7 Corporate Sales Persuasion Triggers

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Ever try to sell a product or service to a company?

Three words – Ack! Oy! Dohhh!

When I graduated college, I got a job selling long-distance telephone service to companies. Every day, I had to pick a building in my territory, take the elevator to the top floor, then start knocking on doors, saying, “Hi, I’m just stopping by to talk to the president about your telecommunications needs.”

By the end of the day, I’d been shown a sign that read, “Every 4th salesperson will be shot, the 3rd just left,” no less than a dozen times. Cute. Made me want to throw up, give up and go home.

To say I sucked at that job would be an understatement.

I didn’t last that long, but still, I think everyone should have to spend even a smallish bit of time in the rough and tumble world of outside sales. Because it forces you to remember there’s another human being on the other end of every conversation.

And, to realize sales is about listening and solving, not speaking and forcing.

Since then, I’ve learned a smidge more about selling ideas, services and products, both to individuals and companies. And, I’ve also become more than a little obsessed with the psychology of influence and persuasion.

That, in fact, is what underlies my obsession with marketing and copywriting. I’m fascinated by what it takes to move someone from cold prospect to happy and sold.

There’s a lot written on the dynamics of personal persuasion and sales. But when you’re selling to someone who works in a larger organization, there’s an extra layer of subtext you need to understand to be able to operate successfully.

So, I thought I’d share 7 corporate sales triggers that, acted upon, will immediately elevate your ability to close sales on a larger, entity-level faster and while having a lot more fun along the way.

The biggest thing to realize is that, even though you’re looking to solve the problem of an entity…

Businesses don’t decide, people do.

Think in terms of not only the benefit to the entity, but to the individual who has the ability to say yes. And realize they are as much motivated by personal concern as they are business benefit…even though they’ll rarely ever own up to that.

So, during your conversation, you’ve got to be able to slam-dunk answers to…

7 sales corporate sales triggers, all of which are being asked by your potential buyer:

  1. Will this make me look good to my supervisors and their supervisors?
  2. Will this not make me look like a total idiot if it goes bad?
  3. Will this make my day, my job and my life easier?
  4. Will this make my supervisors’ lives easier…because if their lives are easier, they’ll be in a better mood, and they may even credit me with the good decision, which means I’ll be in a better mood.
  5. Will it put money in my pocket?, directly or indirectly?
  6. Will this make my reports’ lives easier?
  7. How will this help the company?

Challenge is, more than half the questions will never actually be asked out loud, they’ll only be wondered.

And, those same questions most often cannot be answered overtly without being crass or disrespectful.

Still, they must be answered.

You’ll just need to be more subtle in demonstrating answers to these questions through examples, metaphors, stories and data.

In the end, remember these three corporate sales credos:

  • Solve, don’t sell.
  • Understand the personal subtext and triggers of the person with the ability to say yes and speak to them
  • Be honest and respectful

So, anyone else have any fun sales stories?

Or, any tools or triggers to add?

Share away in the comments below?

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18 responses

18 responses to “7 Corporate Sales Persuasion Triggers”

  1. You are spot on with this post. This is a very nuanced concept and one that many sales reps have a hard time grasping. I would always tell my sales reps the first questions you need to ask yourself about your prospect is “How are they being graded?” and “How is their boss being graded?”. Then figure out not only how to solve their business problem, but how you can make them look good – internally. Well done Jonathan.

  2. Amy Harrison says:

    “Is this going to make us whip the competition and make their jaws drop”

    I once worked somewhere, where that was all they were trying to do (not much fun when it gets obsessive but a powerful motivator when it is).

  3. The agency I worked for did consulting for a huge multi national where the brand managers for each of the product lines would change every six months. I worked out that they were mainly concerned with

    1) Getting promoted
    2) Crushing their competition (inside the company, not competitors of the company)
    3) Getting hired by other departments on more prestige brands or to other companies

    They would almost always pick the work that would win awards, press and buzz rather than the work that would deliver best ROI.

