the table right now—we ALL wear masks. We wear them a lot.

Society demands we wear them.

Professionalism demands we wear them.

We want to wear them.

While talking with Charlie Green of TrustedAdvisor.com and Jeb Brooks of The Brooks Group about this article, both pointed out a book written in the 50’s by Erving Goffman titled The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life where Goffman contends that we are always, 100% of the time wearing some kind of a mask.

Although I’m not sure I buy the idea that our whole life is nothing but a continual, uninterrupted series of masks, I do believe that the concept that we all wear masks at times—especially in business–is pretty self-evident.

The question isn’t whether we wear masks, the question is: are the masks we wear ethical? And if they’re ethical, do they inhibit trust? At an even more basic level, are they designed to lie or to help us tell the truth?

Certainly we are all familiar with the mask so often associated with salespeople—that of the fake friend, our false ally who is going to help us get the best deal possible, fighting for us against his or her unreasonable manager, all the while lying and double-dealing without shame in order to maximize the sales price and, thus, their commission.

That mask of lies is what many salespeople associate with our profession and consequently they try to distance themselves from that image by inventing all kinds of titles (masks) for themselves that are designed to communicate they are NOT salespeople—they’re ‘advisors,’ ‘consultants,’ ‘customer advocates,’ ‘customer guides,’ ‘account managers,’ and dozens of other, mostly meaningless, titles.

Fortunately, although still used by hucksters and con artists, the mask above is slowing being forced out of the legitimate sales world as more prospects become educated about their potential purchases long before engaging a salesperson. For most of us that clichéd mask isn’t in our hip pockets any longer.

But many other masks are. A few examples:

The, “Ms. Prospect, I’m really excited to speak with you this morning” mask when in actuality we feel crappy and would rather be doing anything other than speaking with her. This is the one that Dana feels would be being dishonest with her prospects if she put it on when feeling like she’d rather be anyplace else than on the phone prospecting.

The, “yes, I understand how grievous a transgression it is being 5 minutes late to the meeting. I’m sorry, it will never happen again” mask when in actuality we’re thinking “geeze, are you kidding? The transgression is your pathetic excuse for a meeting that sucks the life out me and everyone else.”

The, “I know that your budget is tight and this is a tough decision, but my solution will increase your sales and put significant dollars on your bottom-line” mask when you’re actually thinking “OK, you have more money than you know what to do with, you cheapskate; knock it off with the games and let’s get down to business.”

Certainly salespeople aren’t the only ones who wear masks. Sales managers wear their own masks, especially when dealing with their sales team and upper management.

Typical sales manager masks are:

The, “Bryan, man, just apply what we’ve been working on and you’re going to be just fine. I know it’s been tough, but I have every confidence that you can be a great producer” mask while thinking “Man, what was I thinking when I hired this dimwit? What a goofball, it’ll take a miracle for him to last another month.”

And the “yes, sir, I talked to the team this morning and we’re on it. You’ll see results by the end of the week” mask while thinking “Last week the crisis was to sell the XB2 systems and this week the future of the world depends on us forgetting about everything else and pushing the YS add-on. You guys have no idea what you’re doing, do you?”

And, of course, there are a million other masks that we wear for our prospects, a different set for our clients, another set for our managers, and an even different set for our colleagues and co-workers.

Mask after mask is put on and taken off every day.

Are we justified in wearing them? What happens to trust if we’re caught wearing one by our prospect or client?

These are really tough questions because, as Charlie pointed out in our discussion, a mask is by its very nature deceitful—at a minimum it’s hiding something we don’t want seen or is projecting something we don’t feel at the moment; and certainly most of us would consider being deceitful as bad. Quite a dilemma—how can we be doing something that is considered bad and call it good? Would Dana have been engaged in unethical activity if she had put on that “great to connect with you” mask when she didn’t feel like prospecting?

Tough questions. My initial reaction to Dana was that the issue isn’t whether it is right or wrong to put on a mask because the mask itself is neutral—neither good nor bad. The determining factor as to whether a particular mask is ethical or unethical is its intended purpose—why we put the mask on in the first place.

Was our intent to help build a relationship–or to manipulate someone into doing something they might not otherwise do?

Were we trying to be sociable and considerate–or were we simply trying to catch someone off guard in order to slip something by them?

Was it with the intent of being constructive–or with the intent of destroying?

As I thought about this issue over the next few days, I decided to ask a couple of friends what their thoughts were; thus my conversation with Charlie, Jeb, and Daniel Waldschmidt of EdgyConversations.com.

