By Dave Kahle
The role of beliefs in limiting behavior
As a sales trainer, I often confront a difficult obstacle that stands in the way of developing more effective sales people. Too often sales people are hindered by limiting beliefs that prevent them from implementing the best practices, principles and processes that can multiply their results. They remain bound by internal barriers of their own conception.
Here’s an example. A Customer Service Representative wants to move to outside sales. He was good at his job of reacting to whoever was on the other end of the phone line and responding effectively to the request of all the customers. As a result, he forms the belief that success is a matter of responding effectively to everyone. He’s moved into outside sales, where he naturally brings along that belief. In that new position, he continues to operate on the basis of that belief, responding effectively to everyone who has a request for him. As a result, he finds himself spending inordinate amounts of time with small and needy customers, and very little time with larger, more sophisticated and higher potential customers. And as a result of that, his sales are mediocre, although he feels fulfilled.
It’s not that he doesn’t have the ability to do better; it is just that his belief limits his effectiveness.
This example illustrates just one of many beliefs that limit the productivity of sales people. Many of these self-limiting beliefs are so subtle that they operate beneath the level of consciousness, supporting some behaviors and preventing others without the sales person’s conscious awareness. In order to unleash the sales person to higher levels of productivity, these beliefs must be recognized, challenged and changed.
“I must believe in a product in order to sell it.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this. I hear it frequently from new sales people, and occasionally from more experienced reps. It is often pronounced with a bit of a smug, self-righteous attitude and projects the air that this is the last word on the subject – “That’s my position. Period. End of conversation.”
That’s too bad. Because, as long as the sales person holds this belief, he will never achieve his potential.
It’s detrimental because it holds that the product, or more specifically, the sales person’s opinion of the product, is the ultimate influencer of sales behavior. The sales person’s opinion becomes more important than the needs and situation of the customer.
Here’s an example. At one point in my life, I sold men’s suits and sport coats in a relatively expensive men’s clothing store. At a time when the average price of a man’s suit was around $100, we had one line of suits that sold for an average of $350 — three and a half times the price of the average.
I personally thought that it was a waste of money. Why pay that much, when you could get a perfectly good suit for a third of the price? I would never buy one of those. I just didn’t believe in it.
Now, if I had been ruled by the belief, “I must believe in the product in order to sell it,” I would never have shown those suits, never had suggested them, and never had sold them. However, my personal opinion didn’t matter to those people who wanted the extra details and more expensive look of that line of suits, and who could afford them.
I would have allowed my personal opinion to stand in the way of the sale made to someone who did not share my opinion. In so doing, I would have limited my sales and hindered my ability to fulfill the customer’s needs.
Now, you can say that the example isn’t a good one. We all have limits on what we can spend. You’ve missed the point. It could have just as well been a line (and, in fact, it was) that was extremely cheap. I didn’t believe in that line, either. I didn’t think that line was worth the money. But, I didn’t let that opinion stand in the way of the customer who could afford nothing more.
You see, the point is that my (or any sales person’s) opinion should not take precedence over the customer’s needs. It puts the wrong issue at the heart of the sales process. When you hold this belief, the sale is not about the customers’ situations, opinions and needs; it’s about your opinion of the product.
Who gave you such omnipotent insight? Where did you acquire such absolute judgment? Where did you gain such arrogance as to think your opinion was so important?
In my career, I have sold countless things in which I did not believe. Given the choice, I personally would not have purchased them. I don’t see that as a flaw in my character; I see it as a strength. It says that I was never so arrogant as to think that my opinions over-ruled the customers’. It says that I tried to always hold the customer’s situation and the customer’s opinion as a higher value than my own.
Thus, it did not matter what I thought of the product, it only mattered what the customer thought.
I reduce the essence of the sales process down to these fundamental steps that apply to every selling situation:
- Engage with the right people.
- Make them comfortable with you.
- Find out what they want.
- Show them how what you have gives them what they want.
- Gain agreement on the next step.
- Follow up and leverage satisfaction to other opportunities.
The heart of the process is contained in the process represented by steps three and four. Finding out what they want, and showing them how what you have gives them what they want, is the essence of sales.
When you are ruled by the belief that you must believe in the product before you can sell it, you limit your ability to implement the essence of the sales process. You’ll find out what they want; only you hold this product back. They are not allowed to want the benefits that it provides. And you limit your ability to show them how what you have gives them what they want. You don’t show them that product which is not high in your list.
That’s why this belief is so limiting. It removes possibilities from your ability to understand your customer, and it removes options from your menu of solutions.
No wonder that sales people who hold this belief only achieve a fraction of their potential.
If this belief is one of the fundamental tenants of your opinion as to what constitutes a professional sales person, it’s time to rid yourself of it. Instead of focusing on your opinion of the product, focus on the customer’s situation, and the customer’s needs. Your job is not to impose your opinions on the customer’s behavior; it is to meet the customer’s needs with solutions that fit the customer’s situation. In so doing, you’ll break through the barriers that limit your effectiveness, and move to a higher realization of your own potential.