    These are amongst the reasons I left to work for myself 🙂

  4. Hank Garwood says:

    Jonathan – Any recommended introductory reading on “psychology of influence and persuasion”, as you put it?

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Hank – Start out with Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of persuasion and his follow-up book, “Yes!” They’ll give you a great foundation

  5. Katie Marsh says:

    Okay, so I am sorry if this is off task a tad but I have a question that came to me while reading this. In a corporate world, where no one employed is allowed to challenge the system, do you accept this as part of the job protocol?
    My managers don’t even know the answers themselves, and if they have to do it, they want you to shut up about doing it, even if your intent is about the quality and value the service your customers deserve. What is your opinion on the matter? Do you rock the boat and respectfully take on a system? Do you screw protocol and handle customers the way you believe serves them the best? I’m curious if there is a right way anymore.

  6. Jonathan Fields says:

    @Chris & Katie – I actually ended up quitting that job at least in part because I had so much trouble sticking to the script and, in that organization, the script was gospel. Renegades don’t do scripts, they serve and solve in the most effective, intelligent and respectful way possible.

    But, that doesn’t necessarily mean you split. You’ ve got to weigh that in the much bigger context of your life, your big plan and also what is right about the organization. Sometimes moving divisions, bosses, offices or jobs closes the gap. Other times not.

    BUT, even if you go out on your own, at some point, you may end up wanting to sell your products or services to companies who still rally around that more old-school mindset. So, it’s still a great exercise to understand what makes people in larger, less-progressive organizations tick, even if they are places you could never see yourself working.

  7. Julie says:

    Great post, Jonathan. Usually you also have to help the person you’re selling to – sell the idea ‘up the food chain’ – so whatever can be done to help that person ‘sell’ the idea is very important. Helping them with answers to the questions of “why now”, “why this company/person”, and data on ROI is beneficial. Usually people have to go through a layer or two above them to get approval (especially on high ticket items and if they aren’t good at influencing and persuasion to others around and above them – it’ll die. Knowing who all of these key stakeholders are is helpful too – so that you know who else involved and what their concerns and how this person will represent you/your company is critical.

  8. Naomi Niles says:

    Hmmm, I can’t decide which was my craziest sales moment. It’s a tie between the time the Arab guy set my stuff outside and escorted me out the door of his house because I looked at his wife, the time a woman threw a roll of toilet paper at me from a window on the second story of her house while screaming at me, or the time another woman purposely dripped gasoline on my shoes while telling me that she felt sorry for me.

    All true stories. And yes, I’m still traumatized. Toward the end of my “sales career”, I thought the people who just said no were actually pretty nice, LOL!

    I think these are all great tips. Maybe another thing I’d add is to make sure to make sure to include plenty of information since the person who you’re talking to will need plenty of justification for hiring you to the decision maker. Lots of supporting evidence is good.

  9. Daniel says:

    Nice advice. Though I hope I never find myself cold calling businesses!

    Your story about selling phone service provoked a smile and a nod. I’ve had a couple of somewhat nightmarish sales jobs. I briefly sold encyclopedias door to door. The manager decided the best way to train us would be to drive us to Sturgis SD and have us start there. I have no idea why he chose Sturgis. It was a 7 hour drive to get there so maybe it was to keep us from running away. Well you can imagine how folks in Sturgis greeted a greasy 18 year old in ill fitting clothes trying to sell them an expensive set of books. After two days I hitchhiked home – which turned into a 2 week odyssey resembling a cross between Deliverance and Harold and Kumar.

    Anyway… Thanks for the tips! I’ll keep them in my back pocket just in case. 🙂

  10. I too have only dabbled in the world of sales and I take my hat off to people who have mastered the art of connecting and gaining instant rapport with the people they’re selling to.

