Selling Comes Second

Many people who sell get it wrong.

Wikipedia defines selling as “offering to exchange an item of value for a different item” the different item usually being money.  The idea of exchange of values, where both parties get what they want and need, is the key.  That definition obscures a problem many salespersons experience.

It is not enough to “offer” the service or goods.  It is essential to know the purpose of the goods or service as observed from the customer’s vantage point.

The rule is that people neither solve a problem nor exploit an opportunity until they know that they have one.

Sales people frequently arrive at the solution before the problem has been fully developed.  Accordingly, the client fails to see the fit and dismisses their proposal.  Who wins in that transaction?

All sales people must recognize that their product is a solution.  It is not an object or service that exists in and for itself.  People buy things for what they do and not for what they are.  People may acquire a fine painting because they like it, and it gives them pleasure.  Providing pleasure is the solution to the problem of emptiness.  Simultaneously, it may provide an investment opportunity.  A double win.

Sales people spend too much time on product and technique.  While important and necessary, sales are lost by addressing the advantages of the product only.

My son Peter took a course in dispute resolution some time ago.  I am sure he remembers more than one thing, but the one thing that stuck with me is that you must not only know what the other person believes, you must know how they came to believe it.  Many sales people know neither.

It is like the late Stephen Covey’s Fifth Habit of Highly Effective People.  “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  Understanding what the person believes and how the person came to believe it is the key to completing the sale.  Your product or service can fit with the underlying experiences, beliefs and biases or not.  If not, it saves everyone time and effort.

MDRT has noticed the same essential.  People value those who help them identify a problem they did not know they had, or who provide a creative solution to a problem they do know they have.

Depth is the way to get there.


Client, “Cash value life insurance is a bad deal.”

Agent, “How did you come to believe that?’

Client, “My father told me when I was a kid.”

Agent, “When was that?”

Client, “In the mid ’60s”

Agent, “He was right.  Then!   Let me show you how that kind of insurance is different today and how it specifically addresses the purposes you have indicated.”

People always act for a reason.  You will sell less if you do not understand the customer’s reasons.  Yours do not matter.

Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario. Contact: 

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