By Grant Leboff, CEO of Sticky Marketing Club

What happens when you ask for directions? You interrupt someone, stopping them from going about their business, yet people are rarely rude. This is because of the way we ask. We will normally say, ‘Excuse Me’ in a slightly deferential way. We continue, ‘I wonder if you can help me? Could you tell me where Bromley Place is?’

The immediate response someone has to ‘I wonder if you can help me?’ is; ‘If I can, I will’. They won’t verbalise this response but it is an automatic thought to the request. This is because people ‘Respond In Kind’. It is a golden rule of Human Nature and why life can often be a self fulfilling prophecy.

For example, if one goes to a party deciding it won’t be any good, it won’t be. The body language and messages we will subconsciously display, will be negative. People will automatically ‘Respond in Kind’ by keeping their distance.

What does this mean in a sales situation?

It means that if we are not being received the way we would like, it is our fault. For example, if we visit a potential customer and are nervous and hesitant, we will not come across as very competent. Our potential customer will respond in kind and treat us as incompetent.

Similarly, when selling, people often inadvertently ask stupid questions and find the response is therefore rude. For example, try calling a potential customer and opening up the discussion by asking them if they would be interested in your accounting services. The answer will be ‘No’ and you will be treated as stupid, because it is indeed, a stupid question. If they were interested in your particular accounting services they would have called you.

No one sits by the phone in desperate need of a product or a service, hoping someone will call. Mistakes of this kind are made all the time without people realising it. Questions that lead people down a certain path, where they have no choice, have the same affect. So, for example, saying in a sales meeting; “If I could save you money would you be interested?” will only illicit a negative reaction from the client. They will treat you like a fool because that is how you are treating them. Asking a question like that gives them no choice. Of course people are interested in saving money, but nothing is ever that simple.

There will be other considerations to take into account before people start making buying decisions. This question, however, tries to get them to agree to a sales proposition when they know they are not yet ready to do that.

Most of us innately ask for directions in an amenable way and, therefore, get a similar response. What is interesting is if someone can’t help us, they will often apologise. “Sorry, I don’t know where that is” or “Sorry I’m not from round here”. Think how powerful that is. You interrupt someone, who is busy, and within a few seconds they are apologising to you because they can’t help.

If we understand this, it can help us when we are selling. If we know how we want a potential client to react, it is up to us to ensure we illicit that response. If you are not getting the reaction you hope for in meetings, or on calls, it is important to analyse where it is going wrong. Is it what you are saying or the manner in which it is being said?

When we start a sales meeting it is normally the person selling who has more of an agenda. It is up to the salesperson therefore to set the tone. By understanding that people respond in kind, a salesperson can, to a large extent, influence the reaction they will receive and take some of the unknown out of the process.

Grant Leboff is Author of Sales Therapy (Wiley) and Sticky Marketing (Kogan Page). He is CEO of Sticky Marketing Club www.stickymarketing.com

Join us on
Follow @freshbusiness