This article was originally published at Forbes.com
To attain and sustain success, one must become skilled at the art of persuasion.
When I first entered the sales force at the early age of 19, I learned that I must master the art of persuasion to attain my goal of becoming the top-ranked salesperson. My gut reaction was that learning to become persuasive would mean I’d have to become disingenuous. And there wasn’t anything in the world that could incentivize or induce me to become a fake or a fibber. I wasn’t going to become one of those unethical salespeople you hear about who will say or do anything to get the sale. I shrugged off the advice and went about doing it my way. I’ve always been a hardcore values-driven person, and honesty has always been my No. 1 value. I proceeded to go on sales calls with my hardline honesty approach and though people did appreciate my honesty, I wasn’t closing many deals.
The turning point came for me when quite by accident (or as fate would have it), I came across Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. The book is a basic sales primer, but what enticed me was the book’s description. It promised that the principles contained in the book would teach readers how to make people feel important and appreciated. That resonated with me. Upon further reading, I learned that Carnegie believed that success in life can be attributed to how well one learns to effectively deal with people. As noted in a now out-of-print report, he also believed 85% of a person’s job success can be attributed to interpersonal skills, while the remaining 15% is a result of technical knowledge. These ideas instantly ignited a passion and enthusiasm in me. I set my intention to become adept at the power of persuasion while staying true to myself, and I set a goal to become an inspiring, well-liked and respected top-ranked sales professional.
Over the course of the next decade of my sales career, I achieved my goals well beyond my expectations. In the process, I identified my personal top seven pillars of persuasion that helped me achieve and exceed my goals — including becoming a self-sustaining entrepreneur and self-made millionaire while staying true to my values:
Do prospect research. Gather as much intel as possible prior to the first contact with your prospect. Too many businesspeople neglect to get to know their prospective client or customer, which leaves too much room for creating a barrier right from the start. Having a clear picture of who they are, what they invest in, their company’s core values and any outside interests can help quicken your path to a successful outcome.
Build rapport. Be likable. The art of being likable includes being on time and well-groomed, smiling, looking directly at the person you’re talking to, not over- or under-talking, and looking for and expressing the commonalities between you.
Ask the two most important questions. The answers to these two questions will give you valuable information to become more persuasive. They’ll also make you stand out over your competition and help you achieve your client’s goals, which is the most important aspect of sustainable success. First, what is the most imminent and critical thing for you to achieve? Second, what is the one thing that others have been unable or unwilling to accomplish for you?
Be an active listener. Too many salespeople are stuck in their own heads because they’re trying to remember the facts, figures and presentations that they want to deliver. Remember, it’s more important to build rapport, ask questions and really hear what your prospect is saying than to remember every detail of your pitch. You may find that some of it becomes unnecessary or needs amending so it’s tailored to what you’re hearing. Canned pitches leave prospects feeling unmotivated, like a number, and like they’re not perceived or valued as unique individuals.
Perform a soft close. Do a soft close by asking if you’ve been able to provide them with everything they need to decide today. If they say no, ask them what else you can provide them to help — not only to reach a decision about doing business with you but also to help them in their business going forward. Let them know your goal is to earn the privilege of developing a long-term relationship. Be prepared to go the extra mile and give them some freebies.
Overcome objections non-aggressively. Overcoming objections must be done in a personalized and compassionate way by using the information you gained from actively listening to their hopes, dreams and goals. Using a soft tone of voice, take one objection at a time and illustrate what you personally can do to overcome it. Explain why it’s important to their own success to allow you to do this on their behalf. And, if there truly isn’t a fair or reasonable way to give them what they want, present the facts that illustrate how their objection is preventing them from achieving their goal. Inform them about the payoff of letting go of the objection.
Discern hard-close timing. A hard close doesn’t happen on your timeline. Instead, it should happen when you believe your prospect is fully informed, ready and able, but is delaying their decision. Too many entrepreneurs hold on to their own timelines too tightly to meet a sales quota or out of a sense of desperation. Remember, it’s not about you — it’s about their success.
The art of powerful persuasion begins and ends with always putting your prospects’ best interests and success ahead of yours by being willing to go the extra mile to earn their trust and to make them feel honored, respected and uniquely special. In so doing, their success becomes your success.