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Common Questions and Answers
When I asked a physician office manager how frequently sales people were rude or disrespectful, she guessed at fifty per cent. I chose a physician office because few industries see more sales people daily. If anyone would have experience with this, it would be a doctor’s office. But fifty percent? She nodded, “Yes, about half.”
I posed the same question to a vice-president of a large physician group. Without hesitation, he launched into an anecdote comparing two sellers. In his story, one seller wasn’t blatantly rude, but her generic presentation, though polished, came across as uncaring, which the VP labeled disrespectful. However, the winning seller showed the respect of listening, discovering and filling real needs. That seller was so tuned in, they trusted him enough to recommend him. The winning seller landed a pipeline of future referrals along with this substantial account.
If one hundred professional sales representatives were asked how many considered themselves kind and respectful, I believe at least 75% would stand. The other 25% would think it was a trick question so would remain seated. We all think we’re kind and respectful. Sales professionals are expert relationship builders.
Five years ago, my territory was worth a meager $200,000. That sparse territory is now a multi-million dollar region. The top clients are worth more individually than the entire territory was five years ago. The magic secret? I credited hard work and luck, until I noticed a trend.
Clients I carefully treated with kindness and respect were growing in number and, more, remained loyal. It was an interesting observation. As a sales strategy, though, kindness and respectfulness bordered on ridiculous. Yet author Leonard Berry also spotted it, while also acknowledging it seemed impossible: “On the surface, respect seems too elementary and nebulous to forge competitive advantage. But it is a powerful influence.” Discovering the Soul of Service, The Nine Drivers of Sustainable Business Success
In a gutsy experiment, I disregarded everything I knew about sales. I field tested my theory, setting aside process and product knowledge to focus instead on kindness and respectfulness. The immediate reactions were overwhelmingly positive. More important, the long-term response to this change was a sustained increase in monthly growth. Yet, to truly be shareworthy, I needed to understand what kindness and respectfulness meant to others.
A fair question: Why kindness and respect? Why not one or the other? Kindness is the warmth; respect is the strength. Respect alone runs the risk of being detached or insincere. Kindness alone runs the risk of being overly gregarious or eagerly nice.
Books, research papers and articles on kindness or respect were boiled down to bullet points, a few words summarizing a chapter or topic, which were then categorized. For example, the word “privacy” fell under the “trust” category. Similar categories were then grouped, such as putting empathy and compassion into the same larger grouping. It was a technical exercise, color coding, moving squares, thinking, talking out loud, researching definitions without bias as much as possible. In all, 114 bullet points with mostly different wording fell into eighteen categories. In the end, I ordered the categories by the number of times a topic appeared, and these would become the hallmarks. I wholly believed that my personal values of equality and trust would be in the top hallmarks.
Let me say again how I arrived at these. I read research papers, books, and articles. I summarized the topics into bullet points. I categorized them. I counted them. The results represent the number of times the collective authors mentioned these topics.
The number one hallmark of respectfulness was not equality or trust, as I’d expected. It was recognition, by a landslide.
The top hallmark of kindness was not generosity or warmth. It was acceptance.
When I combined the two charts, a third hallmark appeared with equal frequency: authenticity.
The power lies in understanding how the authors mentioned the hallmarks and how they apply to professional selling in a way that can raise your sales level now and through your career.
Lack of attention is the greatest form of rudeness. Ferrucci, The Power of Kindness
Recognition appeared twenty-four times and was cited in some form by all of the authors of respect-related works. The mentions ranged from awareness to mindfulness to “honoring the wholeness, essence and uniqueness of others” Rushton, 2007.
On the surface, this seems obvious. But picture an initial sales call where your first goal is to get past the gatekeeper. If the gatekeeper is acknowledged as important enough to warrant full attention for those few moments, the interaction gains a different perspective. I found I was less likely to be dismissed, even with the same purpose for being there. Further, I was less likely to engage in small talk or superficial compliments, recognizing they were as busy as the decision maker, and that their busy-ness was equally important.
“Basically, respect is the act of esteeming another,” said Cynda Hilton Rushton. She called respect a hallmark of excellence in her writing for critical care nurses.
In a hospital critical care setting, it can be tempting to think of patients by diagnosis, severity or bed number. In a sales setting, it can be tempting to categorize people as gatekeepers, stumbling blocks and decision makers, mentally separating them into “worth the energy” or “not worth our time.” Get past the gatekeeper, appease the technical users and get to the key decision maker.
Seeing worth is a step in recognition Lickona, 2004; Discovering the Soul of Service, The Nine Drivers of Sustainable Business Success. It means recognizing without appraisal Carter, 2013.
It means paying honor and attention in a way we’ve never done before.
Acceptance includes blanket non-judgment and forgiving at a level of micro-transgressions.
