One Secret That Will Make You a Great Salesperson

“We should render a service to a friend to bind him closer to us, and to an enemy in order to make a friend of him.” – Cleobulus (sixth century B.C.)

How do you develop the skill of selling when you hate the very idea of selling? The first step is to understand that there are really two kinds of selling:

1. pushing people (to buy things they don’t want)

2. helping people (to select those things they do want to buy)

Pushy salespeople — the telemarketer who calls you while you’re eating dinner, the broker who calls you on the weekend with a “hot deal,” the proverbial used-car salesman — take delight in persuading you to do what you don’t want to do. Such salesmen see the selling process as a kind of battle where they bully and beat you into submission. It’s an ego game for them, and your acquiescence — even if you really do want the product — is an indication of submission. Such salespeople should be tarred and feathered, run out of town, dunked, and pilloried. They are the same people who delight in not letting you merge in traffic and cutting ahead of you in the supermarket line.

Helpful salespeople are actually more common than their obnoxious pushy cousins. You’ll find them almost everywhere — in delis, malls, and lighting outlets. In dental offices, theaters, and body shops. In schools, hair salons, and art galleries.

Helpful salespeople are the gardeners, carpenters, and painters who maintain your home. They are the tutors who teach you Spanish, the florists who supply your special functions, the therapists and doctors who fix you when you are broken.

If you understand that the job of a salesman is to solve a customer’s problem or help him meet a need, selling won’t seem so odious to you. Claude Diamond says that the reason most selling is so uncomfortable — both for the buyer and for the seller — is that salespeople get started in the selling process without ever determining what, exactly, the prospect wants and needs.

Consider an example he gives in one of his audiotapes: Mr. Brown has a business selling self-incorporation kits. He sends out a lead-generating postcard and receives 100 responses. He then calls up each of the respondees and reads him a carefully written script that emphasizes the many benefits of self-incorporation.

What’s wrong with this picture?

According to Diamond, Mr. Brown is wasting a lot of time. Before he can possibly do an effective job selling his service to his prospects, he has to find out if they are really interested in self-incorporation. He must thank them for responding and reconfirm that they are interested. After he’s done that, he must also ask them WHY they are interested. Is it, for example, because they want to enjoy the tax benefits of incorporation? Or is their concern liability — protecting themselves from lawsuits?

Only after determining “his pain,” as Diamond calls it, can you have a real and helpful conversation with a prospect. You won’t waste his time talking about benefits he doesn’t care about, and you’ll spend all the time he needs explaining how your service can help him with what he really needs.

Let’s say the prospect’s main concern is litigation. What you would do, in this case, is ask him more questions about it and find out, in as much detail as possible, what his worries are. Having done this, you are in a great position to address each one — to explain how your product offers an effective solution to each and every concern. By driving home the benefits of your product that the prospect cares about, you are making a very strong sales presentation. You are telling him exactly what he wants to hear.

Remember — your prospect wants to be sold. So long as you are helping him understand how your product can achieve his desires or solve his problems, he is prejudiced in your favor. You lose your prospect’s interest when you start talking about other things — your desires and interests, for example, or the product features that don’t concern him.

So don’t sell him, help him. Begin by finding out what he wants and needs — and then (if and only if you can really help him) make the strongest, most specific case you can make that his desires will be achieved and his problems solved. I speak to many people who respond to this idea by saying, “That’s easy for you to say. You are rich and have the luxury of picking and choosing your product. It isn’t that way for me. I have to make a living. I have to sell what I can get.”

I’m sympathetic to this point of view. I spent many years selling things I didn’t really believe in. And, yes, you can sell things you don’t believe in — but to do so you need to use all the “tricks” of the selling game. You have to learn how to bully and bamboozle, bluster and blather. You can spend a career doing exactly that — and you may earn a lot of money doing it. But you’ll never be happy with yourself or your wealth, because you will discover — if you don’t already know — that happiness doesn’t come from money and it doesn’t come from trying to be happy. It comes (as we’ve said so many times) from doing worthwhile work.

“Worthwhile” is the key word. You must believe that what you are selling is valuable and that acquiring it will be helpful to your customer. Unless you can get to that point, all your hard work and clever skills will go for naught.

So start with the protocol that Diamond suggests. Begin by finding out what your prospective customer wants and needs. Discover his feelings, his beliefs, and his desires as they relate to the product. Get as much specific information as possible and then — and only then — tell him how the product will help him.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]