There seems to be two central points of agreement between the four of us:

  1. Masks are an absolute necessity. As Charlie pointed out, without masks the very concepts of etiquette and manners cease to exist. Or if we consider the deception of masks to be bad, then we would have to condemn the concepts of manners and etiquette since conforming to the rules by putting on the appropriate masks would be bad acts in and of themselves. He sees that we put on masks for one of two reasons: either out of fear or out of respect, politeness and etiquette.

    I’ll add a third: to acquire something we want that we don’t believe we can get without being someone or something we aren’t. (To be fair, I suspect Charlie would file this as just another form of a fear based mask.)

    Certainly no one would want to live in a world without rules governing how we act with one another. In the 60’s, many of us of the Boomer generation decided that we needed to be “true to ourselves.” We took that to mean that doing anything we didn’t feel like doing—or not doing that which we wanted to do—was a disingenuous act, conforming to the bourgeois norms of a crass and corrupt society. We dispensed with much of society’s rules of behavior (and unwittingly adopted our own rules of behavior which we rationalized by “believing” the socially accepted acts we conformed to within our group were our own spontaneous actions that emanated from the real “me”). It wasn’t pretty.

    Most of us eventually grew out of it (a few, sadly, have been permanently lost in a stupor of blue smoke while clinging to their hookah) as we realized the masks of broader society were not only necessary unless we were willing to live in a minor subculture, they were more comfortable and in many ways more genuine than the masks we adopted when we were just ‘being true to ourselves.’ As Dan Waldschmidt put it, “Being sanctimonious about ‘not wanting to be who you’re not’ isn’t cool for pedophiles, rapists, or molesters. Why would sales execs claim any exception?” (Or sanctimonious 60’s youth for that matter.)

    So, no less in our professional life, as our social life, masks are mandatory. Business etiquette demands we treat our prospects, clients, and business associates with respect—even if we don’t like or respect them. Professional ethics demand that we perform at the highest level and with complete courtesy even with a prospect or client who is rude and hateful.

    Business success demands that we interact and deal with our prospects, clients, and company associates with dignity and respect—and total professionalism even when we don’t feel like it. Just try going a week being “true to who you are” and see how successful you are.

  2. Most masks are ethically neutral—it’s your underlying reason for putting the mask on that determines whether the mask is ethical or not.

    Certainly some masks, such as the stereotypical seller mask introduced above, aren’t ethically neutral because they’re designed for one purpose—to defraud someone by making them think they are getting something they aren’t (usually a better or product than they’re really getting) or to coerce them into buying something they don’t want to buy.

    What about the other masks we identified above?

    But what about the mask Dana felt was trying to be someone she isn’t? Is that mask bad or good? Actually it could go either way. In Dana’s case the intent isn’t to harm but rather to be able to efficiently utilize her time prospecting even when she doesn’t “feel” like prospecting. Her intent is, as Jeb put it, to “increase the comfort level” of the people she’s speaking with. She has a “genuine intent of getting the most out of an interaction.”

    If, on the other hand, Dana’s intent was to open a door by appearing to be something she isn’t with the intent to harm, whether through fraud, lying about the product or service to get a sale, or for any other illicit reason, wearing the mask would be unethical because it is being worn with bad intent.

    Let’s look at the mask warn by the sales manager who encouraged his salesperson to apply what they’ve been working on together and he’ll be just fine even though the sales manager doubts the salesperson will make it. Again, this mask can go either way ethically. If the manager’s intent was to try to encourage the salesperson with the hope, no matter how small, that the salesperson will get it in gear and turn things around, the mask is ethical as the intent is to produce a positive outcome.

    On the other hand, if the intent of the mask is simply to get the salesperson out of the sales manager’s hair until the manager can work out the details of firing the person, the mask is unethical as it’s only intent is to deceive the salesperson into believing he is working to save his job when in fact the decision to fire him has already been made. Unfortunately, this unethical mask is worn by many, many sales managers every day.

    The next few masks are a bit more difficult to deal with.

    The, “yes, I understand how grievous a transgression it is being 5 minutes late to the meeting. I’m sorry, it will never happen again” mask would certainly seem to be hiding not only the salesperson’s feelings about the value and content of the sales meetings they are required to attend, but possibly a general disrespect for his or her sales manager. If it is simply a mask hiding their evaluation of the value of the sales meetings, I think the mask ethical in order to maintain civility and out of respect for their manager (although I would certainly think they should have a discussion with their manager about their perceived value of the meetings). If, on the other hand, the mask is really one of many that are covering their attitude toward their manager, the mask is unethical because, to borrow a phrase from Charlie, “there’s too much of an honesty gap.”

    I believe the mask where the sales manager questions to himself whether or not senior management has a clue as to what they are doing is in and of itself unethical, again for the reason that there is simply too much disrespect being hidden.