As a department manager, before my sales career, I accompanied a marketing representative to drop off a holiday basket to a major client. Blocked at the front desk, we encountered a new receptionist who seemed uncertain whether she could disturb the client with even a phone call. Our representative set the basket on the reception desk with a crisp, “Then how about if you deliver it, and you tell her we were here but you didn’t want to pick up the phone and bother her.” With that, we left.
Would you react that way? I would not, nor would I expect an audience with a client without a call-ahead. But have you ever had a gatekeeper or buyer who was impatient or distracted, had their own hidden agenda, or made comments or expressions that were unkind, even rude?
Acceptance Part One is accepting without judging people who look different, talk differently, have different education or believe differently from you. Acceptance means instantly forgiving micro-transgressions, walking past them as if they never happened, which allows you to better handle the situation. It also means accepting that we make mistakes and can move on instantly. How would you have handled the gatekeeper in that scenario? Someone you normally see without a call-ahead has a new receptionist who apparently has orders to be a brick wall. What would you do?
Dominique Bertolucci wrote: “Silence your inner critic.” That applies to both your missteps and to others’ rudeness. Stop letting transgressions become personal. Not forgiving them creates a barrier to you, to trust and ultimately to selling.
Authenticity has components of humility, truthfulness, self-determination and more.
Humility comes from accepting our own real self, without having to convince ourselves or others through braggadocio or a fight for rewards. A doctor heading his own budding corporation once ridiculed another sales representative: “Who does he think he is? He comes in here in an expensive suit, hair slicked, this fancy proposal.” He threw a folder on the desk. To him, the sales person came off as pretentious, interested in impressing more than solutions.
Humility requires enough internal confidence to be ourselves, and to be objective about ourselves, others and the situation. By simply not creating a barrier with pretenses or over-inflated self-importance, humility opens a door to communication, and more, to your authentic self.
Let me say that again. Humility is not weakness. Think Bruce Lee. Think Robert Herjavec. Knowing personal strength and knowledge allows us to know when to listen, where to speak, where to honor others.
Truthfulness: Don’t fear the truth. Some sellers and buyers believe that sales includes an element of dishonesty.
Every company has high points, but also competitive challenges and disastrous lows. Equating your company with the disasters means you’ve lost confidence in your own employer. For example, my company doesn’t claim to be the low-cost service, which can be a competitive disadvantage, but their strength lies in consulting on especially rare and difficult cases. It is a complex and imperfect world; it is where I thrive as a professional sales representative. Whether your world involves an inexpensive product or complex scenarios, recognizing where you thrive is part of your personal authenticity. That personal acknowledgment prepares you mentally to meet competitive challenges head-on, rather than skirting them.
Self-determination means anything from political warfare to personal growth to end-of-life decisions. Personal career self-determination comes when reconciling outer life with inner desire, such as your work world with your life principles, and translating that into your career path, built every day.
Self-determination requires self-awareness, objectively seeing personal strengths and realistically evaluating weaknesses. I’ve known people with mediocre sales who thought they were amazing salespeople, apparently blind to their personal strengths and challenges. I also knew a sales representative who once openly stated, “I need to work on my communication skills.” I was always impressed by that transparency, and perhaps so were others as he is now president of a hospital system. If we are to self-adjust, then seeing ourselves objectively is crucial. When you think of your strengths, weaknesses and desires, what evidence do you have to support your opinion? It’s a helpful question in self-determination.
When beginning this project, I thought kindness and respectfulness were natural traits that could be cultivated in professional selling. As my study progressed, I found that kindness and respectfulness created openings to communicate more perceptively and accurately. Selling is more than what you do (sales process) or what you know (product knowledge). How you do it and how you convey the knowledge that is the differentiator that carries you to a new level as a sales professional.
Consciously practicing these hallmarks –recognition, acceptance and authenticity– can create a personal brand of kindness and respectfulness. It can raise your sales and grow your territory in a way that others will attribute to luck, and only you will know better.
Referenced in this article:
Berry, Leonard L, (1999), Discovering the Soul of Service, The Nine Drivers of Sustainable Business Success, The Free Press (div of Simon & Schuster), p 30.
Bertolucci, Domonique, The Kindness Pact(2014) Hardie Grant Books.
Carter, Ian, Are Toleration and Respect Compatible? Journal of Applied Philosophy, Volume 30, Issue 3, Special Issue: Toleration and Respect, August 2013, pages 195-208.
Ferrucci, Pierro, (2006) The Power of Kindness Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, page 29.
Lickona, Thomas, (2004) Character Matters Touchstone Books, p 243.
Rushton, Cynda Hylton, Respect in Critical Care AACN Advanced Critical Care, 2007, Vol 18, No 2, pp149-156.
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