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Be a Detective, Not a Salesperson

Too often, I see people try to jump right in and force the sale.

Sometimes, it’s the bad cold emails that I get in my inbox from salespeople at XYZ company.

Other times, I’m at a conference and I encounter someone who is trying to sell me their product on the spot.

Forcing the sale too early never works, because you fail to establish a true relationship on the spot. You’ve ignored getting to know someone by jumping immediately into the sale, and that can really hobble your technique.

Think Relationship First and Sale Second

Start a conversation first and foremost. Don’t even think about the sale first. You see, many people fail to sell because they’re too laser-focused on the outcome.

Instead, fall in love with the process of getting to know someone else and mutually decide if you can help each other. You can’t ignore the truly human conversation that really leads to the sale.

True sales isn’t “selling” at all. Now, I really think of it as a mission of fact-finding, educating, and helping people find a solution to their needs.

Find out the needs, then serve the needs. Be a detective, not a salesperson.

And to be a great detective, you need to establish trust with everyone you speak to.

Now, believe me, I can still force the sale from time to time! I have instances where I need to pinch myself and remind myself that I’m looking to create relationships first, sales second.

I will also say this: connecting people with their needs is something that empathetic entrepreneurs do very well. Empathy is the understanding, appreciation, and the ability to step into someone’s life and feel how they live. This is what great detectives do.

When I Was Younger, I Was Far from Being a Great Sales Detective

Today, I’m proud of the progress I’ve made towards becoming more empathetic.

It comes through understanding other people’s experiences, even those far removed from your own. While you can’t possibly feel the direct pain and joy that others go through, you’ll start to feel how others think, what problems they have, what their wants are.

Empathy is not just understanding for others, it’s feeling for others too.

I cannot emphasize enough how helpful a skill empathy is. This is a skill that you would also share with some of the best detectives.

In Order to Harness the Power of Empathy, You Must Listen

Believe me, I don’t claim to be a great listener yet. I’m getting there, but it is hard sometimes when your mind is swirling with ideas, counterpoints, and your to-dos.

Being able to listen to people and make them feel listened to truly is something that has taken me years to be good at. Brilliant detectives are big listeners.

Was I a good listener?

I had to find out…when I resolved to stop forcing my sales, I was getting a bad feeling that I was not as great on the phone as I thought I was.

How I Improved My Sales Technique

So I decided to start recording my meetings. When listening to the recordings, I found that there were a lot of negative qualities about myself that I had been previously oblivious to.

I found that I was:

  1. Interruptive – I would seek opportunities to jump in with my counterpoint before the other person would finish.
  2. Dominant in the conversation — I love to explain things and talk, but I was sucking all of the air out of the discussion, turning my conversation partner into just a receiver.
  3. Too much of a debater — I had preconceived notions of what was right, and so I would shut myself out to new opinions or alternative viewpoints. I would try to “win” arguments.

Step out of your head and into someone else’s.

I can’t emphasize this enough: you can’t be empathetic or do any kind of detective work with sales unless you can truly step out of yourself and get into someone else’s head.

By always being focused on my next move and getting ‘The Sale’, I was robbing myself of the opportunity to become a true sales detective.

Nothing Can Replace In-Person Connection

There’s a unique challenge in the New Economy that has sprouted up because of the wealth of information at our disposal.

People feel well-informed by reading lots of articles about problems that others are going through, but mistake that knowledge for having empathy.

I don’t think that direct conversation can ever be substituted as the best exchange of information, though.

Being well-read should not replace talking to real about people about their real (and perceived) problems.

Being well-read does not give you practice for listening and thinking at the same time during conversations.

Remember, sales is all about solving a problem with your product or offering. In order to do that effectively, you have to understand what pain points others have.

Observe First, Act Second

Detectives who solve cases do this.

I’ve found over the years that I’ve gotten the most out of conversations when I purely listen to the other person without thinking of a response while they’re talking.

Once I’ve collected this information, I can come up with a response after a quick, deliberate pause when it’s my turn. I used to think that I couldn’t come up with responses like this on the fly because I didn’t want to pause to think about what I am saying.

But you’d be surprised how easy that is to do when you listen and observe, rather than just thinking about what you are going to say next.

Final Thoughts

Take these steps to become a sales detective.

It’s about enjoying the experience of getting to know someone, and taking the relationship to wherever it makes sense to go to see if you can mutually help each other.

It takes skill to make a sale. This includes not only knowing what to say, but how to listen.

What do you think? Comment below.

Since 2009, we have helped create 350+ next-generation apps for startups, Fortune 500s, growing businesses, and non-profits from around the globe. Think Partner, Not Agency.


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