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Method Selling: Influencing the Big Guys
by Victor Antonio

Sales Training Seminar on Sales Influence and Persuasion

I’m watching this biography on TV the other day on Ron Howard, you know, Opie on the Andy Griffith show. What a fascinating life! His parents were both into theatre and film thereby exposing Ron to acting early on. In fact he got his first screen appearance at the tender age of 18 months. Yes, 18 months! In this first film, a baby was needed in the scene. In fact, it required a crying baby. The way Ron describes it, while in his mother's arms, he was given a toy tomahawk to hold just long enough for him to get use to having it. When the scene began filming and they needed him to cry, they took away his tomahawk. And guess what? You got it, he cried. His first major role in a film was a success.

Note: This is the same Ron Howard who owns the Film company Imagine Entertainment and recently produced the film "Cinderella Man" with Russell Crowe. If you're feeling like life has got you down and you need inspiration, go see the movie. Big thumbs up!

In the biography Andy Griffith describes how impressed he was with Ron’s acting as a child. He described a particular episode where Opie (Ron) was going to have to cry on screen after having killed a bird with his slingshot. They then showed the actual scene from the series. As I watched, it was obvious that Ron’s pain and crying were genuine. Andy was impressed and later asked Ron how he was able to cry on cue. Ron responded by telling Andy that when the moment came to cry he thought about his dog who had died. Andy concluded the biographical interview by saying, whether Ron knew it or not, that was “method acting”.

What does this have to do with selling? Everything? Method acting is the ability to empathize with the character. Not sympathize! Empathize! Sympathy means you understand their pain. Empathy means you “feel” their pain.

Customers don’t want to talk to salespeople who don't understand what they’re going through. They want to work with people who not only understand the difficulties they face in building their business, but they also feel their pain. They want you to feel their sense of urgency. They want you to feel how much is at stake when they make high-risk buying decision.

As salespeople, we can’t ‘pretend’ to understand what our customers are dealing with in order to grow their business. Showing a customer you understand their pain requires you to put yourself in their shoes. In order to sell empathetically you must become them for the moment.

In one scene, Ron Howard had to transport himself to another time and place in order to really feel the pain of losing something he really loved. In business you need to take a moment to transport yourself in much the same way. When do you do this?
  • Before you make the first cold call to a customer
  • When you're pulling together a presentation
  • Right before a customer meeting as you sit in the lobby waiting
  • During the meeting (it's not about you, it's about the customer)
Now many of you who sell to the top levels of the business world, are probably wondering, “Well that’s easier said then done. The fact is, that I have never been a CEO of a major company so I can’t relate. I don't know what they go through!” Right? Wrong! You can relate. Answer these questions:
  • Do you have to worry about making money?
  • Do big, high-risk decisions scare you?
  • Do you have bills to pay?
  • Have you been burned in the past when you bought something?
  • Do others depend on your strength at times?
  • Are decisions sometimes overwhelming when there is a lot going on?
Do you wish someone could show you a way to do things cheaper or faster without sacrificing quality (i.e., quality of life, quality of product, quality of service)?

If you answered 'yes' to most or all the questions, you can understand and ‘empathize’ with what top decision makers deal with on a daily basis. Managers or executives are dealing with similar issues but on the business front.

So the next time you have a high level meeting and are feeling intimidated, I want you to remember that the person sitting across from you has problems they need to resolve. They are looking to you to provide a solution which is why they will meet in person or speak with you over the phone. CEOs, Presidents, Vice Presidents are not aliens who possess some omnipotent power over the market and the future. They're people too...sorry, I just had an Oprah Winfrey moment.

Method Selling, is much like method acting. Put yourself in their shoes. As you’re talking to this person, get in character with them. Conjure up in your mind what it would be like to be that person in terms of responsibility. Think about how they ‘might be thinking’. Think of your own problems in the past.

Your answers to that top-level person’s questions or concerns should address some of the questions I’ve listed above. Remember, their job is to increase revenue and shareholder value (i.e., to make money for the company). Never lose sight of the obvious. As a salesperson, your job is to help, not hinder. Show these top-level executives that you have thought about “their problems” and have come to present some answers on how they can make or save more money.

Keep in mind that sometimes you have to show these top executives the painful reality of not making the necessary changes by buying your products or services. You must show them that it will cost them more to do nothing in the long-run. Make them feel the pain of mediocrity and holding onto the status quo. But you will only be believable if you: 1) put yourself in their position 2) thought of great ways to help them and 3) have some facts and figures to backup your claim.

How do you get them to feel the pain? Well, when the directors wanted 18 month old Opie to cry, what did they do? They took away a tomahawk he had grown accustom to holding onto. To get these top level executives in “character” so they can feel the pain, part of your job is to show them what will happen if they don’t stay current with the market changes. Take away their tomahawk (i.e., object of security) by demonstrating what their top competitors are doing or how much business or market share they’re losing. Again, have statistics and market figures that support your pitch. Whatever it takes to make them feel the pain.

Lastly, it doesn't matter what your business is; your job is to make people feel the pain of not making a change. If you're selling a product or service, your job is to show others that you can solve their problems or help them move forward. This especially applies to situations where you are trying to unseat an incumbent (i.e., someone, or something, they've been buying for years).

The equation is simple: if they feel the pain, they'll make the change. And, if you do this well, you might even make one of them cry on cue. When they do, hand them a tissue along with a business contract for them to sign. Remember, success happens for a reason!

Victor Antonio G.

Copyright © 2006 by Victor Antonio. All rights reserved. This article MAY be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, as long as the author’s name, website and email address are included as part of the article’s body. All inquiries, including information on electronic licensing, should be directed to Victor Antonio.

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