The Management Toolkit: Sales
Being a leader is less about having a managerial position and more about how you behave and interact with others. Whether you’re a student, staff member, team leader or CEO, you have the power to influence those around you, to direct their efforts and facilitate cooperation. Traditionally this has been done through managerial command and control, but today we find capable leaders on all levels of every organisation. In my previous toolkit articles, I detailed how it’s possible to lead through empowerment (e.g. coaching), and by example (e.g. storytelling). In this article I will focus on the last aspect of good leadership and collegiality – persuasion.
Consider all the times you knew you should be doing something, such as working out, cleaning, studying, catching up with old friends, and you didn’t, because you couldn’t be bothered. Now consider the times someone was there to pull you off the couch and drag you out the door – someone who convinced you it would be worth it, and how thankful you were once you went through with it and saw they were right. If people were logical decision-makers, there would never be a need for such persuasion. Alas, even if you know working out has always made you feel good and that the decision is logically flawless, you often still need persuading.
Recently, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio discovered an explanation for why. In his research, he found that people are incapable of decision-making without the part of the brain generating emotions – meaning all decision-making is fundamentally emotional rather than logical. Basically, the logical part of your brain tells you what you should be doing, and the emotional part tells you what you want to be doing; and the latter always wins. The act of persuasion is thus a process of figuring out how to emotionally trigger a motivation, rather than arguing the logical merits. In other words, to persuade someone to make a specific decision, your goal should be to help them feel that it’s in their advantage to do so. In order to understand how we can become experts at persuasion, lets take a look at the experts themselves. Salespeople.
Although persuasion is a prevalent aspect of all professions, few can boast as ubiquitous a presence of persuasion as in sales. Nowhere is an employee met more often with the challenge of convincing others of making certain decisions, and this makes it the perfect training ground. Who hasn’t been to a store and had the amazing experience of being listened to and presented with a solution that both perfectly solves your problem and also makes you feel like you got a good deal. Although you experience that meeting as a rarity, the salesman you encountered delivers the same experience to all his customers, and this is because he follows a cognitive framework for problem-solving and persuasion, which is universally applicable outside of sales as well.
The framework has four aspects:
- Establish Trust and Build Credibility
To be mistaken as manipulation is the first possible downfall of persuasion. Whatever it is you wish to persuade someone into, your first barrier is that of suspicion, and the way to break it down is to earn their trust. Whether you’re persuading someone to buy something or to work with a new team of people, you need to establish yourself as a credible source of advice. Leveraging your expertise, offering pros as well as cons, and actively listening to and taking into account their opinions, all combine in eliminating suspicion and establishing credibility. This is essential because if they do not feel like listening to you, they won’t.
- Communicate Your Understanding
Given the emotional nature of decision-making, an important aspect of persuasion is emotionally priming someone to act on a solution. Through thoughtful dialogue filled with questions and active listening, you can identify their goals and desires and communicate that you are joining them in their search for a solution, rather than forcing one upon them. Basically, you are saying that there is a way, and together we will find it.
- Deliver a Tailored and Compelling Solution
You need to have a healthy disposition towards compromises. The solution you end up suggesting will be different from the one you initially had in mind, as you have to present it in a way that aligns their newly discovered goals with yours. As long as you desire a positive outcome for both parties, and manage to establish a logical reasoning behind your solution, the decision should have a strong notion of “should do”.
- Connect Emotionally
The key to successfully persuade someone to go from “should do” to “want to do” lies in reading their emotional state, and responding accordingly. Sometimes a strong “why?” reasoning is necessary to explain in order to trigger an emotional commitment, sometimes there’s a need for a sensory explanation of “what’s in it for me?” or you might just have to alter your body language to communicate and encourage shared enthusiasm, in order to win someone over.
Reading emotions and acting accordingly is a process few handle better than well trained sales people, because they get to practice it every day, and their performance fully depends on it. In essence, selling is the art of presenting a solution in a favourable light while triggering an emotional will to act. These skills are transferrable to a plethora of situations, both for leadership and collegiality. Whereas leadership through empowerment and example is about enabling others to act autonomously towards shared goals, persuasion is your go-to tool for getting things done efficiently. At its core, leadership is about managing the inspiration of others. While empowerment and example builds long-term inspiration, persuasion is your quickest path to triggering someone’s will to act. And as in all things, practice makes progress; so if you wish to become an expert at persuasion, get a job in sales.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our introduction to the world of sales, and we wish you best of luck in improving your own abilities.
Stay tuned for further tools of the trade.