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When Features and Benefits Don’t Get It Done (an interview with Alen Mayer)

9 December 2013 2 Comments

Few weeks ago I was interviewed by the GiveGetWin Charity and I provided a sales training session with all the proceeds going to charity. Here is a transcript of my interview:

The New Rules For Sales — When Features and Benefits Don’t Get It Done 

Sales wisdom from Alen Mayer, as told to Chiara Cokieng

Alen Mayer is a veteran salesman and sales trainer. With over two decades of experience, he’s able to deliver results quickly and has powerful mental models for understanding sales. Most interestingly, he now has a specialty in how introverts can leverage their natural skills to even be better salespeople than extroverts!

Alen: I am a sales trainer. But first and foremost, I’m the person in sales for over 20 years now. I started very young during university selling bulldozers and excavators — heavy equipment. My whole career, I leaned towards sales.

Today, I fight the good fight for introverts out there.

Most people think salespeople are born to be good salespeople. Be loud. Be obnoxious. I’ve worked with everything from small Mom and Pop shops to IBM. And every time I train, I learn that introverts have more potential to be successful at sales. I want to share this with people. I want to help introverts overcome the situations they see on a daily basis.

The last five or six years, I’ve written a lot about sales. Most sales trainers stick with things from the 70’s or 80’s that worked 20 or 30 years ago, but the world has changed so fast and the sales industry hasn’t caught up. You can hear advice about sales from 50 years ago. Customers don’t need the salesman to explain everything about the product — they can Google it. The salesman now needs to help someone find the solution to their needs.

Sales talk and how people think about it needs to change.

And that starts with the salespeople.

In North America, 30% or 40% of salespeople are introverted. They think something is wrong with them. That they need to be louder or pushier, more aggressive. But that’s not true.

Many leaders in sales are self-admitted introverts. They learned how to use their natural strengths to sell. That you don’t need to be like the stereotype of a salesperson. You need to excel in your skills, show you really care, and really help, but you don’t need to be like that. Psychology is an important part of a sales role — how to communicate and how to approach people. Not approaching everyone the same way.

I am an introvert. But I used to not know much about it.

“Before I learned about introvert/extrovert, I thought something was wrong with me.”

After a presentation, I always need time for myself. To recharge. I have a colleague who is an extrovert. After a huge presentation, he wants to talk to 20 more people. Extroverts charge their batteries by being around other people, while introverts charge their batteries by being alone.

It’s not being shy. Shyness is something totally different. Introverts understand that; extroverts don’t.

My wife is an extrovert and when she sees my alone quietly in the audience, she’ll say jokingly, “What’s wrong with you?”

Nothing! We think before we talk, and we need time alone to think to recharge our batteries. A lot of sales people aren’t aware they’re introverts. Or that they could get a lot of strength from that. Instead, they think something’s wrong with them and that they should behave more like stereotypical salespeople.

I overcame that from a few experiences I had.You see a salesperson who is the life of the party and networks with everyone — but can’t sell. I was more shy, but always in the top 3 of actual sales.Sales is not about being loud or being the life of the party. It’s about bringing results and being good at what you do.

The one thing introverts have, that extroverts don’t understand

…is that we like to prepare ourselves for every situation.

Introverts love to prepare, to have questions and potential answers, to have answers to every objection we can think of. We have answers the clients may need. Extroverts generally don’t prepare that much. It’s in their nature. I’m not saying one is better than the other, it’s like being left-handed or right-handed.

When I realized how the introverted way works, I shared this with my team and later started training it. When introverts can draw on the strength that comes with them, they can sell even more than traditional sales people.

“Being the calm in the storm, I’d say.”

We’re often mistaken for being too reserved, too shy. We sit back and try to get a better vantage people. We try to understand the situation before we speak. An introvert will sit in the corner and think before speaking, but you’ll be surprised at what they have to say once they get the facts.

“They won’t speak up and fight with loud people, but they have important things to say.”

I’m working on a book about this right now: Getting introverted people in a company more involved. It’s a new field. If you Google it or check Amazon, there’s only one book about it besides mine. I’ve been surprised at the questions and interest I’m getting.

Between one-third and half of sales people are introverts, and if their manager is an extrovert, they think they need to be extroverted. You need to use your strength. Yes, fight your fears. But grow and develop your strengths, and help your team to grow if you’re talking business.

So what if you’re afraid?

First of all, you need to acknowledge your anxiety.

Look at athletes — they psych themselves up. But if you’re an introvert, don’t over-do it. Don’t imitate extroverts. Find your own voice. You need to be prepared and know what you’re talking about. An introvert’s advantage is being prepared. She knows exactly how the prospect can improve her bottom line, her products, her situation. Talk to her to get her ideas and her examples.

Many extroverts can’t connect with people because they see sales strictly as a job. Today they maybe selling computer software. Tomorrow they’re selling copy machines. But there’s no connection to the product or the company.

“If you can find a connection with what you’re selling, you have a huge advantage. You have passion for what you do. You understand things on a deep and complex level.”

Second, ask why you’re doing it.

You’ll go through difficult times in sales. It’s the only profession in the world where you’ll be unsuccessful 90% of the time, and be the best in the world.

Introverts are naturally rude less often. Many extroverts have a reputation of being loud to people they’re not directly selling to. Whereas introverts take a thoughtful approach. They work with everyone, the office assistant, all of their staff, the gatekeepers. These people can help you, while loud people are denied or ignored.

