We know that clients value insights and ideas. But what happens when, as often is the case, the insights and ideas conflict with your client’s view of the world. What is the best way to present those ideas so that clients are receptive and positive, rather than resistant looking for an escape hatch?
Norman Vincent Peale taught the world the power of positive thinking. Neurochemistry is teaching us the power of positive conversations. It sounds like common sense, but we all know how uncommon that is. Now there is science to back up and reinforce finding ways to gain and keep client interest.
Research by Glaser and Glaser shows that the words you chose when you speak to someone create a chemical reaction, which immediately produces either a positive or negative feeling in the person. So maybe the old adage of “sticks and stones” is not so true—names(words) can hurt your sales.
Glaser and Glaser point out that when people are engaged in conversations in which they face something they are not keen to hear such as criticism, complaints, or an argument against their thinking, their bodies produce cortisol. Cortisol activates conflict aversion and protection behaviors and shuts the brain down. It makes a person feel marginalized or diminished – not a good feeling at any time, but certainly not in a selling situation. Glaser and Glaser also point out that negative comments and conversations create a feeling of uncertainty, a feeling counter to making decisions and that feeling sticks much longer than positive feelings would last. The researchers conclude that when managers use negative language, they create dissonance and uncertainty in their people. And even when they use both positive and negative words, they have a negative impact. Accordingly, especially with risk adverse clients, negative comments are detrimental to communication.
Positive language, on the other hand, produces a positive chemical reaction by spurring the production of oxytocin, “a feel-good hormone that elevates the ability to communicate, collaborate, and trust others”, but which “metabolizes more quickly than cortisol, and therefore, is less dramatic and long-lasting”.
The question is how do you deliver information that has the potential to produce cortisol in a way that your clients remain open to what you say?
It is your job to give your best counsel. That often takes emotional muscle. There are times when you must deliver messages your clients will resist, or you have to broach subjects that you’re hesitant to raise. For example, share research designed to get a client to question the status quo or bring up the consequences of staying with the status quo. I think one of the reasons salespeople hesitate is that they view such conversations as “making the client feel the pain.” Glasers’ research creates compelling reasons to learn how to be frank about tough issues, consequences, or problems without using language that shuts clients down.
It takes mind-set and preparation to couch what you say in a way that takes your client’s feelings/chemical reactions into account. As you share your best thinking, remember you are selling to your clients’ rational and emotional selves, and rational arguments alone won’t win the deal. To reduce the sting of a message and increase the production of oxytocin:
Start by acknowledging the importance of the outcome to the client. As a part of the message, clearly articulate what the client stands to gain. Back it up with research. Provide a success story. Use hard numbers, whenever possible, by making comparisons on current cost, cost of doing nothing, and compare that with moving forward with the change.
Don’t start with the consequences of non-action. Tell your value story and get client feedback before advancing to consequences.
Rather than tell your client the consequences you see happening, ask questions -“Rich, how do you see continuing if you don’t make the change? What impact do you think that will have?”
Listen, acknowledge, probe and share your vision of impact of not taking action and ask for feedback.
Whenever possible, engage in these conversations with your client one-on-one to avoid egos getting in the way.
Most importantly, build trust with your client so, as the client listens, he or she actually seeks ways mentally to accept what you are suggesting vs. looks for the escape hatch.
Conversational Intelligence, according to Glaser and Glaser, is the ability to connect and think “innovatively, empathetically, strategically, and creatively with others”. It is a tall order. It is not a matter of “Happy Talk”, but rather recognizing the impact your words have on your clients. There is an old adage, “Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out.”