Friday, February 22, 2013

Great (engineer-turned-salesman) minds think alike

A friend sent me the link to a recent blog post on the Sandler Training blog, titled Selling Isn’t Debate: Confessions of an Engineer in Sales. A key message in the blog is that using features and functionality at the wrong time in the sales process can be counterproductive as a way to convince a prospect to buy into what you are offering.

In his blog post, Chip Doyle describes how his initial engineer-turned-salesman approach to selling was great for convincing someone that he knew his stuff, but it was ineffective for selling. He would start with "what" and "how" instead of starting with "why." When the prospect challenged his reasoning, he would argue with them until he had successfully convinced them that he was right.

As I have written earlier, trying to first convince someone based on reason is a very difficult way to get someone to change their mind. This is because facts and figures can be disputed. Without the "why" behind your product, the "how" and "what" are missing context and don't make sense. Chip points out that even when you are successful convincing someone through intellectual debate, you will usually lose out on the selling opportunity because you have established an adversarial relationship with your prospect.

Ask an engineer what time it is and he will tell you how to build a watch

As a subject matter expert, we often think that it is our duty to prove our worth by expounding on all of the technical knowledge that we have stored away in our heads. One of the problems here is that the person on the other side of the table is not as emotionally invested in your product or idea as you are so it is hard for you to empathize with their pre-existing beliefs. Additionally, they are usually emotionally invested in something different (sometimes the complete opposite of what you are trying to sell them).

I am guilty of doing this, and I have seen others take this approach. It doesn't usually turn out well. You often end up with crossed arms and emotional disagreement coming from across the table. As you start telling someone about all of the things that are different about your product or idea, their cognitive bias will lead them to build up resistance (lizard brain) and negativity (animal brain) because it is not consistent with their view of the world. As they poke holes in your reasoning, you will often end up getting into arguments about semantics or opinion - a recipe for disaster.

A better way to persuade someone to accept your idea

Instead of taking the rational approach of the Western Intellectual Tradition, there is a better way to persuade someone to accept a new idea. The more effective way is to start with why they should want to change, and not with how your product works or what your product is made of. If you can persuade them that there is a reason to change, then there will be plenty of time later to discuss the reason behind your product or idea.