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The Art of the Anti-Sell

Absolutely nobody wants to be sold to. Like nobody……seriously……nobody.

I hope you’ll stay with me long enough to hear a quick story about a well-intended woman and a kind-hearted man who locked into one of the most awkward conversations I have ever witnessed.

A Cringe-Worthy Story

Many moons ago when I was leading an asset management sales team, I had my entire crew in Toronto for a few days of offsite meetings. One evening we were enjoying a beverage at a rather swanky Toronto lobby bar. We noticed a well-dressed woman of around 40 sitting by herself at a table not far from us, glancing up occasionally to check the faces of the new people entering the bar. It was pretty clear she was waiting for someone to arrive.

Our casual curiousity became more acute when a man well into his 70’s entered the bar, sat down across from her and shook her hand cordially. We quickly deduced the character of the meeting. This was quite clearly a sales meeting. As they started talking, there was a familiar ring to the conversation. Our pretty lady was a financial advisor and this older gentleman was a prospective investor. Now we were really interested.

Very soon after they exchanged pleasantries, the lady began to talk. And she then proceeded to talk…and talk….and talk. She spoke about her client service model, she spoke about her happy client base, she spoke about her magic ability to pick stocks. If we hadn’t been so entertained by this window into our client’s world, we might have thrown up a little.

I was watching the body language of the older gentleman. It was quite clear that he was feeling a little squeamish himself. He nodded his head incessantly at the barrage of words coming at him. A few times he opened his mouth to speak, only to be cut off by the incessant onslaught. And he was literally squirming, unable to get comfortable in his seat. Clearly, this poor man was dreaming of being anywhere but here. And I didn’t blame him for a second.

What Are the Chances?

Now, what are the chances that this well-dressed (and likely well – intended) woman signed that kind-hearted man? I’d give it less than a 5% chance. You already know this instinctively. Why this interaction wasn’t a match made in heaven might be less obvious than you think.

So what’s this “Anti-Sales” thing? I’ve spoken before about how most salespeople would be far better off doing the exact opposite of their first inclination (see George Costanza Really Knew How to Sell). “Anti-Sales” is all about a non-traditional sales approach. Put bluntly, it’s about doing the exact opposite of what your client expects you to do. Let’s peer through our “Anti-Sales” lens to see what went wrong here. Oh, one more thing, the “Anti-Sales” lens is the client’s lens. It’s clear that the first critical mistake this well-intended lady made was looking purely through her own.

Traditional Selling Mistakes

First, let’s look at the swanky lobby bar. Even though the prospect may well have enjoyed this environment on his own time, the venue alone was likely a sign to him that this lady was hungry to impress. Strike one.

Second, the most obvious piece was the incessant talking. I’m not going to insult your intelligence by a long explanation here. Suffice it to say that at this point the older gentleman’s suspicions were likely confirmed. He was visibly aware of her desperation to sign this deal. I once had a close financial advisor friend tell me that he saw the same prospect twice, spaced apart by 3 years. After the prospect signed on the second visit he asked him why. The response that came back was that he didn’t sense the same desperation on the second go around…Nuff said.

Third, what did the lady know about the gentleman? Nothing! And yet, on she pressed with her pitch. That poor man was probably wondering how she could possibly know what he required without asking.

Fourth, the lady seemed to possess the Emotional Quotient of a slab of granite. The man was clearly uncomfortable with her pitch, yet she pressed on unfettered for the duration of the short meeting. It’s highly likely that her desperation was reaching a fever pitch. Instead of pausing to regroup, she pressed on with renewed vigour. Even a quick statement like “Jeez, I’m talking too much. I’d love to hear about YOU” likely would have put the meeting back on the rails…but that’s not what happened.

Fifth, there’s no way was this woman enjoying herself. She must have felt something between acute anxiety and panic attack. A simple question: Who can tell when you’re anxious? Answer: Everyone. I’m not sure about you, but this isn’t the mindset with which I’d prefer to spend my evenings.

The Art of the Anti-Sell

The art of the “Anti-Sell” means:

  1. It’s a sign of professional respect to provide a prospect with your background. After that, questions and responses to questions are fair game…nothing else.
  2. You “pitch” nothing at all. You simply respond to inquiries for information. And you don’t take promotional U-turns. You simply answer questions. Oh, by the way, authentic and succinct answers tend to inspire further questions. Giving people less information than they expect from a salesperson curiously leaves them wanting more.
  3. You see your clients as humans, NOT walking wallets.
  4. You know the types of people and personalities who fit with your personality and your business. In short, you’re searching for your tribe.
  5. You’re willing to walk away from those who don’t fit, regardless of the size of the wallet. You know on-boarding the wrong clients will cost you far more precious time and energy in the long run
  6. Doing the opposite of what your clients expect disarms them, leaving them far more open to actually hear what you’re saying when you’re speaking…which should be less than 40% of the time.
  7. You can completely relax and enjoy the interaction without having the anxiety of “pitching”

The Bottom Line (Pun Intended)

The bottom line is that “Anti-Sales” is far more effective in relationship selling AND it’s far more enjoyable. And yet 95% of sales professionals still have a chronic condition known as “SIP (Self-Inflicted Pitching) Disease”. It might be time for a mindset shift…quite an easy cure.

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Brent C. Wagner