Keeping it real: Cultivating honesty to build better customer relationships
When I worked at Apple as one of their lead salespeople, the first thing they taught me was that, in order to sell anything, you had to get to know the customer and let the customer know you.
That’s part of the delight in going into an Apple Store, right? Friendly people in brightly colored shirts come and talk to you about their band and let you talk about your boyfriend who wants to be a photographer but doesn’t have the tools to edit his pictures.
When you know something about a person, it’s easier to trust them. And when you when you trust someone, you can be more straightforward and honest about how you’re feeling and what you need to move forward.
Read on for ways to build trust with prospects and how it’ll help you close deals.
Find the Why
In her book You’re Not Listening, Kate Murphy breaks down some of the inherent issues with both listening and hearing that most of us deal with. In fact, she suggests, despite thinking that we’re good at listening, we’re often just waiting to insert our own witty thoughts or opinions into the conversation. With sales, it’s no different: you hear a customer speak about their need, and you’re already cataloging the best way to meet it in your head. That’s good sales, right?
Wrong. In order to go above and beyond, you need to listen between the lines and hear what the person is really asking about. Murphy recommends that you do this by trying to go a whole conversation without talking unless you’re responding to a question. By doing so, you give the person ample opportunity to talk about what they care about, and you take your brain out of the cycle of always trying to think about the next topic. You can be in the moment of the conversation.
The Positive Impact of Active Listening on Sales
Actively listening in this way will exponentially level up your sales. For example, let’s say you sell digital cameras. A person comes into your store and says that they want to purchase a digital camera. Sure, you could sell them the digital camera and create a good experience, but wouldn’t it be better if you asked them what they were looking for and why?
Maybe you uncover that they’re looking to buy it for a friend who has never actually done photography, but wants a new hobby because they’ve just gotten out of a bad relationship. Maybe you can relate because that was why you got into photography. By waiting just a bit longer before making the sale, you can learn:
- That community might be important to the person, given that they just got out of a relationship.
- That some kind of guidance would be good when using the camera, as they’ve never done it before.
- That they don’t need a super high-end camera, and so maybe have a higher budget to spend on peripheral items.
Instead of just selling the person a camera, then, you can build rapport by talking about your own experience getting into photography, can suggest a group course for them where they can build community and learn how to shoot a good photo, and sell a camera and some potential extra peripherals that might help them get started on their journey. Bonus points if you’re able to speak to your own personal experience with using those products.
By listening and by being yourself and sharing your own story, you create loyalty and trust with the customer. They understand that you get where they’re coming from, and they feel like they can really trust your recommendations. The next time they need any kind of camera or photography accessories, they’ll come to you, and probably recommend you to their friends.
According to Power Reviews, 95% of customers will consult online reviews prior to purchasing a product or talking to a sales consultant. When you take the time to cultivate trust with your customers, you create better experiences, and you make long-lasting impressions and memories in their minds.
To take it back to the camera shop example: if someone came into the store and said they wanted a camera and you just sold it to them, it would be a good experience, sure, but they likely wouldn’t be wowed enough to review your store or the sales experience online.
In the second instance, where you recommended a training, some accessories, and maybe even saved them a few bucks, you built a personal relationship. That customer feels like they have a bond with you — a bond that makes them feel even more compelled to leave you a good review.
Having a relationship with the company and the people that work there helps customers overcome their fear of risking their reputation on your behalf. They wouldn’t do it for someone they don’t know, but because you kept it real, you are no longer a stranger.
With both romantic and professional relationships, honesty is the best place to start. Dan Ariely wrote about in his 2012 book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty that people will lie when we are fairly certain we can get away with it, but just by a little, and about things we can justify.
Another thing about honesty is that it’s “not just about telling the truth. It’s also about telling the truth in a way that [the other person] will hear it and benefit from it. We all want to hear how great we are, of course, but we can also benefit from making some slight adjustments in how we do things.”
A great example of this is a study conducted by researchers at the University of California San Diego Emotion Lab on “prosocial” lies — the white lies we tell to be nice and encouraging when in reality we know that whatever we’re lying about needs improvement.
So even if it feels better to tell your customers that a feature they asked for is “definitely coming soon,” it’s better for them and for you if you just tell the truth. Your prosocial lie is just setting them up for failure.
Plus, your customers can tell when you’re coming from a disingenuous place and may even return the favor by ghosting you: a version of the same type of lie where we avoid conversations where we may have to express displeasure or “break up” with a person or company.
But when you’re real with your prospects, they’ll be real with you. This means that potential customers who aren’t ready to buy will feel comfortable telling you that instead of leaving you hanging or dragging the process out. While losing the sale might sting, a faster rejection saves you valuable time.
And as an added bonus, when you’re straight up with your prospects about what your product can and can’t do, you’ll get better insights into what they expect and be able to provide better service to get them to where they need to go. Not only does this help them, it’ll help you improve your product and sales process.
Without a candid relationship like this, many of those insights would be lost inside the haze of small, prosocial lying and you’d end up missing the sale or getting ghosted, doomed to send follow up emails until the end of time.
Keeping it real with customers is easy. But, for many salespeople who have been encouraged to put on a persona, it can be difficult to step out of that role and back into authenticity. However, it’s worth the effort.
You learn about customers’ motivations for using your product and what they really want to get out of it, as well as what else they might buy, and you get the opportunity to endear yourself and your brand more to them. From this, you get more and bigger sales, better reviews, faster disqualification, and more insights. All of this keeps your sales cycle going strong — it’s not just the one sale that you’re looking to make, but a long-term, real relationship.
So keep it real. Listen, be honest, and be yourself. They’ll love you!
This is a guest post from Mercer Smith-Looper. Mercer is Director of Support at Appcues, a yoga fanatic, and strives to make the world a little bit happier one customer at a time. You can find her at mercenator.com and on Twitter at @mercenator.
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