    I am very open to being sold to because I know it can suck as a job, but those who do the best job in my mind have done their research and know what my problem is and aim to solve it. They also don’t go into a scripted sales pitch that turns me off, they assess who I am, what demographic I am and what trigger they can pull to get me hooked.

    That’s smart and clearly they’ve read the book Jonathan recommends on persuasion.

  11. Wow – first I hope the company doesn’t use this tacic anymore. What a waste of time and resources. I was a B2B corporate sales rep for 16 years and loved every minute.

    Your tips are right on – but if you’re ever not sure you’ll never go wrong if you keep it about the customer. Solve thier problem – if there are office politics – find a way to generate concensus. Sometimes just getting the 2 people out of the office for lunch helps.

    I love sales – and it doesn’t have to be painful or so negative. I know this will sound crazy to most people but it really is all about the mind set.

    When I started, I did lots of phone cold calling. Not the most fun thing in the world, but I was a newbie and that’s what I was told to do – call and set up appointments. It honestly never occurred to me that people wouldn’t want to talk to me.
    And guess what? They DID talk to me. I had the CEO of a fortune 500 company answer his line and cheerfully give me the name of his CIO and said to let him know he asked me to call!
    It really can be fun. I swear.

  12. Another great post Jonathan.

    It’s funny one of my first jobs as a kid outa school was selling phone conferencing & bridging services 😛

    These days, B2B sales in the large corporate/enterprise market make up about 90% of my income…. so it’s something I’ve *had* to become an expert at.

    One of the extra triggers that I’ve noticed is:

    “What are our competitors doing?”

    That might be more of an opener actually – but it’s still worth mentioning as it’s HIGHLY effective to answer this question… even when, as you say, it isn’t asked directly.

    I used this to overcome that hard “how to begin a conversation” factor by finding out which verticals I’m already in (or my employer was already in) then calling around the competitors. Dropping a quick “I was just in at XYZ corp and I realised what we’re doing with them might interest you….”

    … was the fastest way to turn a cold call into a sale. I’d never share sensitive data – just drop a hint about who I was “working with”.

    Not many people can resist the psychological thrill of potentially “missing out” on what the other guys have 😛

    – Peter

  13. Paul Castain says:

    Well done Jonathan!

    We can’t underestimate the power of items 1 & 2 in this economy. Lots of downsizing and lots of people who fear a bad move might cost them their job. How can we reduce risk, build trust etc?

    The flip side of this is that right about now all of us good use some “good press” in or organizations, with our clients etc. How can we make our client look like a rock star?

    I’ll be passing this one along to my network for sure!

    With respect and appreciation,
    Paul Castain

  14. I’ve not directly worked in corporate sales. I’ve worked in retail and I’ve been involved in buying services. The most successful salespeople imo are those that ‘aren’t interesting in selling you something’ but want to understand the problem you’re to solve.

  15. caitlyn says:

    Waaaay back, when I worked for my dad in his 2 person + part-time me office, the guys would walk in to sell. I was 18 and looked 14. They didn’t want to talk to me – and my dad didn’t want to talk to them.

    Very few got past me, in spite of all kinds of pressure and promises. The one I remember me introducing to my dad spent some time at my desk. There was some flattery (“you’re so young for such a responsible job”) that he almost got the boot, but then he asked point blank what my biggest frustrations were in the office.

    No surprise he had just the thing to solve those problems. Yes, I was naive. No, my dad didn’t buy from him, but he got an interview, got dad thinking, and not so long later, this guy’s competition got our business. That was too bad for the sales guy, but the competition had a better product.

    Bottom line, in spite of no commission, that was HIS sale.

  16. […] Business-To-Business Sales Advice – Jonathan Fields/Awake At the Wheel […]

  17. Kathy says:

    Excellent list of sales triggers. Number 1 is so important whether you are selling a product or service as a vendor or doing some internal selling of some sort. It is all about What’s in it for me.

    Years ago IBM sales people used a lot of these triggers to sell. It was “safe” to buy from IBM.