The Science of Selling Through Emotional Connection and the Power of Story
Why Did We Write This Book?
We set out to demystify what great salespeople do. We began this journey primarily for ourselves, to improve how we sell. Sales is the only career the two of us have ever known. And we wrote this book to share what we’ve discovered along this journey—how we can all better influence change in the world.
Here’s what we always knew about selling:
People decide who to buy from as much as what to buy.
People prefer to do business with people like themselves.
Selling is a social endeavor involving interpersonal relationships.
A person’s effectiveness as a communicator has a direct impact on his or her effectiveness selling.
The best salespeople communicate in a way that gets people to share information about themselves; fosters openness to new ideas; and inspires others to take action (i.e., to buy).
What we didn’t know was what makes the best salespeople such effective communicators. Was it personality, intelligence, persistence, experience, background, or just plain luck? Was it an inherent gift, or could it be learned and taught?
We’ve been training salespeople for a combined 40 years. For most of that time, our definition of selling has been some variation of “helping people solve problems.” The definition was based on the belief that the decision to “buy” was like problem solving, logical and rational.
At the time we got into sales enablement industry, empirical industry research had established that what distinguished successful sellers from less successful sellers was questions: the best sellers asked their customers questions. Lots of questions.
So for our Solution Selling and CustomerCentric Selling workshops, we taught salespeople to ask buyers a series of logic-oriented questions designed to lead the buyer to conclude the seller’s product was the logical, right answer.
As it turns out, a lot of our basic assumptions were wrong. People are not logical and rational when making the decision to buy. Furthermore, asking buyers questions–at least the kinds of questions we were training salespeople to ask– is not an effective means of connection or persuasion. In fact, the way we conditioned salespeople to ask questions has proven to be often counterproductive.
It also turns out that a lot of the early sales industry research had misinterpreted what the most influential salespeople were actually doing. They weren’t just asking buyers questions; they were establishing emotional connections, building what we used to call “rapport.” They were doing things that weren’t being taught in our training or anyone else’s.
In the introduction to his best-selling book Solution Selling (1994), Mike wrote, “Superior sellers (I call them Eagles) have intuitive relationship building skills; they empathically listen, they establish sincerity early in the sales call, and they establish a high level of confidence with their buyer.”
These skills—relationship building, empathetic listening, and so forth—were not addressed any further in the book because, frankly, we didn’t know what else to say about it.
To our knowledge, they weren’t teachable skills.
Either you had the gift or you didn’t.
Nearly two decades after the publication of Solution Selling, the sales profession hasn’t changed much. Other professions have evolved and moved forward, but we’re still doing things the same way we did 20 years ago, and it’s still not working.
When we first began training salespeople, we used to talk about the “80/20 rule”: in most companies, 20 percent of the salespeople bring in 80 percent of the business, while the other 80 percent of salespeople fight over the scraps.
Through the years, only a few salespeople were able to develop mutual trust and respect with customers. Only a few were able to reach the high level of connection that fosters collaboration, the reciprocal sharing of ideas and beliefs that can move people to change.
If the prevailing sales models worked, you’d expect a shift away from the 80/20 rule over the years as more sellers improved and took a bigger slice of the pie. In fact, it’s gotten worse. Recent research shows that the gap between the best sellers and the rest of the pack has actually widened. This is an especially hard pill for us to swallow, because we’re the ones who created the paradigm.
So why aren’t we as a profession getting better at what we do? What’s holding us back? And why haven’t we been pursuing these questions more aggressively? It’s ironic: somewhere along the line, a profession whose prevailing model is based on questions stopped asking questions about itself.
So we did it. We began challenging our own beliefs, starting with, “Is there a better way?” This led to more and more research, a domino effect, and soon we found ourselves in fields of study that had been previously off limits to us—fields that explored the mysteries of communication that we’d written off as unteachable because they fell outside the purview of our models and industry research.
What we soon learned was that we should have been looking for answers outside the sales productivity industry all along. People in other disciplines already understood a lot more about sales than professional salespeople did.
Our research led us to an entirely new definition of selling. Selling isn’t about “solving problems” or “providing solutions.” Selling is influencing change—influencing people to change. This definition is based on a greater understanding of how we decide to trust some people and not others, how we decide to take a leap of faith and try something new, how we decide to buy or not to buy.
In this book, we share our stories and our findings, drawing on our decades of personal selling experience and synthesizing research from a wide range of disciplines including neuroscience, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and others.
We pull it all together into a field-tested framework developed in our Storyleaders™ workshops that will help you influence change. It’s a book for sales professionals and for anyone else—executives, politicians, teachers, attorneys, consultants, parents, etc.—whose work involves influencing others, whether you’re “selling” products, services, ideas, advice, or beliefs.
By demystifying what great salespeople do, we believe we ourselves have better learned to influence change, develop deeper relationships with our customers, and find greater meaning in selling.
Build better relationships and Sell More Effectively With a Powerful SALES STORY
“Throughout our careers, we have been trained to ask diagnostic questions, deliver value props, and conduct ROI studies. It usually doesn’t work; best case, we can argue with the customer about numbers―purely a left brain exercise, which turns buyers off. This book explains a better way.”
―John Burke, Group Vice President, Oracle Corporation
“Forget music, a great story has charm to soothe the savage beast and win over the most challenging customer. And one of the best guides in crafting it, feeling it, and telling it is What Great Salespeople Do. A must-read for anyone seeking to influence another human being.”
―Mark Goulston, M.D., author of the #1 international bestseller Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone
“Good salespeople tell stories that inform prospects; great salespeople tell stories that persuade prospects. This book reveals what salespeople need to do to become persuasive story sellers.”
―Gerhard Gschwandtner, publisher of Selling Power
“This book breaks the paradigm. It really works miracles!”
―David R. Hibbard, President, Dialexis Inc™
“What Great Salespeople Do humanizes the sales process.”
―Kevin Popovic, founder, Ideahaus®
“Mike and Ben have translated what therapists have known for years into a business solution―utilizing and developing one’s Emotional Intelligence to engage and lessen the defenses of others. What Great Salespeople Do is a step-by-step manual on how to use compelling storytelling to masterfully engage others and make their organizations great.”
―Christine Miles, M.S., Psychological Services, Executive Coach, Miles Consulting LLC
About the Book:
This groundbreaking book offers extraordinary insight into the greatest mystery in sales: how the very best salespeople consistently and successfully influence change in others, inspiring their customers to say yes.
Top-performing salespeople have always had a knack for forging connections and building relationships with buyers. Until now, this has been considered an innate talent. What Great Salespeople Do challenges some of the most widely accepted paradigms in selling in order to prove that influencing change in buyers is a skill that anyone can learn.
The creator of Solution Selling and CustomerCentric Selling, Michael Bosworth, along with veteran sales executive Ben Zoldan, synthesize discoveries in neuroscience, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and other disciplines, combining it all into a field-tested framework―helping you break down barriers, build trust, forge meaningful relationships, and win more customers. This book teaches you how to:
- Relax a buyer’s skepticism while activating the part of his or her brain where trust is formed and connections are forged
- Use the power of story to influence buyers to change
- Make your ideas, beliefs, and experiences “storiable” using a proven story structure
- Build a personal inventory of stories to use throughout your sales cycle
- Tell your stories with authenticity and real passion
- Use empathic listening to get others to reveal themselves
- Incorporate storytelling and empathic listening to achieve collaborative conversations with buyers
Breakthroughs in neuroscience have determined that people don’t make decisions solely on the basis of logic; in fact, emotions play the dominant role in most decision-making processes. What Great Salespeople Do gives you the tools and techniques to influence change and win more sales.