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I recently finished reading a fascinating book by a woman who escaped from North Korea after living there for her first twenty years. When confronted with the reality and full details of life in North Korea during the famine of the 90’s, it was really hard for me to even believe anyone could accept that kind of life, without rebelling, even at sure fire risk of death.  One of the author’s conclusions is that the final stage of imprisonment is always self imposed, and consists of that mental step of choosing what we see and what we refuse to see in the world around us.  In other words, we build the last wall of our own prisons.  At the end of the journey, the only thing that can fool us, is us. She recognized that until something broke the “spell” she had on herself, she was choosing to only see what she wanted to see, and ignore the things that would force her to take a risk and act. She had but the final wall of her mental prison up by selectively blocking part of reality.

I think that same thing happens in both sales people, and in their prospects, and feeds a lot of the acceptance of the status quo thinking, regardless of how broken it is.

Prospects build the final wall of their own mental prison by choosing to only see the reality they recognize and feel comfortable in.  Any evidence that forces them to become aware of things they don’t want to admit to simply gets ignored.  They’ll avoid seeing evidence that would make it harder to continue the status quo. That’s why they sometimes refuse to consider logical information that seems obvious to the sales professionals who call on them.

As a salesperson, it is likely you are doing the same thing.  The way you do it is by ignoring evidence that you need to challenge the inaccurate thinking of your prospect.

“People buy from people they like and trust,” you tell yourself, and since calling someone out rarely makes you like-able, why take the risk?  The result is that you accept (because silence = consent) false premises and then try to rationalize your value proposition or refute objections that are built around the false premises, instead of challenging the false premises. It’s pretty difficult to assemble something when you are using a different instruction manual.

The main and dangerous falsehood in that thinking is thinking that your job as a sales person is to build consensus with your prospect.  Choosing consensus over constructive conflict in a sales setting is the final self created wall of the mental prison that traps you into only being able to sign already convinced or mentally weak prospects.

Most of you would not do that in a personal setting.  Imagine that your beloved little sister starts to spiral out of control.  She starts drinking, using dangerous drugs and engaging in otherwise dangerous behavior.  Would you be worried about challenging her thinking and engaging in a conflictual conversation? Would consensus or agreement be your objective? Would you settle for false premises anchoring the conversation?

“Ok”, you tell her after the difficult conversation, “you’re right, keep using the heroin, as long as you stop the meth, because like you said, the heroin isn’t thaaaat bad for you?”

I think not.  In a situation like that, with those kind of stakes, only the truly weak will settle.  You are not weak willed.  I know that because you work in sales.  If you were truly weak in conviction, you’d be doing something else for a living. Sales isn’t a profession where the weak willed prosper.

  • You do not get someone to agree to your ideas by agreeing to all their ideas (especially the false ones).
  • You are not calling on a prospect to get them to accept you into their way of thinking.
  • Sales is about the transference of emotion and belief.  It is about getting your prospect to feel and believe about your product what you feel and believe about your product.
  • Constructive conflict doesn’t mean insulting or berating them, or talking down to them.  It doesn’t mean yelling or being rude.
  • Constructive conflict, or “challenging” is about not accepting as true things you know to be false, simply because you have some vested interest in being liked by the person saying the false things.

There is no quicker way to build trust with someone than by assisting them in seeing the world in a more accurate way. The difference between being a vendor and being an advisor is exactly that.

You are not helping the potential client you are pitching by going along to get along and agreeing with them on incorrect ideas that limit their ability to see the obstacles to their success. Like the troubled but beloved little sister in my theoretical above, if you really care about someone, you owe them the truth. Disrupting their false illusions is the most sincere and serving act of professionalism possible.