Are you blind to the political issues and candidates that impact your family, your sales business, and your clients? Even if political, economic, social, and cultural issues aren't high on your radar, are you going to simply avoid the subject during this election season? Could you if you wanted to? Few of us, no matter how well or ill informed we may be, can honestly say that we have no opinions regarding the candidates and the issues.
As salespeople we spend a fair amount of time trying to develop relationships built upon trust, honesty, and openness with our prospects and clients. We claim that we want to build relationships with our clients, we want to get to know them as people and not just as potential purchasers, we want to create friends, not just accounts. Many of us go to great lengths to learn how to read body language, to communicate in a manner that caters to the prospect's personality type, to read the unspoken signals the client sends through how they dress, how they decorate their office, what they drive, and what they do for recreation and relaxation. Our goal we say is to treat the prospect as a whole person.
Nevertheless, our holistic approach to sales is one sided. For many of us, there are areas of discussion and interaction that we want to hide from our prospect. Let the conversation get close to the area of political or social opinion and all the sudden many of us no longer are too anxious to build the relationship on honesty and openness. Instead of openness, we seek to avoid; instead of honesty, we seek to muddy the waters to the point our client has no idea where we stand.
Many of us will spend the next few months doing a delicate dance of avoidance, trying to offend no one while insisting that we are open, honest, trustworthy individuals, intent only on meeting the prospect's needs and becoming trusted advisors. We'll try to build relationships based on getting to know our client while allowing them to get to know only three quarters of us. We'll try to balance on the head of pin, afraid that if we reveal ourselves as a political or socially aware person we'll offend, we'll step on toes, we'll lose a sale.
In my opinion-and experience-not only is this behavior ingenuous, but it is itself destructive. Prospects and clients expect each of us to have opinions and they are quite aware that those opinions may be counter to their own.
What are we communicating to prospects and clients when we try to sidestep discussion of the issues or candidates? Many immediately assume we're avoiding the issue because we hold opinions we believe are counter to theirs-so whether their assumption is correct or not, by avoiding the discussion we risk offending the prospect by unintentionally communicating a contrary opinion to theirs. A few may assume that we're not informed well enough or care enough to have an opinion. Most will assume that we're simply trying to play the game, trying to be 'real' as long as that reality doesn't involve anything of substance in our personal lives.
Conventional wisdom has been to avoid political discussion. Conventional wisdom comes from a time when the emphasis wasn't on building long-term, trust based relationships with prospects and clients.
I'm not advocating you initiate political and social discussion, but avoiding it isn't going to advance the relationship either.
Seldom have I found discussing these issues to be, well, an issue. I have lost a few sales that I can trace to these types of discussions, but I can identify many more sales I've made where the sale had its roots in a willingness to engage in political and social discussions.
As long as you are respectful of the prospect's point of view, have reasoned arguments for your stance, and don't engage in inflammatory language, there is no reason to fear alienating a prospect or client. In fact, if you can intelligently discuss the issues in light of how they may impact your prospect's business, you may find that your discussion instead of being a potential minefield may be one of the most compelling reasons to do business with you. Prospects and clients not only respect honesty, they also respect salespeople who understand their business and the future prospects for their business. By demonstrating an understanding of how political, economic and social issues may affect your prospect's future, you demonstrate an intimate knowledge of their business-and prospects love to do business with people they trust and who really understand their problems, issues, and opportunities.
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