    In both of these instances the individual must take action to correct the honesty gap—either a discussion with the sales manager or senior management to clear the respect issues (uh, yeah, that probably won’t happen) or moving to an organization where they do respect their management.

    The salesperson who questions the lack of available dollars to purchase his or her product or service has, in my opinion, a far different issue—making the assumption that the prospect is lying. This certainly isn’t an infrequent reaction—a great many of us instinctively make this assumption as soon as we hear monetary objections. But are we justified in making the assumption? In most cases, I doubt it. Are we justified in masking our belief? Yes, I think so. If one of the valid reasons for adopting a mask is with, as Jeb said, the “genuine intent of getting the most out of an interaction,” then masking our suspicion is justified and ethical. That doesn’t mean, however, that the suspicion itself might not be an indication that we need to take a close look at how we view our prospects and clients. Although the mask itself may not be unethical, our view of our prospects and clients might.

OK, so we’ve narrowed it down to the idea that masks are necessary and for the most part whether or not a particular mask is ethical is dependent upon the reason the mask has been put on.

What does that mean for us as sellers—if anything?

If we all are wearing masks, what’s to keep us from wearing the mask that will get us what we want, even if that mask is unethical? What happens if we are caught by a prospect or client wearing a mask?

At its core, understanding that we are usually–if not always–wearing a mask gives us the ability to gain some control over the masks we wear. It gives us the opportunity to make some ethical decisions we might not otherwise make and that we might wish not to make by forcing us to analyze the reasons we put on the masks we wear. Are we putting a particular mask on in order to better serve a prospect–or to better serve our desire, no matter the ethical cost?

Charlie gives a great summary of the role masks play in our professional lives, so I’ll quote him at length:

Fear-based masks:
“If I wear a mask in front of you out of fear, it is to protect myself from you. Perhaps to project myself from your judgment, or to keep you from taking something I have, or to keep you from getting something I want. Inherent in fear-based use of masks is a bad intent: to keep you from seeing some truth about something (usually some truth about me).

“So fear-based masks are inherently oppositional–they are rooted in trying to keep one party from knowing what’s going on with another.

“So–what does a fear-based mask do? It triggers every fear both a buyer and seller feel. What is he really saying? Does he actually mean that? What am I not hearing here? What’s the real thought balloon? How do I know he’s not saying something different to someone else? How do I know he’s not taking all my good stuff and spreading it around to my competitors?

“The fear-based response triggered by a mask leads to suspicion, counter-lies, deceit, covering up, shading of meanings, white lies, and a host of other modes of deception that result in more of the same reciprocally in the other party.”

Respect-based mask:
“The other reason for masks is as a sign of respect, politeness, etiquette. I rise as someone I respect enters the room; I smile at an elder (or a child); I nod my head in a sign of acknowledgement when I listen to a prospect describe his or her needs. It may well be that I don’t feel like standing up, or smiling, or even that I disagree with someone–but politeness, respect, etiquette dictate a larger social reality–that we have evolved hundreds of little social rituals by which we acknowledge the legitimacy of the Other, the person in front of us, whether it is elderly Aunt Mildred, the head of sales at Xerox’s copier division, or a stranger on the street (in most towns, anyway).

“By contrast: respect-driven masks are an elaborate social ritual we go through to recognize our commonality, rather than our differentness. They break down barriers, rather than erecting them. They make it possible to live both as a corporate representative and as a human being, by emphasizing the things we have in common. The ‘masks’ include our business card stock; the cut and fabric of our clothing; our choice of ties; and all this of course is before, ‘Oh, you grew up in the Ozarks too, eh?’ Or the East Coast, because the locale doesn’t matter.”

I’m in general agreement with Charlie—but with the recognition that there are those exceptional mask wearers who are so comfortable in their fear-based or illicit acquisition-based masks they don’t create the typical response in their victims– Bernard Madoff and Allen Stanford quickly come to mind.

As sellers we must be ever mindful of why we put on the masks we do. Are we sincerely trying to connect with our prospect or are we trying to manipulate them? Are we acting out of respect and desire to communicate or are we acting out of a desire to create a particular beneficial outcome for ourselves no matter the cost to the prospect or client?

The masks we wear telegraph our intent and thus can either help establish and strengthen a bond of trust with the other person or they can create a feeling of unease, caution and suspicion.

The question isn’t are you going to wear masks; the question is are you going to consciously put on ethical masks that build trust and communication or are you going to put on unethical masks designed to manipulate and control your prospect for your gain irrespective of the cost to the prospect? It’s your choice. Sooner or later you’ll reap the true value of the masks you wear—just ask Madoff and Stanford.