Authenticity and Sales



Have you ever sent an email with the following opening phrases? How about in a conversation with a prospective customer?

  • “I hope all is well with you.”
  • “How are you doing?”
  • “Are you having a stellar week so far?”

You probably have. I certainly have. My go-to opening is the first one, in fact. You probably have your own favorite catch phase, that old standard you can rely on when reaching out to somebody who doesn’t know you.

The thing is, when we use these phases, do we even care about the answers? Maybe we think we do, but when we dig a bit deeper, all we really want is to advance the conversation towards a meeting and eventually to a deal. It is not that the phrases themselves are at fault, they are merely filler in what is an unnaturally awkward and potentially hostile interaction. These are the conversational equivalents of fake plastic trees; they are dressing to cover up the bland scenery.

After the awkward opening phase, we then enter the land of inconsequential small talk. Here we get to engage in breezy dialogue about the weather and the traffic getting to the customer’s office. Some excel at this banter. For most however, it is simply more uncomfortable confirmation for everyone involved that we are engaged in a “sales experience”.

Finally, if all goes well, we reach the negotiation posturing stage where we square off to gain some false sense of advantage. Of course, the negotiation power mostly favors the customer and their team of haggard procurement and legal people seeking blood and ready for some ground and pound sales beatings. The result is that the posturing leads to an 11th hour situation on the last day of the month where the sales team eventually capitulates on most of the terms.

This might describe your own sales efforts. It feels painful but is so common that we do not think much about it. If we are winning, that is all that matters. If we are losing, well you can pick up the consolation steak knives on the way out the door. Maybe a tweak to the sales process here, offering up some training courses there, or a wholesales rip and replacement of the team is what’s in order. If we spend any time at all on “why” we sell, we only focus on the surface.

I spoke recently about the need for salespeople to have more heart in our sales. It is at the center of everything you do as a professional. In sales, that means not coming off as some caricature of a professional, where you merely act out the part of “sales rep” in some lurid play that feels like a third rate Glengarry Glen Ross. The salesperson with heart is one that can relate and connect more naturally with prospects and customers. That is because when you approach sales with heart, you care about your customers. And with caring comes a deep interest in who they are as people and how to make them successful. More succinctly, you do not feel like a fraud when talking to customers.

This is what I mean by “why” when I talk about sales. Everyone has different motivations for entering a particular profession. Most assume that money is what drives sales people, and by and large that would be correct. It is never that cut and dry however, as the best sales people have a much deeper internal drive. Money for them is merely the consequence for doing what comes naturally in their career. When you observe these salespeople, the first word that usually comes to mind is authentic.

You know it when you come across something that feels authentic. There is nothing forced or awkward about the experience. There is a flow much like that of a great song or beautiful painting. With skilled artisans and accomplished artists, you feel the deep sense of caring that comes through their work. Their craft is sharpened by experience and by care.

When we go back to our example of the prototypical sales process from above, I think you would agree that it does not feel authentic. Maybe it does not have the tainted sheen of the used car salesman, but there is nothing that feels natural about the experience. It is a forced march from initial call to close. Maybe the customer is successful, maybe not, but at least the sales team got its cut.

This is not to say that sales must be pleasant. There are plenty of very uncomfortable conversations that must occur during a sale. The fact that you are selling something new or different into an organization necessitates disruption and change. The unexpected difference however is that it becomes easier to initiate and navigate those challenging discussions when you come from a heart of caring. When our motivation is driven by success in others, we want to spend the extra time to get aligned on needs and expectations rather than race towards quarterly deadlines.

From the customer perspective, they are attracted to an authentic experience. We all can tell the difference when we see sales pitches from salespeople that do not care. There is no passion, the presentation is flat, and the sense of “why” is missing. Those that exhibit a heart for sales and a focus on customers however bring an air of authenticity into the room. That is what builds bridges of trust that influences people to support the solution you propose.   Customers are turned on by the passion.

This is a challenging concept for most salespeople. We are taught to invest in tactics and techniques and tools. The what and how of sales is what is usually emphasized in training and in management. We skip over the “why” and then wonder why our teams are not performing. No amount of novel tactics though can substitute for heart from which breeds the foundation of authenticity.

So when you think about that next opening line, think about what you are really saying. Are you really being authentic? Do you really care how someone’s weekend was? When we do not care, we are being inauthentic, that is a simple fact. If you want to change up the typical sales script though, get inside yourself and find your personal “why” for what motivates you to sell. If it is a heart to make customers successful, then you are on the right path for authentic sales.



Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by Alexandre Normand

About the author: Mark Birch

Mark is an early stage technology investor and entrepreneur based in NYC. Through Birch Ventures, he works with a portfolio of early stage B2B SaaS technology startups providing both capital and guidance in the areas of marketing, sales, strategic planning and funding.

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