Lessons from the Lion Tamer: Power, Bearing, and Why Johnny Can’t Sell (Part 3 of 5)
Last week we discussed how your brand positioning and proof of superiority (eg, in the form of testimonials) provide some power to salespeople. This week, we’ll discuss “bearing,” that hard to describe quality that distinguishes powerful salespeople from the not so powerful.
The Salesperson’s Bearing
People in the market don’t know who they can trust. They need to know whether you are trustworthy. As a salesperson, how you handle yourself provides a lot of clues.
A really great salesperson told me recently about a ride-along he did with a rookie in his company. They were visiting the son of a business owner, who had asked them to meet his father because he was impressed with their product. The son thought the expense was worth it, and he wanted his father to approve the purchase. Unfortunately, as the meeting progressed, the father was fidgety and unengaged.
The rookie kept on going, explaining the benefits and pointing out how it might help them make money. At one point, my experienced salesperson friend stepped in. He spoke directly to the father.
“Excuse me, sir, but we really don’t want to waste your time. You see, we only offer this to one company in each market. If we offer this to your firm, you would have an exclusive right to leverage it in this city. There will be no competition.”
“That said, we have meetings next week with Miller Brothers and Brown Contracting, and if I’m not mistaken, both of those firms are competitors of yours. Now, we understand if you don’t think what we offer is as valuable as we think it is. If that is what you decide, we respect it. We’ll have our meetings with your competitors, make our selection, and we won’t bother you about it anymore.”
“However, for the record, we wanted to make sure you understood how this works. Does that make sense to you?”
The old cat was on the box now, that’s for sure.
There are several interesting aspects about that exchange. First, the salesperson had to have the sense to detect that the cat was not on the box and that he had to do something about it. Second, he had to know exactly what to say to fix the problem and how it had to be said. It takes guts to stand up to powerful people and practice to pull it off effectively. His bearing revealed that he had been in that situation before and that he was serious.
Third, and perhaps most important, he did not gain this leverage by himself. If his company had not deliberately established this territory-exclusive strategy, he could not have done it. The salesperson’s bearing pulled it off, but the company’s bearing made it possible. After the rookie has seen this done a couple of times, you can bet he’ll be using it too.
You might think that this idea doesn’t apply to your market, but I can assure you it does. Next week, I’ll show you how it works in a competitive RFQ environment.
Michael J. Webb
July 8, 2008