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Counterintuitive Sales Advice

I began my career at a major multinational publishing house called Reed Business Information. I was incredibly fortunate that the company invested heavily in employee training. In fact, during my first four weeks on the job, all we did was train.

This initial training period was intensive and comprehensive. At the end of our induction, we had to demonstrate how well we had absorbed the training. Our performance was scored to determine whether we were ready to start making calls the following week.

I’m immensely grateful for this introduction to the world of sales. It taught me invaluable lessons not only about selling but, more importantly, about the way people buy. This foundation has been instrumental throughout my career, shaping my understanding and approach to sales.

I received a piece of advice that seemed completely counterintuitive at the time. This advice has become the cornerstone of my sales philosophy and is something I still recommend to new salespeople today. The advice was simple yet profound:

1. I WASN’T allowed to sell under any circumstances.

    At first glance, this might sound like a bizarre approach to a career centered around selling. However, this unconventional advice transformed my approach to sales and led to incredible results. Here’s how it worked and why it’s so effective.

    2. Conversations Over Pitches

    Instead of diving into a rehearsed pitch, I was encouraged to have genuine conversations with prospects. This meant engaging in meaningful dialogues where the goal was not to push a product but to understand the person on the other end. This approach helped build rapport and trust, laying the foundation for a stronger business relationship.

    3. Listening to Understand

    Traditional sales training often emphasises listening to identify opportunities to sell. However, by shifting my focus to listening with the intent to understand, I was able to uncover deeper insights into my prospects’ needs, challenges, and goals. This understanding was crucial in identifying how I could truly help them, rather than just fitting them into a predetermined solution.

    4. Finding Problems, Not Solving Them

    Another key aspect of this advice was to focus on discovering the problems prospects faced, without rushing to offer solutions. This approach kept the conversation centered on the prospect and their experience. It also created an environment where prospects felt heard and understood, rather than pressured into a sale.

    5. Prioritising the Prospect

    By concentrating on the prospect instead of my product, company, or personal sales targets, I was able to create a more client-centric experience. This shift in focus made the prospect feel valued and prioritised, which in turn fostered a more positive and productive interaction.

    6. Building Trust and Intrigue

    Ultimately, this method improved my ability to ask insightful questions, listen actively, build trust, and create intrigue. Prospects began to see themselves as the heroes of their own stories, with my role being that of a trusted advisor. This dynamic often led them to ask about my solutions, rather than me having to push them.

    In the end, selling isn’t about hard pitches or aggressive tactics. It’s about collaborating with prospects to explore their challenges, objectives, pains, and problems—both known and unknown. When this exploration is thorough and genuine, the solution often presents itself naturally. By the time a solution is offered, it feels like a mutual decision rather than a forced sale.

    The advice to avoid selling under any circumstances was a game-changer for me. It forced me to rethink traditional sales techniques and adopt a more empathetic, client-focused approach. By having conversations, listening to understand, finding problems, prioritising the prospect, and building trust, I transformed my sales process into a collaborative journey. This approach not only led to more successful sales but also created lasting relationships and satisfied clients.

    If you’re new to sales or looking to improve your approach, I highly recommend trying this counterintuitive strategy. You might just find, as I did, that it makes all the difference.

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