Win Without Pitching®: Thinking

Help I’m Being Held Hostage by a Sales Robot

“In the sale, your job is not to convince, you have no business trying to convince anyone of anything ever.”

Blair Enns said these words from a stage in Memphis at a conference I was attending almost 15 years ago. It was the first time I’d heard him speak. At that moment, after he said those words with such conviction, I was completely transformed.

I was with a successful Seattle brand firm at the time and it instantly caused me to look at my business development role differently. I remember going back to work with a new sense of purpose and confidence.

I felt released of all that burdened me in the sales function. Even if that meant finding a new job. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic here, but it helped me to see that the success of the firm shouldn’t rest solely on my shoulders just because I was in the business development role.

It was a powerful moment.

His words also stopped me dead in my tracks because I realized that somehow along the way I lost my confidence. And that really bothered me, in fact, it pissed me off.

Prior to joining that Seattle brand firm, I had worked in various roles on the client-side, for Fortune 500 companies and in most cases for c-suite executives. And in those roles, I had always been completely fine speaking up if I didn’t think we were going down the right path with an initiative or idea.

I had always been a-ok embracing silence if I needed time to think before I answered a question someone threw my way. I had always been 100% good saying “I don’t know” if I didn’t have the answer. I was self-assured, believed in my talent and didn’t shy away from conversations or challenges.

But something happens to those of us who are otherwise rational, reasonable, confident and successful people when we are placed in the sales hot seat in the agency world.

I jumped at the chance to leave corporate America and move to a smaller, creative and more heart-felt company where people cared about each other and wanted to produce the best work possible for the client.

But mid-air, in that jump, a sales robot took over my otherwise in-charge personality and I became a pitchwoman. A yes man. I essentially allowed myself to be demoted to the vendor role, doing whatever I could to win work to please the team.

Thanks to Blair’s timely message, my pitchwoman days were short-lived.

Kill the sales robot

So, what happens when the sales robot takes over and we find ourselves agreeing to pitches, procurement processes, payment terms that subsidize billion-dollar clients and price-cutting that kills our margins. And how can we reverse course?

Some of the obvious reasons are tied too deeply embedded bad sales habits at your firm:

  • You are used to playing the role of vendor and it doesn’t occur to you that you have a choice in the matter.
  • You own or work for a generalist firm and have little power to affect the sale because you’re undifferentiated from the pack.
  • You are incentivizing sales in the wrong way, with the goal being to get meetings and win no matter what.
  • Or times are tough and you need to bring work in the door to make payroll.

The robot can take over in situations like these.

Sometimes it goes deeper. It cuts right to the bone and invades your every fiber. It could be:

  • You don’t actually believe you are the expert in the room.
  • You really don’t like having sales conversations.

Actually, you just need some good old fashioned sales training.

It’s ok. What matters is uncovering the source of what’s happening and taking that brave first step to reverse course.

Don’t do this…

I had a client I really wanted to work with who was on my outreach list. I didn’t know him personally. And, they didn’t know me or my firm.

I poured hours into learning about him, the company, and all the clever things I could say if I got that person on the phone. I was procrastinating, afraid of picking up the phone and saying hello and introducing myself.

So, I finally mustered the courage to make the call, and when he actually answered… I froze and hung up.

Crazy right?

I had wasted so much time. And then I heard Blair utter those words at that conference. Enter Win Without Pitching, a game-changing moment in my career that would ultimately lead to my role as Director of Coaching.

Many people in sales roles are behaving like vendors, a dismal and exhausting place to work from. Vendors believe the client is the prize. Vendors just want to score a meeting. They go in armed with arguments, ready to convince.

There’s that “convince” word again. You sit there thinking you’ve only got one shot, so you better not screw it up.

There’s a better way. It all begins with a proper mindset.

Adopting the Jedi Mindset

When we stop convincing, it frees us to come to the table with a new mindset and a new purpose.

Say these words to yourself and reflect on the power of calming your mind and getting your head in the right place before a sales conversation.

I am the expert; I am the prize.
I am on a mission to help.
I can only do that if you let me lead.
I understand that all will not follow, and that’s okay.

This is the Jedi Mindset.

It allows you to bring:

Focus. You bring focus to the conversation because you are the expert practitioner and you are sought after for your deep expertise. If your firm has yet to focus, then think about how you can personally bring focus to the sale. Are you good at helping others to feel heard and feel comfortable, for example?

Perspective. You’re on a mission to help because you work from a higher purpose which is often informed by your perspective or point of view on how you believe the work should be brought to bear. If your firm has yet to define its perspective, what experience-backed belief can you draw on that will help you lead at this moment?

Leadership. Your job is to lead the client through their buying journey, never to push or convince. As we regularly remind our coaching clients, the sale is the sample. You’re demonstrating what it will be like to work with you and by leading in the sale, you set your team up to lead in the engagement and do their best work.

Detachment. And finally, you detach. The less emotionally attached you are to the deal, the more effective you’ll be. You’ll be free to assess if this really is a good-fit prospect. You’ll be freer to lead; you are the expert in the room, after all. Remember, not everyone will follow and that’s ok because your mission isn’t to work with everyone.

Your mission is to work with those who believe what you believe empowering you to do your best work and add the most value for your clients.

All will not follow, and that’s okay

We may not be able to kill the sales robot dead in one article, but let’s agree that we can chip away at what makes us shift into robot mode by examining what takes us there in the first place. Belief is a practice. So take a quiet moment to say the mantra and begin to have real conversations with your prospects to see if you can help.

Here it is again:

I am the expert; I am the prize.
I am on a mission to help.
I can only do that if you let me lead.
I understand that all will not follow, and that’s okay.

If you can begin to look at the first conversation in the buyer’s journey as one in which you’re seeking to see if you can help, it may take some of the pressure off. You’re not trying to sell something right out of the gate.

Instead, allow yourself the freedom to be an active listener, ask a lot of good questions to learn what’s happening for that prospect and their initiative, bring empathy for what they’re up against and be their ally in deciding if it makes sense to keep the conversation going and take the next step together.

And remember this is just a conversation. It’s really that simple. It’s a conversation just like you would have with any other person in your life. I don’t mean to diminish what needs to happen in this conversation, but it will be so much more fun and effective if you are just yourself.

Your fantastic self.

Be you.

Be that real person who wants to learn more about the client’s challenge and understand if you can help.

You got this. Onward!

Win more business at a lower cost of sale

Join Blair Enns live for the Win Without Pitching Workshop and learn how to take control of your sales process (and actually enjoy it). 

Shannyn Lee
Shannyn Lee is Win Without Pitching Director of Coaching and an unstoppable force of human empowerment. Trained by Blair in 2006, Shannyn has over 10 years experience in doing new business the Win Without Pitching way. Since joining the team in 2015, Shannyn’s empathetic and encouraging coaching skills have helped our clients translate the lofty Win Without Pitching ideals into real behavioral change with lasting results.
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