Introverts have a keen ability to observe other people. Clients will tell you everything you need to know if you observe. Not just verbal communication, but body language and many other cues. Introverts can learn how to read clients without words and develop their observation skills.

Knowledge is your advantage in any unknown situation, and reading people becomes a very valuable tool. For example, even if your client is an extrovert:

“How do you align with what they’re thinking and saying? How do you read their mind? How do you use language to speak their same language?”

I don’t mean English to English or Spanish to Spanish, I mean audio, visual, or kinesthetic. Introverts can pick these skills up quickly.

I’ve been spreading the word of combining NLP with sales over the last few years. People hear about NLP here or there. But like any tool, it’s all about how you use it. For sales people, it’s all about finding the tools that you can use practically tomorrow. The most important for this is pacing and leading, which is a cornerstone of NLP.

Have you heard about Tony Robbins? He’s an NLP guy, but he doesn’t promote NLP itself. It’s good on the motivation side, but it’s also transferable to everyday situations. What I mean by pacing and leading…

Many people who hear about NLP don’t really learn about it.

You don’t care what the technique is, as long as it helps you create a better relationship with the client. Whether it’s NLP or BLT, you don’t care.

Pacing and leading is sending the message to a client, “I’m like you. I behave like you.” People buy from people that are like them. It’s about the body movement, not just words. You can pace them and the loudness of their voice. This is complex and we can’t cover all of it, but you can pace even the speed of their voice and many things verbally.

You can pace their body movement. Move to the right if they move to the right. That’s called mirroring. Synchronize with the client, pace, pace, and then lead.

Many people misunderstand the goal of creating rapport with the clients.

They think it’s good to create rapport alone, but no — at the end, you have to lead them. In sales situations, it’s about taking a conversation to a situation where they buy from you.

There’s physical rapport and verbal rapport.

Physical rapport is this: When they move, you move. Repeat this. Then, at the end, you start leading.

With the verbal thing, it’s a bit more sophisticated. When you match or mirror your clients, you should wait to a count of three. If they cross their leg, you should wait three seconds and then cross your leg. Pacing. But try this first with friends and family, or at a coffee shop, not in a sales situation.

Match the speed of the person talking.

Let’s say you’re doing telephone sales. If you talk extremely fast, and the other person speaks extremely slowly, they won’t understand you. It’s too fast for them, so you need to slow down and adjust the speed you talk. That’s one way to create verbal rapport.

“Talk like your clients talk. Sound like they sound.”

If they have a really deep voice and you have a really high-pitched voice, you should adjust yourself. It’s all about having behavior flexibility. If you try something and it’s not working, maybe you should change and approach your clients in a different way.

It’s all about being flexible and approaching each client in a different way, depending on their situation. I like to say,

“Meet the clients in their world first, and then you can take them to your world.”

One thing people don’t understand is how to speak their client’s mind.

I’ll give you an example some people think is unusual. If I ask you, “Please tell me the most amazing vacation you had in your life.” I should pay attention to your answer.

There are three groups –

People who use visual words, expressions like “it looks like to me, I have a mental picture, a sight for sore eyes, tunnel vision, bird’s eye view” — visual words, clear, sight, see. You should communicate in the same language. “You’ll see the benefits.”

Other people are auditory. They use words like “loud and clear, to tell the truth, unheard of, voice an opinion” — these are all auditory words, people who like to express these. Say “You’ll hear the benefits, you’ll probably like.”

Third group is kinesthetic or emotional. “Hold on, get a handle on, pain in the neck, grasp, handle, feel.” They need to touch things. Even if you just give them the marketing materials, they need to touch and feel it before deciding anything. This is all technique: Feel, felt, found. “I understand how you feel. This is how other people felt, and they found…”

If they start talking visual, I’ll mention visual.

If they switch to emotional, “Well, Alen… This doesn’t feel right.”

“I understand how you feel”

And if they change back to visual, “We have to see results before we decide.”

“Fine. We’ll show you.”

Here is one thing I like to explain many people have never heard of:

When you try to sell to your clients, look for their motivation.

If I ask you any question about your goals, your targets, what you desire… You are either motivated towards goals or away from problems.

If you ask someone what they want in a new job, car, or house, they’ll start to tell you their values. And values are the real stuff.

Features and benefits don’t get it done. You need to talk about values. When you speak about values, you talk about good stuff. Real stuff.

I had a training for real estate agents. I asked if they ask why their clients bought their past home.

Some people would say, “I wanted a safe home.” They’re moving away from problems. Others will say, “It’s an up and coming neighborhood, it increased in value, and now we sold and made 30% profit.” That’s a towards answer.

“After you get the answer, ask, “Why is that important to you?” Then you hear real answers.”

Towards people, they talk about what they want, what they can achieve, the benefits. Everything indicates they’re moving towards something.

If you’re talking to towards-people, you can say, “Here’s what we can do, here’s what we can achieve, here’s what we can get.”

Away-from people talk about what to avoid. The whole insurance industry is built on people going away from bad situations.

With away-people, you can say, “We’ll get this fix, we’ll get this handled, we’ll get rid of any issues.”

Towards-people want gains, away-people want to get away from problems. I’m not saying one is better than the other — it’s all about understanding people and their motivation. Listen to what language your clients speak.


Related posts:

  • I see a lot of sales trainings focused on the product features and benefits. And though this is absolutely necessary, most do not lack product knowledge but rather how to communicate it.


  • Ian, yes, exactly. Everyone in the class was blown away with everything Alen discussed. It was so different from everything we’ve been taught.