The Absence of Trust and The Imbalance of Power

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by Glen Williamson – CEO of KTF Training Ltd

When I started my sales career nearly four decades ago, I worked for a global logistics company. I remember, the sales director always used to say, Seize the Power. He meant that he wanted his sales team to show up in a way that enabled them to control the sales conversation. In this way, they were able to guide the client toward the right solution for them and create win-win outcomes.

Too often nowadays there is a concerning imbalance of power in the typical sales interaction. It plays out in what I call the Client vs. Seller Battle. Two competing interests come together in an attempt to form some kind of agreement based on an exchange of value. i.e., the seller wants to place the product, whereas the client wants to maintain its systemic integrity so that it can continue to compete and thrive in its market.

The modern client is time-poor, stressed, savvy, and understandably risk-averse. In order to make purchases, they need consensus from within their organization, and there are often numerous stakeholders to consult as the purchase increases in complexity and price.

Technology has given clients access to more information than ever before, and the trust of sellers is at a low level. Decades of dysfunctional selling, where the value conversation was largely absent and sellers were intent on forcing products onto clients, resulted in a loss of trust in the average seller’s ability to provide viable solutions. They reacted by keeping sellers at arm’s length and taking control.

So, in this complex, competitive environment, with pandemics, supply chain challenges, and looming recessions, the client must be certain that any purchase represents good value for the whole business. The systemic risk of a bad purchase is magnified in these conditions, and they cannot waste time with product-focused sellers making any effort to understand them. So, they skilfully commoditize the seller whilst extracting all the benefits they can from the product or service offering, testing whether the seller is motivated or capable to expand the conversation toward value. If they do, the conversation opens up and collaboration begins.

The problem is that the client can seldom see evidence in the way the seller shows up, that the seller is acting in their best interests. On the contrary, sellers often start talking about their product within minutes of the meeting commencing, which sends a clear signal to the buyer that they are self-interested.

Unfortunately, if the client is left on their own to buy, without the benefit of expertise from a well-trained, consultative seller, they enter the world of unintended consequences, i.e., they don’t see the bigger picture, strip the seller of margin, which makes them less interested in the deal, buy sub-optimally and everyone loses. This is why the Client Coach or Trusted Advisor sales type is so deeply valued by clients who know how important it is to be roundly informed in order to buy successfully. These sellers sell at much higher margins because buyers will always spend more if they are convinced that there is value in doing so.

So, the question is, how can sellers show up in a way that ensures that this imbalance of power does not exist? In a way that has the client and seller share the power so that an open, logical, and collaborative discussion ensues.

Here are four suggestions that will help sellers to equalize the power imbalance.

  1. Set the Agenda – when you set the agenda, you create the context for the meeting in line with what the client believes represents success for them and then add value that they will get from the meeting over to exceed their expectations. This is an opportunity to collaborate from the outset and ensure the meeting stays on track. It increases focus, shortens meetings, and helps sellers to get to the heart of the matter more efficiently.
  2. Demonstrate Excellent Preparation – preparing for a meeting is often treated too lightly, but it makes a big difference in how a meeting initiates. Clearly, this means knowing your client, market, and product to a detailed level. But it also means turning up in the right mindset, intent and determined to help your client succeed. Without going over the top, don’t be afraid to demonstrate that you have cared enough to prepare, to find out about their company (and the individuals you are meeting) beforehand, because you respect their time, and that you are there to help them to make the right purchase.
  3. Demonstrate High Levels Of Expertise – Using a positioning statement is an effective way of telling them enough about you that you are able to then focus on understanding them. Don’t make the mistake of using brochures or PowerPoint presentations at the beginning of your meeting. Simply use a 60-second pre-prepared statement in a logical structure that uses at least one insight, based on research and experience to show that you understand them and can help them to make the right decision as you move forward together.
  4. Be Curious – ask powerful questions right to understand your clients’ deepest reasons for buying, the problems they want to solve and the results they want to achieve. Prepare your questions, but avoid being rigid in the asking of them. Listen carefully to the answers and use your expertise to probe deeper. Doing this well forces your client to evaluate. Remember, the better the question, the better the answer, and research tells us that people who ask powerful questions are much more likely to bond with the other person and to be remembered.

Developing trust is the key for the modern seller. You build trust by setting the agenda and showing up in a way that is in the best interests of your client, not you. By establishing yourself as an authority, and by demonstrating that you really understand the challenges your client faces in a complex, competitive environment. And you build trust by asking powerful questions that force your client to evaluate their world and see things they were not seeing before.

That is how the modern seller ‘seizes the power’ and take control of the sales conversation so that mutually beneficial outcomes are possible.

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