I value Lenann's counsel and thoroughly enjoyed her book, where she lays out clearly all the things that have become so basic to our company's sales approach. If a CEO of a services company is looking.. Samantha Lapin
President/CEO – POD, Inc.

Articles written by Lenann McGookey Gardner are available for print and online publication. To request usage permission, contact 505.828.1788 or email Lenann@YouCanSell.com

The Issue of Ego in Selling

Your prospect's ego is a huge factor in your sales success. Granted, as you are making a sale you want to come across as the expert in whatever you're selling. And naturally, your prospect does not know nearly as much as you do about what you sell. So right from the get-go, if you're not careful, you risk damaging your prospect's ego by making him or her feel at best naïve and at worst dumb. And this works against you in the sales process.

Egos are fragile things; people who feel inadequate move away from the person who made them feel that way. As a salesperson, while you may think saying "Things should be working better around here, and I can help" is a good thing, this has the dire potential to immediately offend your prospect. When you put someone down—even if you are making a valid point—your selling effort can fail.

So how can you avoid this pitfall?

The first lesson in dealing with ego is to never underestimate its power to distort reality. A man, stereotypically, may take offense when a saleswoman knows more about off-road vehicles than he. Even though a woman knowing more about SUV's than a man does not make him any less manly, the strange powers of the ego will make him feel this way.

Like a delicate kitten, your prospect's ego always needs a few strokes and a lot of attention. If you inadvertently do anything to bruise a prospect's ego, do damage control by taking responsibility for having misspoken, apologize, and switch gears to being more positive. An ego left damaged or deflated more than likely means no sale.

Part of protecting your prospect's ego is to get your own out of the way. Never be defensive when selling and never take criticism personally. Simply be inquisitive and believe the best of everyone. You need to stop worrying about yourself and focus on your prospect.

Another aspect of the ego issue is personalization. Many prospects will talk all day about problems in their organization. But it may be important for them to see the problem as a personal issue — their responsibility, a challenge to their leadership — in order for them to spend money to deal with it. In the selling process, we can often move the conversation in this direction by helping them find their "pain" — the problem they are trying to fix.

Ego and Pain

A great way to massage an ego while finding a prospect's pain is starting the sales conversation with truthful and positive comments. Is there anything positive (and honest) that can be said about their situation? If so, say that first and then add, "There does seem to be some opportunity in the ______ area, though, do you agree?" See if you can get your prospect to elaborate on that "opportunity area." Anything she says is more powerful than your poking at the weaknesses in her current operation — and deflating her ego.

Remember that, in order to sell, your prospect must have some pain with the way things are now. People will most always stay with the status quo unless they're uncomfortable with it, so it's our job as salespeople to find some pain, to get that pain into the front of our prospect's mind, and to get him to feel how much that pain hurts. When he's in touch with how much hurt he feels, he is more likely to act to alleviate that pain. And since you're with him when he's getting in touch with how much the pain hurts, the prospect is likely to act to alleviate the pain by working with you.

Here's an example of protecting a prospect's ego while finding his pain. Let's say you're selling consulting services. Your prospect says he doesn't really need a consultant and everything's going well. You need to praise his ego, but move on to discover his pain. Try, "I'm so glad to hear that your company's doing well, Jeff. It certainly does seem to be thriving! And, may I ask, how's turnover among your staff?" Perhaps he says, "It's OK. It's down from last year." You might pursue that: "Turnover's down. That's great! About where would you put the annual turnover percentage at this moment?"

Even if you then learn, as I did in a similar selling conversation, that turnover is down from 128 percent to just 78 percent this year, you've still got pain present. You could say, "Seventy-eight percent! It must be such a hassle having to replace more than three-quarters of your staff every year, even at that lower turnover rate."

At this point, the issue of the prospect's ego is out of the conversation, and you can now concentrate on offering to alleviate his pain. Ask your prospect for his opinion, his thoughts, his concerns, and what he would like to have happen. When you offer to give him that thing he wants, you are serving him rather than making him feel stupid.

Remember, begin with an ego-reinforcing comment, acknowledge anything positive that your prospect brings up, and then inquire gently about possible areas of pain. Ultimately, after you've conducted an inquiry to uncover multiple sources of pain, you will link working with you to the lessening or removal of that pain. That's a solid approach to contemporary selling.

About the Author:
Lenann Gardner is an internationally known sales consultant and author of Got Sales? The Complete Guide to Today's Proven Methods for Selling Services. A Harvard MBA, Lenann was the number one sales representative worldwide at a unit of Xerox Corporation, and achieved unprecedented results as a marketing executive at Mattel and Blue Cross Blue Shield. She coaches sellers of professional services worldwide, and is a winner of the American Marketing Association's Professional Sales "Marketer of the Year" award. For more information, please contact Lenann at Lenann@YouCanSell.com or at 505.828.1788.