Magic words. Every salesperson knows an ‘open sesame’ or some equivalent won’t close a deal. But that doesn’t mean we stop wishing it would. How much easier would our lives be if we could rely on a few powerful phrases to at least get people’s attention, if not their commitment?
‘Magic words’ also happens to be the name of a recent ‘This American Life’ podcast. Ira Glass didn’t talk about sales. But while listening to his reporting on caregivers for Alzheimer’s patients, people who struggle daily to communicate with someone who has passed into another place, I made a connection.
For years, the MO for these caregivers was ‘keep them with you’. Remind them what day it is, where they’re living, who will come to visit, and which granddaughter just had a baby. Doesn’t work, though. Alzheimer patients seem to be living vivid lives in other times and places. One interviewee, with a background in comedy improv, made a valid parallel. In comedy or care, she said, the other person is never wrong. You need to follow them, and keep close to their feelings, thoughts, and mental pictures. The patients utter the ‘magic words’, not the caregivers.
Salespeople: please note a parallel!
How do you describe a person who is able to meet other people on their turf? Empathic. How could we describe their communication style? Effective. And what kind of salespeople might they be? Elite.
Many sales folks make the mistake of presenting their case, and making their pitch, without ever considering the buyer’s POV. I’ve known sales people who probably never even realized the buyer was in a distinctive space, with powerful yearnings and incentives that might have nothing to do with the pitch — but everything to do a feeling or motivation you can connect with if you follow important cues.
The ‘thing’ they want could be the thing you’re selling. But what they are really looking for might be a feeling, a sense of belonging or security, or a worry that hasn’t yet been soothed. If you don’t allow the buyer to express their concerns, feelings, or wishes, you probably can’t see them, and certainly you won’t understand them.
No matter what you’re selling, with most buyers there’s a deeper level of connection beneath the product or the service. That’s what has pushed them this close to a commitment. But in that last critical step, the magic words will be the ones you hear, because they will convey the dream or yearning beneath their thoughts.
Rather than catalogue misunderstood words, imagine the intersection between what you’re providing and what the buyer wants:
- Insurance agent is selling: A life insurance policy with all the bells and whistles.
The Buyer: Wants to buy a legacy for their children.
- A boutique owner is selling: A trendy handbag made of Italian leather.
The Buyer: Lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and wants to fit in with her neighbors.
- A career coach is selling: A package of worksheets and private sessions.
The Buyer: Wants a mission in life.
In every case, the salesperson can get some wins by being persuasive. But they can expand their opportunities by following the buyer first. A buyer who is wary, even cynical, likely will give you points for your listening skills. Everyone craves true understanding.
But if you can discern that need for a mission, for belonging, for soothing her fears, how much more powerful and persuasive could you be?
Compassionate people are, generally, more empathic.
When they’re salespeople, they convert magic cues into all sorts of success.