Tao of Sales
The Tao of Sales
An Easier Way to Sell in Tough Times
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Essential Selling Skills

This series of articles contains fundamental selling skill "How To's:"
How to listen better, create better rapport and trust, ask questions better, manage customer resistance and uncertainty better, give better presentations, be a better creative problem-solver for your customers. Each article includes simple action steps you can take right now to develop into a more successful salesperson - and sell "easier."

Chi Do It Now

Meet with someone you trust, a colleague, or even better, a customer, and get feedback on what happens to you when you feel "stressed" in a sales relationship. Ask what changes in your behavior and non-verbal communication the other person notices? (Remember to hear the feedback as feedback, not an evaluation, and accept it as potentially helpful information.)

Then ask what the impact of your stressed behavior might be on customers? Would it make them more competitive? More resistant? Or would it make them uncomfortable? Next, think about what concerns, fears, assumptions or beliefs trigger your stress response. Finally discuss with your partner how else you might respond in situations like these and put those solutions into practice immediately.

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Other Articles in this Series

Becoming a Superstar Sales Listener

Recommended Books
Click on titles for more information

Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition; Why It Can Matter More Than IQ

Working with Emotional Intelligence

Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence

Influencing with Integrity: Management Skills for Communication and Negotiation Revised Edition

The Tao of Sales: The Easy Way To Sell In Tough Times

Introduction: What is Emotionally Intelligent Selling?

(C)2007 E. Thomas Behr

To use a metaphor I come back to in other articles, imagine that your mind is like an iceberg. The 10% that's above water comprises your conscious awareness; the 90% that sinks deeply into the water (supporting the 10% above) is your subconscious mind. Research has conclusively demonstrated that for most people, the 90% or so comprising the subconscious mind, is actually what causes us to act the way we do. The subconscious mind influences, and at times drives our behavior, and thus the results we experience, usually without our awareness of what's going on.

For many people that's an uncomfortable thought - we like to think we're consciously in control of what we do. But consider what happens we're frightened or startled. Imagine that you're driving home at the end of day, sort of on "auto pilot" since the roads are familiar, thinking about something else, and a car suddenly runs a stop sign right in front of you. You don't think your way through that situation. Some other part of the mind takes over. The same thing happens when we get angry. The "it" that we lose when we "lose it" is our ability to think rationally.

What's going on is an instantaneous "fight" or "flight" stress reaction, in which the primitive "survival mode' of the brain takes over, instinctively and automatically bypassing the conscious thought process, triggering the nerve center of the brain, the amygdala, to start pumping powerful hormones into our system. These hormones then redirect blood flow away from the brain to the major muscle systems of the body required for physical response, increasing heart rate, and focusing our attention on the physical threat we're confronting. One of the most powerful of the stress hormones, cortisol, has the effect of significantly limiting our ability to think logically and consider choices and consequences. Now consider an interpersonal interaction that didn't go well for you - with a customer, a colleague, or even a member of your family. Did you think your way through that situation? Or did you "lose it," by getting angry, scared or frustrated and trying to force things your way? Or did you just "bail out" of the situation in an emotional "flight" response?

The stress response also has its own "memory," designed to speed up reaction to real or perceived dangers. So if we've had a bad experience with someone - a customer, a colleague, or even a family member - the subconscious mind identifies that person or situation as threatening, and prepares the automatic stress response for self-defense by putting us into a "pre-stress" state of anxiety. Then, because we expect the situation or relationship to be difficult, it is.

The first aspect of Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognize what's happening inside our subconscious mind when we're under pressure or stress (such as making a sale, meeting a quota, or dealing with a difficult manager or customer). The payoff - becoming more aware of what's really happening so we can better control and adapt our response - and get better results. But the impact of the subconscious mind, and thus the importance of Emotional Intelligence, isn't limited to dealing with stress. The subconscious mind acts as a powerful filter and control mechanism on our daily behavior by shaping what we believe is appropriate, possible and safe for us to do. Simply put, our innate, unconscious beliefs determine what we attempt to do, and govern how we go about doing it - enthusiastically and confidently or skeptically and half-heartedly. The key to this control mechanism is our self-talk - the conscious "messages" the subconscious mind sends us: "That's a snap." "The customer will love this." "This is a slam dunk." "No problem." or "This won't work." "I couldn't do that." "They'll never agree to that." "No way."

The second aspect of Emotional Intelligence is the ability to shape and manage our thinking so we reduce the limiting effect of negative expectations and create a wider, better range of possibilities. To the subconscious mind, "irrational" biases and expectations make perfect sense. It takes the conscious application of thought and awareness to keep our subconscious fears and misconceptions from severely limiting our actions and minimizing the results we experience from those actions.

Finally, it's critical to recognize that the same unconscious process is going on with the people that matter to us - customers, colleagues, bosses, friends and family. Emotional Intelligence also includes the skills (such as communication, conflict resolution and influence) that help others deal more effectively with stress and make better decisions by understanding and managing their emotions. The major source for general readers to learn about this process is Daniel Goleman's work, starting with his international best-seller, Emotional Ingelligence.

In Goleman's description, Emotional Intelligence breaks into two area of competence: Personal Competence (our ability to think and act with self-awareness) and Social Competence(our ability to interact effectively with others). Within each of these two areas, EI further breaks into two types of competency: Awareness and Management.

Self Awareness means understanding how one's emotions shape (or limit) one's perceptions, beliefs and emotional responses, and thus largely determine both personal behavior and the results of that behavior. Self Management means using that self awareness to modify or adapt one's perceptions, beliefs and emotional responses to behave differently and get better results. Both areas of Social Competence, Awareness and Management, mean helping customers do the same for themselves.

Why does this matter? While there's still a lot of academic debate within the EI field (google the Wikipedia article on "Emotional Intelligence"), this much seems unarguably clear:

Contrary to what we consciously think (and want to believe), our subconscious mind is really in the driver's seat in determining behavior and decisions (such as a customer saying "yes" to a sales proposal). The value of Awareness is understanding why we (and our customers) really do what we do. Awareness gives us access to the subconscious beliefs and needs that strongly influence how we sell, how customers make buying decisions, and the results we and our customers experience. It also clarifies how both our emotions and our customers' can get in the way of a successful sale and buying decision.

Our mind is designed to react instantly and totally to any perceived threat or danger, not only to our physical safety, but also to our "psychological safety" and self-esteem. Unless we deliberately slow down and manage this "automatic threat response," we can completely lose our ability to think through problems, handle challenges, and capitalize on new opportunities. The more self-control we develop, the greater our capacity to increase self-control and influence events; the more we simply subconsciously react to what happens around us, the more we live life as self-created "victims" of our circumstances.

Our perceptions determine what we believe is "reality." As Goleman says in Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception, the range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice there is little we can do to change the behaviors that automatically result from our perceptions - unless we increase our awareness.

Think what it might mean to you and your career if you were able to:

Future articles in this series will discuss each of the four dimensions of Emotional Intelligence Self-Awareness. Self, Management, Empathy and Social Skills.